If you haven’t seen this series yet (in which case I have to assume you don’t have Netflix or else have some really amazing things going on in your life that called you away from being a lazy slob in front of the TV all weekend), there may be some spoilers ahead.
Really, the biggest spoiler is what I said about the original true-crime mystery obsession, Serial: I want everyone to be telling the truth.
What’s most interesting to me though isn’t whether the accused (and punished) is actually guilty. It’s not how messed up our court system appears to be. It’s people’s reactions to the follow-up articles claiming not all of the information was presented in the documentary.
After reading articles explaining that left-out-of-the-film details would have painted quite a different picture from what the actual series suggested, people are hurt. They feel duped; they feel tricked. They feel guilty themselves for attaching such strong emotions to something they thought was presenting all of the facts only to find out later it was merely shining a light on only a portion of the image.
These feelings are understandable, of course. We’re human–we don’t like acknowledging we’ve been manipulated. When we do, our natural reaction is to blame the manipulator instead of question what it says about us that we were so easily swayed.
I get it, but I don’t feel the same. I don’t feel ashamed for the fact that my reaction to Making a Murderer was both guided and anticipated. I realize a documentary is a form of art just like anything you put on a screen or a printed page or a canvas.
It’s the same way I felt about the A Million Little Pieces controversy a decade ago, and I had read the book right before it was found to be not entirely non-fictional. With the work marketed as a memoir, audiences expected it to be truthful, but that was their first mistake. Memoir is not a straightforward account of facts. At least, I don’t see it that way (maybe that’s why I was less then outraged when the reveal came). Do I feel the author was wrong for telling people it was true when it wasn’t? Yes. And he should feel awful about building up a base of fans by telling them one thing and then completely disintegrating any integrity he’d appeared to have. Likewise, if the creators of Making a Murderer purported to be presenting every fact within the case, they should also feel personally responsible for the lack of faith their audience is now experiencing (as of this writing, I’m not sure they did; it sounds like they never claimed anything of that nature). But it’s still a documentary, and a documentary, like a memoir, doesn’t promise us every detail.
In almost every other area of life, I want the entire truth. I will always be the first one to ask for the ugly truth rather than a rose-colored fantasy. Give it to me straight. Whether I can handle it is not your concern; I need the facts. I require your honest opinion. Lies are disgusting to me.
However, when it comes to art, I don’t feel that way. Don’t tell people something is 100% the entire truth when you’ve left some things out. But in the same vein, don’t assume everything you read/hear/watch is 100% the entire truth.
Even history changes its story depending on who is writing it.