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He did bunkmates Mike here, just letting you know it's a bit of a different episode today. A couple of weeks ago, the co-hosts of the feminist present podcast, Laura Good and Adrian Dobb got in touch with us to ask us if we wanted to be on their show. And their show was really good and really interesting and has interviewed some of our favorite writers. And so we said yes. And since they asked us a lot of the stuff that listeners often ask us things about, like how we met and how we researched the show and stuff like that, we thought we would just put it into our feed so that if you're interested in that, you can take a listen.
So this is us chatting with Laura and Adrienne about true crime and the 90s and feminism and Jessica Simpson. So enjoy. And we'll see you soon. How did you guys meet and why are you friends with my future? Well, OK, I'll I'll tell the first part. The beginning of how Mike and I met is that in 2010, I started looking at the legacy of Tonya Harding, who I had grown up with the idea of as someone who grew up in Oregon and became obsessed with her and how she had been done wrong by the media and just lectured people in bars about it.
And over the course of like four years of just thinking and obsessing over it and really like growing into the subject and growing into the kind of writer I had to be to in any real way, hopefully do her right through a piece of writing, published a piece on Tonya Harding. And then, Mike, this is where your story begins. Yeah. And then enter Mike.
And then I read the article, which is called Remote Control, and is still among the five best things I've ever read.
And it was a completely new way of looking at history to me. And there were two sort of things about it that really stuck out to me was that one, it was extremely well written and extremely empathic.
And then secondly, it was sort of like this retelling of the Tonya Harding story, but without using, like secret sources or like declassified accounts, like I spent days and days with Tonya Harding, who was like, no, it was all there all along.
Like, all we had to do was pay attention in the first place. And the extremely tragic and human story of this woman was there. We just ignored it. All right. And that to me, like a light bulb went off in my head. And it was just a completely fascinating and really exciting way of looking at the world.
And so I emailed Sarah on her Tumblr, like, whatever her you know, you have this little, like, contact forms you have on Tumblr. And I was like and at the time, I wasn't a journalist. I was like, hi, I'm a random guy. I live in Berlin and I work at a human rights organization. I think you're cool.
And that was it.
And then when we both joined Twitter, I followed her and then we chatted on DM's a little bit. And then eventually this is like years later I ended up working at Huff Post and we talked about like doing some stories together. We basically just like stayed in touch with each other on the Internet, as millennials do.
It was kind of this criminalistic when Harry Met Sally, like the time kept not quite being right. Yeah, well, getting closer. Yeah.
And then eventually, two years ago, I had this idea of like, let's do a podcast about this. And I asked her if she wanted to record some test episodes and then we just kept recording. And it's been it's been more than two years. Yeah. And like almost 100 episodes.
I think we're like ninety something, 92, something like that.
It's an impressive catalogue. I mean, I've been bingeing quite a bit in preparation for this. I may be functioning on Knowsley, but mostly you're wrong about. Yeah, OK.
I hope it hasn't been too stressful. I feel like all of our episodes are unbelievably dark except for like this one little series. Jessica Simpson.
It was frankly a lifeline. I have to say.
I love how you're describing it in terms of the kind of digging that you do that it's not really about finding new and hidden information that the kind of wrongness you seem to trace preferably is kind of one that's all about kind of laziness. You know, people sort of build these fictions into their lives. Yeah. And never sort of bother to ask, is that really what happened with the mom? Is this what really happened with Nancy Grace's fiancee? Right.
It's like easier to get along if you just believe it. Would you say that that's the overall theme? Where have you created a taxonomy of wrongness over the years? They'd say, oh, no, actually, that's about something different. They're actually there was something to be revealed there. There was something where the average person on the street really couldn't know what's really going on.
We're definitely at the point where we're doing episodes now that are like beyond the template of like people were wrong. They entirely missed the point.
We've done episodes lately, like, you know, we weren't completely wrong about this, but it's like weirder and more complicated than we really have had time to dwell on culturally and like, let's have fun with that. Like, I feel like maybe the O.J. Simpson trial episodes are the best example of that, because we came back and had a big cultural reckoning with that trial in the last few years and have kind of accepted how complex it was. What that trial did more than anything was show us how limited our position in society was and therefore our viewpoint.
But there's no big it was hiding in plain sight all along type thing with that story, it's more just like, let's just slow down and let's talk about Faye Resnick and talk about all these elements. Right. That maybe we didn't misapprehend or maybe we did, but it's just worth exploring more deeply. So I think that the intent of the show has grown more.
Yes. I mean, a lot of it is just sort of recontextualize ing and especially just telling stories chronologically, because oftentimes when you're in the middle of a news event, you learn it in order of importance. You don't learn it in the order that it happened. Right. I mean, there's also episodes where, like, people got it fucking wrong. Yes.
There's always going to be plenty of.
Yeah, right. I mean, the one that I keep coming back to and that, like, really radicalized me and made me want to do. An episode of the show about everything that's ever happened in my life was Terri Schiavo, you know, it was this thing that was presented to the public. It's like, what? Medicine is so complicated and the ethics and the law, it's so called, who can say?
