“Stay Sexy . . . Don’t Get Murdered”: Feminist Potential in True Crime Narratives

Presented with BOND Collective Gowanus


Every week, the two female hosts of the podcast “My Favorite Murder” recount stories of murders both famous and obscure to each other, and conclude with the directive and plea: “stay sexy . . . and don’t get murdered.” The show topped the iTunes ranking for Best Comedy Podcast in June of 2016, and sponsors a lively Facebook group with close to 15,000 members. The popularity of “My Favorite Murder,” along with the phenomenal juggernaut of the podcast Serial, is representative of an emerging, and feminist, trend in the pop culture mainstay of true crime. 

Since Truman Capote established the mainstreaming of the genre with In Cold Blood, true crime texts have proliferated throughout the American entertainment landscape. In the twenty-first century, some female creators began to challenge the tropes of the genre. Rather than taking a prosecuting or detached tone, these women explore their emotional enmeshment in the story. Their work disrupts conventional narrative structure, and in so doing, troubles the conceit that true crime stories conclude with revelations of truth and allocations of justice. Books like The Red Parts (Maggie Nelson) and Men We Reaped (Jesmyn Ward) are told a-chronologically, disturbing established timelines to foreground how trauma reverberates in the families and communities of victims. 

Similarly, podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Serial resurrect and refashion an older medium—radio shows—to experiment formally with storytelling that dismantles the conceit that true crime stories can be contained within tidy, journalistic narratives. These texts narratively and formally decenter “truth,” foreground the creative process, and create space for empathy and community in a way that could be called feminist. This Olio proposes to trace the feminist potential of these trends in true crime.




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