Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How Our Obsession With True Crime Leads to a New Existentialism


I wrote a piece on the popularity of true crime stories - like Making a Murderer and Serial - and how it's pushing pop culture toward an existential crisis.

Check it out here.


20 comments:

  1. James, you're being destroyed over the fallacies in this on some other blogs.

    You're good at true crime, but venturing into philosophy and biased lefty politics isn't your strong suit. You're to quick to show your emotions and presuppositions.

    If you would understand the bible and Christian ideaology, you'd understand the state of man and his wicked ways. And Bernie Sanders warped supporters.

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    1. *too
      *ideology
      *Bible
      *Sanders'

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    2. So if you are a leftie you are biased and if you are Christian you are not?

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  2. An interesting piece. I personally think the crux point of the existential crisis leads to greater meaning in a person's life, and I hope very much it does the same for our society as a whole. But then I owe much to Viktor Frankl for my thoughts on such things.

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    1. At the end of the day, we're forced to wrestle with whatever plagues us, and in this sense we're "doing" existentialism. However, what plagues us, and even our methods of thinking about how to deal with what plagues us, usually comes from outside us, whether it's in a psychological, spiritual, scientific, or social medium.

      A step further, existentialism says that we make decisions based on subjective meaning, not "pure" rationality. I think the big flaw there is that it equates knowledge with meaning, which is easily shown to not be the case. I can very well no cigarette smoking is bad for me, but that doesn't mean I care enough not to. On the flip side, there are some people who know that smoking is bad for them, and although their subjective feeling is to continue smoking, they have the mental will-power to quit. People make decisions usually in some sort of "dance" of both, so to say one over the other is better, does a disservice to both.

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  3. Very well written article. The problem with Camus' Sisyphus analogy is that Sisyphus was being punished by Zeus, a higher power, because of his trickery . So isn't using that story to illustrate his point an admission that there is a reason for toiling? I have had more than my fair share of bad things happen in life and I consider myself to be fairly enlightened as to the nature of humanity.

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  4. But I can still not concede to the thinking that it is for nothing and that there is not a higher power and creator . It is presumptuous to assume that anything should happen in our lifetime and if it does not then clearly God does not exist . After all, a creator, a beginning, would not be subject to the same rules of time that we are. The mere existence of man would be the width of a hair on the timeline of the universe so it would not even register on the planes of eternity. Just because it is not fixed yet, does not mean it will never be. Besides, It is the law of the universe that if you accept one truth you have to accept the opposite for without that converse the truth you acknowledge would not exist in its form. So to experience and acknowledge injustice, we must accept the notion of perfect justice even if we have yet to see it. Besides, what happened to your article on Dean Runkle and why you can't be an atheist? I realize this article did not expose you as an atheist, however, isn't existentialism just a layover on the way to the there is no God camp?

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    1. I'm glad you brought that up. I do believe in God. Very much. But I don't believe he intervenes in our daily affairs. We are alone to make our own mistakes, our own world. That's the double-edged sword of free will.

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    2. Well then you and I have that in common. God intervening in our daily lives is NOT a scriptural teaching. In fact, I would say the protagonists of that belief (churches, namely Christendom) are single handedly responsible for the creation of all Atheists. But that’s another topic for another day :)

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  5. To me much more telling than the Steve Avery (who is probably guilty or a close relative of the killer)which is getting a ton of press and PR, is the ignored A Murder in the Park which recounts how a college professor and a poor excuse for a PI got LE in Chicago to release a convicted murderer and then arrest another guy (who has now also been released) under the banner of an "innocence project." In the process police investigators were portrayed as criminals trying to "railroad" an innocent man. The first guy, who police suspected of other murderers as a gangbanger, then tried to sue the city. Usually cities fold, but in this case Chicago did not and the formerly convicted killer ended up being awarded zero dollars, with the civil court jury contending that he really was the killer. The professor was later fired for another case he was "investigating" using illegal means. today nobody is in jail for the murders of two people and no one seems to know or care about the fake innocence project.

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  6. It's funny I read this earlier as Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" was discussing minimalism, the act of living with less stuff. What makes life worth living for you?

    This article and that radio program recall something Eustace Conway of "Mountain Men" said when asked about criticism towards his minimalist lifestyle: "I AM living. Others work at their jobs, whatever. Meanwhile, I AM living." A day in the life of Eustace Conway resembles something of a pioneer from 1810. His struggle is life with little assistance from modern convenience. Conway crafts most of his own tools for everyday chores while allowing a limited number of modern things as chainsaws and fuel. He requires very little because to him little of value is found in modern life. Conway cut out the clutter from his life and became a free man. The farther we drift from the natural world, he believes, the more we despair.

    In this age of constant digital self-reflection, we can't seem to let go of this freedom to reveal ourselves online. Today it's all secrecy, no privacy. The irony of this post isn't lost on me. Eustace believes the television is one of the worst inventions ever. Reference that old John Prine tune, "Spanish Pipedream", "... blow up your TV, throw away your paper ...". A little goes a long way. Or as John Lennon's once quipped, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." I wonder what he thinks of the internet. It may surprise you to know that Eustace Conway maintains a limited digital footprint. Yes, a mountain man can be a digital man. Minimalists such as Conway live in the moment and conduct themselves as necessary in the daily struggle filled with drudgery. But he embraces that drudgery because it brings him closer to his first love, the woods. Good Ol' Mother Nature. Living among the trees is what brings value to Conway's life. I don't know if he believes in God, but it's clear Conway practices his spiritualism every day. He's not completely satisfied, however. He's still trying to find a mate with whom he can share this life. He leads "the hard life", the withering consensus of most women he's met and not one in which they wish to participate.