And her husband's intentions seem dark, yet so murky.
And then you look into it and there's 20 different legal trials and all 20 of them ruled in favor of Michael Schiavo. And every single doctor who looked at Terri Schiavo said there isn't a lot of complexity here. There isn't an ethical gray area. This is someone who is not meaningfully alive. And yet it was presented to the public very consistently as like, oh, like we couldn't possibly say that. Like, one side of this debate might not be acting in good faith.
It was like, let's hear out, everybody. And again, these are legal documents. These are like PDF that you can find. And they're like four pages long. I mean, you can read all this stuff in like an hour and just like nobody did, I guess I also think of the show is just kind of a time saving device.
People live lives on like, yeah, you could go back and learn what was going on with Terri Schiavo, but like people have children and grout that needs to be disinfected periodically, you know? And this to me, it's really meaningful to kind of take the energy and the time necessary to care enough or to be invested enough about these old topics to really go back and find what is there and accessible, but which needs this time and energy to be added to the mix in order to be turned into something that can be useful to someone to listen to.
And the kind of an hour span of hearing versus a 10 hour span of reading and contemplating. I mean, it's kind of like saying like God. I mean, there's so much wool out there, but a lot of it isn't sweaters yet. And it's like, yeah, it's just you have to have people to make the sweaters. I love both like the textile and the archaeology.
And I love those metaphors here.
Mike's chuckling because I've been using a lot of wall metaphors lately. I like the whole thing, I think. No, and I like it. I think it's I just dealing with the ovine. I'm going to I love that.
And Michael also loved what you were saying about how in its first iteration, news is delivered to us in order of importance, because that begs the necessary second question, which is important. To whom? Right. And who decides that ranking in that triage of order of importance. Right. There's so much reordering of history that you guys do, as you say, according to publicly available and accessible documents. And I'm reminded of my single all time favorite episode of yours is the one on Nicole Brown Simpson.
And I think that's such a good example of that kind of subtle paradigm shift, because certainly most people in the world know her name. Right. You know, like that's not an unfamiliar person or topic to most Americans.
But I cannot think of a single other piece of O.J. universe media, including the historic and iconic O.J. Made in America by Ezra Adelman that focused so deeply on Nicole's point of view and what it meant for her to be someone who met her future abusive husband when she was 17.
She was 16 or 17, 18, and that was her whole life from the time she was a teenager forward was him being in control of her image. It was just a really that was an especially powerful act of feminist reclamation to mean for you guys to endeavor to tell that story from her point of view. Thank you.
And again, what was Sarah's like? Extremely like innovative research method for that was like reading publicly available books like anyone done. Yeah, yeah. Just takes the interest in this person. And so much of it is just like people have no interest in these stories. I guess the easy question here would be to say, what's your research process? But as you're saying, part of the point is that anyone can do this. But so what's your non research process is one of you always sort of goes in, right?
Having just what they retain from back when it was happening. And I think that's really, really powerful because in many cases, my recollection is 100 percent coterminous with what you remember as the. Oh, yeah. That was that case in Florida with the thing about alligator and whatever that level, how do you make sure you stay that pure when the other person is doing their deep dive? How do you maintain your purity? Yeah, yeah.
I was just I was just the other day, like my boyfriend randomly brought up JonBenet Ramsey and he's like, yeah, when they found it I was like, no, no, no.
It's like I know we're going to add episode.
I don't want to know. I have only the vaguest memories of what actually took place. And so I do that very often in conversations when people will bring up, like, I don't know, Casey Anthony or Laci Peterson or one of these crimes I really did not follow at the time at all because I want to stay super fresh for those.
So part of it is just us being weird in our personal lives and telling people to talk about historical events around us and also that we're explaining to each other things that tend to be kind of in our wheelhouse is like you'll notice that I don't do a lot of episodes that focus on systemic infrastructural failings because those are hard for me to grasp and then to explain to people. And Mike doesn't do a lot of episodes on. The tabloid Court TV type trials from the 80s and 90s, because he's not obsessed with us.
I'm not like a feelings person, not a true crime person, I'm not feelings person.
And Sarah is not like an exploding Ford Pinto. Go read a bunch of extremely tedious business memos, person. I think we have really different ways of researching, too.
I think that I get really excited if I got to order a bunch of pulpy out of print true crime books on eBay and read them and you get really excited if you get to work. If I have Senate testimony. Yes. Yes.
I get to go on LexisNexis and like read a bunch of news sources from like 1976, like original documents. And like I was just reading Senate testimony this morning.
I was like, yeah, yeah, pretty good.
But I guess it's true that thousands of people in this world, those who pick up a paperback copy of Michelle remembers from the mailer and those that do not.
Yes, that's that's one of the ways to divide people. Speaking of the wrong ometer, we've included a different kind of episode that we've been doing since Coronavirus began, which is to do these deep dive bookclub episodes, which that Michelle remembers.
Episodes were the first ones of where the point is to kind of go on this safari through, in my case, like terrible books and in my case, like fun books that are fun to explore that, by the way, just as a literature professor makes me so happy because it's in some way it's censoring these books that we are not used to thinking of as literature, as a literary text and really ask, yeah, what's the rhetoric here, what does the structure communicate, etc, etc.
