I recently finished Netflix's runaway, insta-classic, megahit, "ohmygosh a documentary can actually make money?" series Making a Murderer, a title that I have admittedly screwed up saying out loud several times. I think I’ve called it How to Make a Murderer, The Making of a Murderer, and Murder She Wrote all in the course of one conversation.
Title aside, it’s a great show. And as you’ve heard from every coworker, grandparent, and serial killer you know, you should totally watch it because it is #awesome and there is an extreme lack of African-American real life people in it... so as Hollywood knows, you'll probably love it and nominate Steven Avery for best actor (again), only to be snubbed by that darn McConaughey character.
Anyways, the show is enthralling. And, like any good saintly television watcher, I ran to the subreddit immediately after I finished the series to catch up on anything I could possibly gather on the subject. Obsessively, I Google searched every morning at 6 a.m. to find news that could help me further decipher fact from fiction.
I watched interviews with Kratz, I looked up memes about Dassey, I started working on my Wisconsin accent and I'm not even sure why. Last night, I actually ate Making a Murderer for dinner.
Quite simply, I’ve been addicted to the series like Kratz is to himself. And one thing above all has really struck me about the Internet response to the documentary. So many people inherently believe that Steven Avery is innocent and Ken Kratz is a dirty liar who hates justice and the world. Bar none. No contest.
I’ve been frequenting Ken Kratz’s law firm Yelp page, which, since the release of Making a Murderer, has dropped his firm down to 1.5 stars. Yelp is constantly cleaning up the page, but the waves of trolls and angry Internet henchmen are both persistent and filled with vitriol. I have a feeling that Ken Kratz is not going to be getting very good Yelp reviews for, well... pretty much forever. In fact, Brendan Dassey might get out of prison before Ken Kratz gets a good Yelp review. How's that for justice? Actually, not that great. But, we'll take it.
Some of my favorite Yelp reviews from today: “Ken kratz seems like a horrible human being not any good at his job. I would not recommend his services to anyone unless you’d like to spend the rest of your life in jail for something you didn’t do. P.s. He has a voice like a baby so def go to him if you’re into that.”
I actually agree with the last part.
Or another one from this morning, a Twitter-worthy review with one succinct sentence from a woman named Karen: “Ken Kratz, Atty at Law…’Taking the conviction out of convictions since 2007!’”
Karen was at least nice enough to give them two stars — which I thought was a peculiar touch.
Or the review from Vito R. from New York who gave Ken Kratz five stars: “I’m a 24 by 36 poster, and Ken Kratz did excellent work framing me.”
So clever Vito. So clever.
This kind of mentality has been duplicated in many forms across the web. People passionately hate Ken Kratz and love Steven Avery.
First things first, I’m not here to sympathize with Ken Kratz or defend him. I think that the entire documentary reveals Kratz for who he is (or 'was,' according to Kratz in recent interviews). He comes off as a slimy attorney who preys on the emotions of others to manipulate them to do his bidding. In the documentary, he is condescending, arrogant, and full of a false sense of bravado. He is incredibly unlikable. If Yale were offering a Major on how to eschew charisma and make people hate you, Kratz would teach the Master's course.
More importantly, he demonstrates himself, and the law enforcement around him, as impenetrable pillars of society who are incapable of twisting the truth or committing acts of falsehood — insinuating that the police are above reproach.
Part of me hates Ken Kratz for this — but then another part of me just thinks, “the poor guy is just doing his job.” To hate Ken Kratz is to hate any attorney. This is the case that came to him, so to speak. Whether I like his mustache or not has no bearing on that. If we should be upset with anyone or anything, I feel like we should be upset with the entire justice system in Wisconsin — their disturbing way of handling cases and ignoring solid arguments. The holes poked in Kratz's case by Strang and Buting (a.k.a. Bert and Ernie) are compelling and reveal a broken, corrupt system.
But Kratz was a master of making the public believe the emotional argument by painting a graphic picture throughout the duration of the trial. From beginning to end, Kratz always reminded you of how gruesome Teresa Halbach's death presumably was... and the media rallies the listeners around that tall tale.
Making a Murderer is brilliant because it illustrates in every way that perception is reality. Or more specifically, as Thomas Cooley says, “I am not what I think I am: I am not what you think I am; I am what I think you think I am.” Making a Murderer shows the viewer how the media screwed Steven Avery over by pointing its cameras at him in handcuffs or showing images of his mugshot. Steven looks like a criminal before he's even convicted. Or as Dean Strang, the norm-core, heartthrob attorney, who looks like he walked off of the set of Seinfeld said, “To be accused is to lose.”
Avery lost the emotional case before the legal battles started because the public already viewed him as a criminal.
That’s the biggest lesson of the series, and it shows this so effectively that you don’t even realize that it’s doing the same thing right back to you as you’re watching it. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demo point their syrupy lens at Steven Avery and his family for so long that you can’t help but feel bad for them — and for good reason! They get totally screwed over. Your heart aches for this family. The extended close-ups with abrupt pauses. The radio silence as mama Avery looks rejected in her kitchen stirring her sad pot of stew. The extended, silent drone shots of the vacant junkyard dragging on and on as Brendan Dassey and Barb converse like two characters out of Fargo.
It’s a tragedy. Without a doubt. And it's a well-deserved perspective for Steven Avery, considering the coverage he received beforehand. But it manages to coerce the viewer in a similar fashion to how the news crews covered his case, just in the opposite direction. As soon as the series starts, you know you wouldn't want to continue watching if you already assumed he was guilty. You MUST assume he's innocent to partake in the story. The documentary's perception becomes the reality.
I’m not convinced Steven is innocent. I'm not 100% sure that he didn't do it. I feel that there is more evidence pointing to him not doing it than doing it. I do feel confident that he did not get a fair trial... at all, which to me is a crime within itself on the part of the state. But the final verdict is a gray area. Was he proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? Not at all. Does it appear that there is corruption in our law enforcement sectors? Absolutely. Does Ken Kratz's voice still send chills up my spine? With certainty.
But just because the county is guilty of corruption, it doesn't necessarily follow that Steven is absolutely innocent of the crime.
What the Internet reaction highlights to me is that humans are impulsive decision-makers and are easily deceived by something as long as they see an emotionally compelling argument. The documentary series is incredibly well-made, crafted, and curated to pull out sympathy from the viewer. And in a lot of the cases it's deserved. But at the end of the day, we're just watching something that someone else carefully tweaked to perfection. We're being manipulated by the lights and sounds... yet again.
I think that's what I love about this series. Steven and Brendan both deserve another perspective after the media onslaught that helped push their final verdicts forward. However, in the process of experiencing this series, you have to realize, in a meta sense, that you're opinion is significantly being shaped by the tools and talents of two excellent filmmakers. In that space, you are experiencing a reality parallel to the one that happened.
And that's one of the things that cinema does best.
Oh... and I thought this was really funny.