    I like TV and engage myself online, as yourselves. There is a limit, of course. I watched part of the initial episode of "Making a Murderer" and turned it off. One too many cases. I reached my saturation point. I found no value poring my time in another case nor did I find it healthy.

    There's a lot of unfulfilled people out there. What are they looking for? Why? Where's that going to get them? I often question myself what got me caught up in this case. The answer is I find value in mysteries.

    Some people fulfill themselves climbing that social ladder or get caught up in accumulating stuff. We know that most people who shop really do it not for the conquest of the thing to be acquired, rather it's the thrill of the hunt. Some people shop, others hunt for fulfillment. Some of these persons hunt people. Get used to it. Don't try to understand it because the rest of us will never understand. We'll never be able to get inside the head of the perpetrator. THANK GOD. Who'd want to know? I sure don't. I don't see that as the value of engaging a mystery story. I value the mystery partly for the fear of the unknown and the thrill of resolution. It's very close to the joy of finishing a puzzle. A mystery is an imperfect puzzle with several pieces missing. It's up to the gumshoe to find those missing pieces. The process of discovery and how it's engaged is what solves these human puzzles. When there's no resolution, there's a loss, a profound loss especially because we've taught ourselves to believe we live in an era of the utmost civility where technology can cure most societal ills.

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  7. (Fin)

    Minimalism in a world of mass-produced plenty. Existentialism in a world of spiritual confusion. We're more unhappy than ever. Such ironies. If we consider that the universe is indifferent to our struggles, then we can rationalize that is the point and curse of intelligence. We decide what is valuable and chuck the rest. We immerse ourselves in the light and the dark and realize the treasures of both. Without the dark, we'd never understand the joy of the light. All our emotions and thoughts really are a reflection of things that exist around us. Vibrations and shadows.

    Bringing these thoughts down to earth to a single cold case, we're elated when a new fact is produced, despondent when we realize another dead end. What it reminds us is that life is important, others' lives are important to us, and when one dies or goes missing, we feel that loss, even if we've never met the person. It's a negative vibration that shoots wide across a community and only becomes worse over time when resolution eludes us. "All that other stuff doesn't matter." How true. I can't reference what Julie was alluding to, but here, I'll just say anything that really doesn't give us true value are things we can live without. That's why Fred Murray keeps searching for his missing daughter. Maura is dear to him.

    We could do without killers, but they are a very unfortunate fact of life. Eustace Conway is going to have to get used to, for the time being, being alone in his quest for simple living. He has his followers as does Maura Murray. The difference is he's alive and she's missing, probably dead. While we were busy making other plans, one of us slipped away into the darkness. Somewhere there is misplaced guilt in that. We all let things, people go because we're so busy. We expect justice to correct that moment of inattentiveness.

    Justice in an indifferent universe? Justice is an imperfect device we employ to give the suffering a semblance of equilibrium. Jail time or the death penalty in exchange for the life of the taken. We're taught to believe this is resolution. Without resolution there is despair. The Murrays may never have partial resolution let alone catching the perpetrator, if indeed a crime was committed. They want their kid home first, that's what really matters. Justice? Maybe not. I suppose that's the icing on the cake, a little justifiable revenge to those who stole their daughter's years.

    "Will the Internet Find Maura Murray?" I don't know. I think it's unnecessarily larded this case, despite its small successes. Excess does not mean success. Just because the technologies we use have gotten this case a lot of attention, we still can't find this woman. Search technologies thus far have failed us too. We're just going to have to soldier on, despite despair, despite the inadequacies of technology, to find her. It'll take eyes on the ground and a whole lot of luck. We exist with luck, fortunate happenstance. Maybe the hope that luck will find her is enough of a collective spirit that will locate her.

    What if Maura Murray walked away from her life without telling her family? If that is the case, I do not, she needs to read this and "Making an Existentialist".

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  8. Net: If there is a perp in this case, I'd think he'd be a minimalist, not too close to God. Probably the type who moves around when the heat becomes too much; a transient who prefers the woods. The perp probably prefers getting lost in large forests. New Hampshire is perfect.

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  9. Judging by the length of a few of these posts, it would appear that a few unemployed philosophy majors have already chimed in.

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  10. I enjoyed the article and left a comment there. You've raised some compelling points. Sometime we'll have to talk about scapegoats --- the origin of the word, and the way we still depend on them today, to absorb the weight of our own ... sins, I guess...

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  11. what a flippant and error laden piece of writing. the one bright part was branding Sartre 'a smart guy', unintentionally hilarious. One big problem is that you quote Camus and Sartre side by side but vital differences exist in the respective work. Camus was never a proponent of existentialism anyhow, according to him. For Sartre (who embraced, lectured and extrapolated existentialism) existentialism was defined above all by two principles, Nothingness and absurdity. It is the abyss which Nietzche mentions. May I Suggest you read Nausea ? It is the key text of existentialism and an understanding of it would illustrate the folly of attemting to combine the tragic optimism of 'the myth of sisphyus' with the bleakness of existentialism given to us by sartre by way of Heidegger amongst others. A greater grounding in Sartre would also show the absurdity of claiming a 'new' existentialism. I do not mean to offend or slight you, it is just that I am well read in this field and school of related thought Schopenhauer onward. Keep up the other good work.

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    1. Perhaps Emersons philosophy of existentialism and self reliance are better comparisons, however, your meaning was felt and your message understood which is the goal of an essay from a literary stand point . Clearly Jared Terry is a smarty pants and deserves a pat on the back. I will offer him one as soon as he moves his own hand out of the way:)

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