. I think that so few people, of course, consume them in that way. That's what makes it fun that you don't consume them that way. But if any of these sort of get people to think more critically about these kinds of media that we consume, a close read of Nancy Grace is not something I would want to undertake.
But I mean, the media did it. But you want to hear someone because we're all out of it.
It was a long period in my life what feels like a long period now where I believed academia was where I was going to be for my entire life. And one of the things that I love and miss about it was just this feeling that like it reminds me actually of the Ghostbusters slogan, like, no job is too big, no fee is too big, like no text is too small, no book is too silly to be taken seriously because, like, there's nothing that shouldn't be taken seriously, because everything is produced by humans with some sort of context and some sort of intent.
At the top of every episode, I mention that I'm working on a book about the satanic panic. And so one of the things that I've loved getting to do on the show is to work with the literature that they satanic panic produced because it's many kind of odd social movements and moments create bodies of literature. And then these books kind of go out of print. They experience a brief popularity or a brief period of being influential, and then society kind of moves on.
But there remains this literature that I think is very fun to explore. And again, like people living normal lives where they have to do all kinds of difficult tasks and jobs all day, like don't want to sit around waiting around, looking for the meaning in a book that is like repetitive descriptions of satanic torture.
But that's what I get to do with the Virgin Mary showing up at the end with the Virgin Mary showing up and speaking French eiseley.
Yes, she would, wouldn't she?
Yeah, that's another one where, like, one of the great revelations of that was that when we get these big moral panics, we always lose the primary documents or the cases that began them right where we have at the beginning of the Satanic Panic. One of the books that inspires it is a woman describing how there's only sickness in Victoria, B.C., and they cut off their own. What was it?
Ring fingers or middle finger middle fingers. And they're sacrificing white kittens. And it's only white kittens. I mean, it's like hundreds of white kittens per say, satanic, right. And you're like chicks out. Yeah. And you're like, tell me about the boom.
And a white kitten breeding on Vancouver Island in the 70s that it's like if people read this with any skepticism or any, like, critical view of any kind at the time, they would have said, like, hey, wait a minute, this doesn't smell right. I'm going to look into this more. But like, that process doesn't happen. It's like we take the most convincing parts of these texts in these cases and we just throw out the stuff that just makes no sense.
What also, inevitably, a lot of people, when these books came out, read them and were like, I don't buy this. But then they were like, if only there was some kind of square of light I kept in my pocket and I could write, I don't buy this and then send it on to some kind of Internet where strangers can see it and understand the sense in my argument. But I can't because Starwars just came out.
That's something so interesting about using it as a window into this whole period of American history. Right. Like it is about like a lack of technology unawareness, lack of media savvy in terms of how media often get sort of woven in. The panic. Yeah, checking sort of didn't happen the way, I guess the Christian right was sort of starting to take over sort of school boards and everything. Right. There's also something.
OK, can you guys tell me if this is like a shower thought and like, not worth expressing?
Oh, I love shower thoughts. Come on. OK, there was like a tweet that went around a couple of months ago about how when the wonder years was made because, you know, the Wonder Years is about the 60s and it was made in the 80s. And there's really only like a 20 year gap. And somehow like this 20 year gap, that was enough for, like, nostalgia to form. Yeah. And yet it feels and again, tell me if I'm totally off base on this, but it feels like we don't have a similar relationship to the 90s.
Like we don't see it as a historical period, even though it's quite a long time ago now.
I think that what we are experiencing right now is a historical period like I think is are going through the experience that the baby boomers had in the 60s. And I think the 90s were like the sleeper moment, because what I remember about growing up in the 90s was growing up with this weird kind of bubble protected middle class white child sense of like don't listen to Bill Nye. Global warming isn't going to be that bad. Everyone's terrified for you all the time.
But yes, you're going to rise up and be the best of anyone at anything. And everything is just going to be up, up and up. There's a great big, beautiful tomorrow. And the boomers gave everything they had to the millennials to get them to rule a great and just world and make things great by continuing to hoard all the resources and be important to not listening to anyone else, the like middle class white kids. And then we just sort of crashed and burned because everything was impossible and there were no jobs.
And the sort of like privileged echelon point that was supposed to succeed just sort of like ended up living on futons for years. No one knew what to make of this time of prosperity collapsing like a souffle. It's hard to feel nostalgia for that. I feel like I grew up expected to do something that like I'm glad I didn't get to do because society needed to sort of collapse in a way that meant that, like, there was no system left to buy into or very little left to buy into.
Yeah, I feel like what teenagers are experiencing now is like the kind of thing that you would then look back on from a more tranquil time if you've sold out maybe in that tranquil time and be like, yeah, that time was about something. Yeah.
This one's about I think it was about a lot of very distinct things that I don't think we really noticed at the time. Right. I mean, you never notice the historical context. And like, you know, you always know what an era is. You have to know what comes before and what comes after. And we didn't know what was going to come after at the time. But looking back now, I mean, we see we do see the satanic panic.
We see these weird moral panics about stranger danger. We see the rise of the American right completely transforming in these ways. That wouldn't become clear to us until now. But all of that stuff was starting to form in the 80s and 90s. We see the mergers and consolidations that we're seeing now. A lot of that stuff start in the 90s. The private equity stuff started in the 90s. Financialization start in the 90s.
There were all these things happening then that are culminating now. But I don't think we sort of knew that that's what's happening. We're like that weird. Like we had like a little tech boom.
No one wants to make a show today. That's like that was the day I got my first kiss from Winnie Cooper and Enron went down.
I know it was the day they published the Starr report. You know, first of all, Michael, I don't think that's a shower thought at all.
I think that's definitely worth further investigation. And Sarah, I agree very much with your characterization of like white middle class childhood in America.
And I would add to it, in addition to sort of the gifted child unlimited upward mobility sensibility you were describing, I would add to that the like stranger danger ever present ominous cloud, which made the message something like, you can be anything you want to be in this limitless upward mobility as long as you avoid being abducted at any moment.
You know, from that golden I'm from Minnesota and I grew up in the shadow of the Jacob Wetterling trial. Yeah. And there's some developments in that case just in the last few years. And that was a permanent shadow over my entire life.
That was always the cautionary tale that's actually interesting to the different experiences of boys and girls growing up in that era. Totally. You know, this is another thing that's I think emerged as we've done the show together, that the messages that I received about sort of physical safety and danger were so different than the ones that Sara received. Yeah. At one point my parents told me that they would give me one hundred dollars if someone attempted to kidnap me and I escaped justice.
And it's a really weird thing because, like, they thought they were incentivizing me to, like, fight back and run away if something terrible happened to me. But also I was a really avaricious kid. Yeah. And I'm like, I'm going to sit closer to that van. Like, maybe, maybe something like. I'll get one hundred bucks a year. Yeah, it makes me also think that they thought you were like a fickle child who would like to get married wasn't a financial reward.
This was my parents to talk about.
This is this is an abysmal strategy. But there was like this sense of safety. But I think that I don't think I was put into, like, the meat grinder of the sort of what would become the true crime industrial complex, the way that I think young girls were at that time.
Obviously, moral panics exist all the time. The true crime industrial complex never sleeps. And if anything has gotten more powerful over the years, but something that comes up again and again on your podcast is that when you look at the 70s and 80s, it is just clear how concentrated media were that people were consuming. These stories were inescapable in the way that they are kind of not anymore. Right. I thought that the satanic panic is a pretty good example of this, like precisely because there wasn't that much TV, that much radio.
Right. I it managed to get onto CBS like a large number of American parents would be like, well, what does my child listen to on today? Unless they get the right email forward or like click on the right Facebook page, they may well never get freaked out by this. I say this to someone who lived through the 80s, for better or for worse. And my parents got very concerned about my and my friends, Dungeons and Dragons playing precisely because of this.
Oh, you do an episode on the. I want to. Yeah, because. Yeah. And the funny thing is, like they said, it was like we were not comfortable with this, we should talk about it. And then they eventually sort of got deep down enough into the rabbit hole to get to the Virgin Mary shit and realize, oh, this is a fundamentalist Christian thing. But my parents, hardcore atheists were like, well, fuck this if you want to.
But it was kind of like, well, our neighbors are concerned about this. The nice white man on the TV is concerned about this. Like, should I be concerned about this today? I think it would just simply pass them by whatever the kids are playing, whatever they're playing, you know? Yeah. So has that changed? Has the quality of this the Monomyth of the eternal victim, has that shifted because we get our true crime from all these different positions that we can choose?
To some extent what we listen to, something I wonder about is there's so much good in the fact that media has diversified and also in the fact that, you know, voices of doubt can gain traction on social media in a way that just wasn't, I think, voices of doubt and their ability to gain any kind of audience are a really important part of any kind of a healthy public discourse ecosystem, I guess you could call it. But then we have the fact that, you know, we have these like Facebook groups and Kuhnen forums where people who are conspiracy minded and interested in, you know, looking for symbolism and photographs and kind of people who are going to flourish if they find like minded conspiracy, hunters are able to do that in a way that they weren't before.
So I always I'm trying to answer the question of whether this is better or worse. And I think that's the wrong question. I guess to me, the answer is that, like, the urge to band together in search of conspiracy will always appear somewhere in a media landscape. And I guess the question is, how do we manage that? And also, I think the need to see patterns and conspiracies can be healthy because like there are conspiracies. We need to talk about real conspiracy theories on the show where people conspire to further capitalism and stuff like that.
Yeah, I was just going to say capitalism is a conspiracy. Patriarchy is a conspiracy. White supremacy is a conspiracy.
You know, like there are around conferral conspiracy theory, a conspiracy.
I mean, you know how somebody did this analysis of ice cubes. Good day to find out which actual day it was.
Have you seen this? Because, you know, he says he mentions I think it's a Wednesday. He mentions like the Lakers beat the Supersonics, like there's a finite number of days that it could have been the media shift that has taken place. It's like we've gone from a 70s and 80s media ecosystem where there's way too few gatekeepers, whereas we have like 75 mostly white straight dudes decided that they didn't want an opinion to be expressed in American public life.
It wouldn't be. You can call that a conspiracy and you're not wrong. We've then shifted from far too few gatekeepers to what we have now, which is no gatekeepers at all.
And so anything these little weird ecosystems like anti vax ecosystems can form on Reddit or on Facebook are like these vigilante groups that are hunting around for human traffickers. And then it always seems to me like in that shift to one to the other, there's like one day that you can pinpoint where it was like the right balance. Right.
Like August 13th of like 2004. Yeah. It was like the day where, like, we hit like because obviously you need a mix of both of those things. You need some gatekeepers, but you don't want too many. It would be a funny project to try to be like, yep, this is the moment when the balance was right. And I don't think anybody knows, like what that day would be or what that balance would be.
I feel like that would be a very good question to ask a group of really stoned people if you wanted to just have silence for twenty minutes. Yeah. My God, yes.
I'm curious, from a structural point of view, how you arrived at the podcast structure wherein in one of you is always teaching the other one the sort of pedagogical structure, because I think, you know, Adrian and I is like real life teachers are like very nerdy for this struggle.
And clearly, you guys also both have a relationship to academia and research and literary criticism and all those things. So just love to hear sort of how you conceive of that structure and where it came from.
So the first reason for that structure is laziness, because if you do a podcast with two people and only one person has the research, then you can put out twice as many podcasts.
That was like you could call that laziness or you call that production savvy. I would say. I mean, it's I agree. Yeah. I'll take this, Laura. We have to think about the thing.
It's also I mean, this was always something that we had in mind that, first of all, one of my favorite podcasts ever, which is now unfortunately defunct, was called Trust Issues, where one person would research a particular conspiracy theory and then explain it to the other person. And it was by these two great journalists in Seattle. It was one of my favorite podcasts. I was obsessed with it and I basically stole the format from them. Are like the idea came from them that you need a sort of audience surrogate because otherwise one person will go too far down a rabbit hole and they'll be talking about like weird like conspiracy, like acronyms to be like it's like for trap or whatever.
And the other host has to be like, what the hell is that like? You need to start over. So you just need to have like a normal person who hasn't gone down these rabbit holes. Right. To bring the person back into reality and be like, sorry, explain this to me. Like, I don't know what you're talking about. Right. That was always something that we wanted to do.
And also, I guess that it's more fun. Like, to me, it is it's so much more fun to step into my closet knowing that I'm about to have a topic that I have intentionally kept myself in the dark about and the run up to the episode that like it's going to be explained to me, Rapid Fire for like two to three hours, which when I put it that way, it doesn't sound fun, but it is fun.
It's fun. I love I love being told about stuff.
I don't want that with stuff like primum I just being like aghast. It feels like having a weekly brunch date with someone who is like, well let me tell you about this crazy thing that I have been obsessed with. And I think for me it grew out of the conversations that I'm accustomed to having with friends because I love talking to people about what they're doing and what their work is. And I've always had a lot of friends that are writers. I've always had a lot of friends who have, you know, specific research areas they're very focused on and passionate about.
And it's also just like to me, there's a joy in hearing the way people talk about things they're genuinely passionate about, like, oh, my God. Yeah, it's just a different it's like a tone of voice that I don't think comes out at any other time. And I'm just like some of my happiest moments, I guess, like talking to people about clearly the things that they love most, you know, and and also it's it's a function of the show that, like, not always, but a lot of the time, like we're talking about topics that we have some kind of genuine emotional investment in.
And I think that that's part of what makes the show compelling to the people to whom it is compelling. Yeah.
I mean, if I can also just be like self grandiose for another second before. I also think that when I listen to other podcasts, there have been podcasts I've had to stop listening to because they talk to me like I'm a child and they do this like now let's explain. The fifty states were founded like this really like way back to basics approach. And I think there's also something about the fact that when I'm doing all these shows, I really am doing it for Sarah.
I'm funny details that I think Sarah's going to react to. I'm telling Sarah things, knowing what her background is, what her knowledge is. And so I'm explaining it to someone who is smart and who's analytical but just doesn't know about this specific topic, which I think is very different than explaining it to someone who's like stupid, which seems like some podcasts are like we're just going to pretend that you don't have any idea how to live your life.
And we're going to tell you about like wheat futures or whatever.
But also, I feel like if you had any kind of audience proxy on the show, even if they were like just completely unschooled about like any aspect of what you're talking about, if you had to start from zero, like you still wouldn't explain it. The way shows to him that, you know, have this kind of like theoretical audience they're talking to, who they just aren't really talking to is if they're a person, because it's hard to do that if there's not a person there like that.
So I don't think I could do that. That's why I talk to a person centric. Yeah.
I mean, you'd risk recapitulating something that makes true crime troubling sometimes, right? I mean, not that you only deal with true crime stories, but there is a lot of it. Yeah. And one of the things that's always bothered me as someone who likes these kinds of stories, but it's also kind of freaked out by what they can make happen worldwide. I've often been sort of freaked out by their handholding. Right. Like surrender to a storyteller and the storytelling is going to walk you through it and a good case.
You end up with a capable storyteller who is being responsible. And you guys are really great at unmasking these tropes. We're like something truly. Manipulative happens, and I do think that, like having an audience surrogate sort of in the podcast is extremely powerful, at least for me as a listener, because it sort of says, no, no, get to ask questions. This is going to be arranged in such a way that you can make sense of this.
You're not at the mercy of this story. And a lot of these tropes that you, I think, very reasonably make fun of in the podcast are ones that really are meant to deprive an audience of agency. Right. Like, well, this was what was really going on, but you'd never know. It was like, well, great. That's a great lesson to learn. They don't ask any questions. Everyone's lying all the time anyway, right?
Like no ask good questions, plausibility, smell, test, whatever. Ask questions. That's it. Right. And I do sometimes worry that podcast's in some ways can repeat some of these mistakes that, you know, we would have made fun of TV shows back in the day.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, podcasting is an intimate medium and that's what people like about it, right? That it feels like spending time with people that, you know. And that's also something that can very easily be weaponized or something that can very easily lead you down a path of like because the hosts aren't having inherent skepticism.
You might not have as much skepticism as you need. And because it feels like, oh, it's just my buddy telling me stuff, you don't always have your sort of guards up for the kind of misinformation that you might get, I guess.
And so I like to think our podcast doesn't do that because we try to fact check our episodes. And like oftentimes after the episode, after we've recorded, it will double check stuff and we'll take stuff out if we find out that it doesn't hold up. But it's something that we're aware of and we're cautious about.
I think just presenting the story as something that can be called bullshit on at any time is a useful way of presenting it. Yeah, and I think having someone there who's, like, prone to incredulity, who like if something strikes some as a little weird, they'll be like, that sounds a little weird. Yeah. Yeah. I think that's someone who has consumed a lot of true crime for my whole life as an example of true crime. Like I love Forensic Files.
Everyone does. And so many people have said to me, like, I fall asleep to Forensic Files and it's like, oh yeah, a lot of people do. Like Rachel Munroe mentions in her book that like the ratings for true crime, exclusive TV channels stay steady throughout the night like people are consistently sleeping with it on. Yeah, you can't say if that's good or bad like it's happening and it's not kind of unhappen any time soon. And so I think what you can take from that is like here is one of the functions of true crime, and it's for it to be this sort of throbbing white noise where like every twenty five minutes someone is caught and arrested.
And that's the kind of true crime that I grew up with and growing up in the 90s. This is kind of all true crime that you encounter on TV can do. That's the one that it's not asking to be interrogated. It's not asking for you to be critical about it. That would ruin it. Like you just let it wash over you. And we're doing something else. Like imagine if the true crime.
NARRATOR had this co narrator who is like an anime maniac who every five minutes was like, why you wouldn't have to fall asleep to it as easily.
But Sarah, that's so dark, deeply falling asleep to true crime stuff. It's like it's so formulaic.
As someone who has done the same in my life, this is not weird behavior. People will kind of like shyly admit to it. But it's like it's like having a baby that you didn't know you were going to have. It happens way more. Yeah. Yeah.
I think it's different than you think. I mean, the fairy tales of the modern era aren't that scary stories to have not. Um, what would you say? Interrogating true crime involves interrogating questions of gender and sexuality.
I don't think true crime has anything to do with gender.
I don't think. Yeah, no irrelevant. Gender neutral, race neutral or completely normal genre of entertainment.
Intersectionality. Yeah, no, it's just straight up crime.
It's not really scribing white supremacy or patriarchy or anything of the kind. I mean what Mike I think was alluding to the safety of me having gone through the stranger danger meat grinder, the true crime meat grinder is my kind of consistent perspective of having grown up with the idea of like you are prey. And like at any second the owl will come down from the sky and you're a little mouse running through a field. And like, if he shows up, he's just going to get you and gets this idea.
You can't walk around alone at night because, like the bad man of the world or like Freddy Krueger and they can just operate in front of you and their arms stretch out real wide. And she has this this idea that I really strongly rebelled against as I entered young adulthood, already regretting the years that I had lost and my life so far to this idea of like I don't think that the entire world is hostile to me. Like, I think that there are real threats out there, but that these threats tend to correspond with the ways that a person's life is dangerous and marginalized already.
It took me years to get to this perspective. But what I think now is that true crime is one of the most powerful fables that patriarchal. White supremacy ever created in defense of itself, because stranger danger and these true crime narratives create a world where these sort of seat of white male power, which of course is also the police state and mass incarceration, is constantly defending itself by saying, like there are wolves at the gate and we are the only ones who can save you from that.
White women stay with us. Like, keep collaborating with white supremacy, because if you don't, you will be murdered the next time you walk past a streetlight. I feel this great sense of investment in altering or destroying those narratives because I was raised to trust the people I should have feared and fear the people I should have trusted.
Thank you for wrapping that up so beautifully, because that was exactly what I wanted to ask you about. You know, it seems like there's probably some commonalities between your upbringing and mine in terms of sort of sociological framing.
I guess I've been asking myself some really tough questions lately, and these are not the first time I've asked myself these questions about how patriarchy and white supremacy begin in the home, but really, really interrogating the timber and the meaning of the voice that tells you all of the other things that you have to fear, you know, and how much violence that voice itself does.
Yeah. Beginning in childhood, does that land for you? Does that resonate? Oh, yeah.
What does that make you think about? Yes. What's interesting to me is that these narratives that allow us to surrender the power that we have also are useful in maintaining a status quo. I was really raised on the narrative and also I was raised on this because my mother was brought up on this and absolutely bought it. And of course, her anxiety as a parent is naturally going to import these cultural myths that she was brought up on. So we get just these narratives coming in through the home and through the nursery stories.
And so I was raised with the sense of like, my life is constantly in danger. I need to live in fear. I need to protect myself. And like it's in adulthood that I was like, sure. Like there's ways that you're vulnerable just going through the world presenting as female. But those were not the things I was taught to be afraid of being raised just to ignore the power and the privilege that you have in society and the ways that you can use it, partly because you are constantly focusing on the ways that you might be endangered by forces outside of society, like also robs women of their revolutionary power.
It's also interesting of the focus, I think, on true crime stories and like things like law and order and the proliferation of podcasts that we've seen in the last 10 years telling these sort of individual true crime stories. There's also something interesting that when you tell these individual stories one by one, you miss all these macro trends that the biggest story about crime since the 1990s is that it's fallen by, I believe, more than half that crime is way down.
Interpersonal violence is way down. Child abuse is way down. Yeah, you also have at the same time the mix of who is getting murdered and why has changed really significantly.
I'm working on an article about this right now that in the 1960s, police solved 93 percent of homicides and that's now about 50 50 depending on the city.
And so what has happened is there's been a huge decline in police competence. There's been a huge decline in the kinds of murders that are taking place, that the kinds of murders that, you know, interpersonal violence, somebody kills their wife, somebody kills their girlfriend. Those are relatively easy to solve. And those used to be around 30 percent of murders and now they're around 10 percent of murders.
And what you have is this huge proliferation of basically like fights that escalate like two dudes in a bar and one guy looks at another guy's girlfriend or one guy owes another guy. Twenty five bucks, they fight. One of them has a gun. One of them pulls out a gun, shoots the other guy.
And people don't want to talk to the cops about these crimes because the cops have basically through the policing techniques, through everything they've done, through stop and frisk and all this other low level bullshit have completely destroyed their credibility with these communities.
And so a lot of these crimes that are extremely solvable end up not getting solved because nobody trusts the police. And like, of course, they don't trust the police, but like, you don't hear about these crimes because those sort of like two dudes fight in a bar and one guy get shot. Those stories are so common and they're not that interesting. They're like an exotic it's not like, oh, we found a bone fragment and we're linking it to the dental records are like this bullshit that you see on CSI.
It's like yet to do that, like kind of knew each other and they got in a dumb fight and one guy ended up dead.
Like that is by far the most common form of homicide in America. But we haven't sort of reckoned with, like the escalation of that form of murder as really the paradigmatic form of murder that takes place in America. It's men between 16 and 34 in an argument who like know each other kind of, but like sort of not really. These often get called gang or. It because the cops have no idea who's in a gang and who's not, and oftentimes they classify it as drug related, if one person has like a bag of weed on them, they're like, oh, it's drug related.
Even if it's a bar fight, like the complete transformation of the kinds of murders that we see in America and the competence of the agencies that are allegedly solving them. We can't tell those stories because it's like we focus in on like the one dead white girl in Minnesota that happens once a year. Like statistically you're going to get some number of these cases and it's like we zoom in on these cases and we don't see these big umbrella trends that most Americans have an extremely incorrect idea of the kinds of murders that are taking place and what is being done about them.
Did a rape rate like that rape is another crime? Yes, our entire carceral structure operates on a completely false premise of what the typical or average rape is.
Yeah, and those clearance rates are 40 percent now that 60 percent of rapes go unsolved. That's something that I was actually wondering about. Like to what extent are stories around me to true crime? Because on the one hand, of course, like they can have that kind of energy and impetus at the same time. I do think that the true crime format, the traditional one, is really kind of ill suited for precisely this. It's like, oh, this is bone fragment.
It wants to do this kind of forensic work that you just can't really do there. I watched the Larry Nassar documentary that's on Netflix now. Like, they kind of try and it kind of doesn't work because no one disputes the facts. The facts are horrifying. The oh, yeah. The mystery is how the fuck no one saw this for like years and years and years. Yeah, it's not really. And then in a shocking twist, there's is shocking twist.
The thing that the women were saying all along happened and at some point powerful people had to notice. Yeah, yeah. Like, right. And it's not whodunit.
It's why are we incapable of listening to women and girls then? And so it's and so the mystery you get to solve is like it inevitably involves introspection. It involves looking at society. Right. I mean, I would say that the Metoo movement is at this interesting loggerheads with the ways that girls and women in America are often taught to believe that we are of value, which is that someone will be locked up on your behalf and write. One of the things I see in aspects of the Metoo movement, specifically in Chanel Mellors memoir, is this expression of the fact that the system was supposed to help me and it did some stuff.
But like also I was explicitly promised things that I never got and that people knew that I wouldn't get. And I was used as evidence and treated in a way that didn't mitigate my trauma and in fact violated me again. Why is the system promising that it cares about me when it appears to see me as very best a secondary concern at very best. To me, one of the things that's exciting about me, too, is that it is showing everyone, if they care to observe the ways that true crime has taught us to put our trust in the police to protect women.
And what we're seeing in these stories is that they are unable to do it. They're not interested in doing it. And the process of solving crimes seems to traumatize victims, perhaps even more so as it is falsely promising them that it's for their welfare and for protection of their rights, that the process is like this because the process wasn't set up with victims in mind and we can't retcon it into something that behaves that way.
I think everything you were just saying about Chanel Miller to Sara reminded me of, like, you know, how many generations back this kind of misapprehension goes. I was just thinking of how similar that is actually to Maya Angelou's like kind of origin story that she tells. And I know why the caged bird sings when she was raped as a child, I believe by a relative. She didn't tell anybody at first. And then when she did, the man was killed and she didn't speak for something like eight years after that because it was her understanding that her voice had killed a man.
You know, that's such a poignant story from a child's eye view, especially when she tells it. But it's also a really powerful testimony to how in exactly the same way you just described the Chanel Miller, that outcome runs directly counter to any mode of transformative justice that might put the survivor at the center and her wishes at the center. Those misapprehensions and sort of overrating of survivors actual needs and wishes continues to happen all the time and has been right for as long as anyone can remember.
And the use of a sexual assault survivor or a sexual abuse survivor or a victim of murder who can't say anything about what they would have wished. I really feel like we're potentially having this very exciting moment culturally, where we can say as women, specifically as white women, this infrastructure was built allegedly for my benefit and like for me and this has my name on it and like, I don't want it. Actually, it was never meant to. I don't I.
Defend whatever this thing you gave me, you know, and like and just, yeah, the idea that the things that we do that are allegedly for the benefit of survivors of sexual assault or abuse or murder victims are things that white supremacy is interested in doing anyway. Yeah, divesting oneself from a role as potential victim, which I think is the role that was offered to me as I was growing up and the way that I was allowed to think that I was a value of society was like, well, someone killed you.
People will be really sad.
And growing up with this weird sense of like what people like me more if I weren't around, there's been a lot of media that really critically explores that recently as well. But I think there's there's something very interesting about noticing that you have been given this role that seems to benefit you and all these ways. There are all these promises, like if something bad happens, we'll protect you. Like, don't worry. And if we can't protect, you will offend you.
And at a certain point being like, OK, why do you want to avenge me so badly? Like, why can't you protect me now? Why is Bruce Wayne keeping all of this money to fight individual muggers when he can just improve the schools in Gotham? Like what's wrong with this picture?
I've been watching a lot of Batman movies.
That's really deep and dark and relatable, Sarah. And this is a really personal story. But it did remind me of a terrible moment in my life, in my teenage years, when my super Catholic parents first learned that I had had sex with my boyfriend in an extremely like what was then a very loving relationship. Their first reaction was to say, did he force himself on you?
And it has struck me so many times in the distance of memory that that was more legible to them.
Like, yeah, it was somehow more comprehensible to them if it had been nonconsensual on my part than if it had been consensual like that.
Yes, very much a testimony to the kind of obfuscation you're highlighting, right, dude?
Yes. Yeah. And because it's morally better to have been raped than to choose to have sex and that world view. So. Exactly. Yeah, exactly.
We actually talked about this on our Duke lacrosse rape case episode that in this sort of we had the social construction of like false rape claims as like she's out to destroy men and like she's a bra burning feminist, blah, blah, blah.
But it sounds like the research shows that a lot of people who make these false rape claims are actually conservative and Christian people who can't admit to their parents that they had consensual sex, their parents catch them and they're like, oh, he forced me.
Oh, my God.
And so because it is more legible, who now, you know, to have a conversation with us, just like down into the abyss, just 45 minutes, then you're like, fuck, what is it like being with these people in real life like this? It's bad.
It's not bad. But but I do feel like I need a drink. One thing I did think about in terms of gender as well is on the one hand, with the Zaitouneh Panic's and with Nancy Grace, of course, the anti true crime position, which I think we've all sort of implicitly a little bit been taking, is, of course, also a kind of gendered in the sense that, you know, the keyword histeria. Right? The fact that we accuse people of irrationality.
And one of the things that ME2 brings home, I think, is that, like, if you hear the same story 50 times, it could be a moral panic. It could also be that the same thing happened 50 times and your society's incredibly blind to it. Do you ever sort of deal with that? Is there ever a moment when you sort of think about this in a particular way? Right. Would commit us to a kind of sexist trope of like, well, people are just making shit up or do you find that honestly the truth sets you?
You ask good questions, you could put pressure on it, something will crumble or some things will sort of survive.
Hassira, why are you so mean to Nancy Grace? I want to know. I think that the satanic panic is the best subject area to talk about this end, because it's, you know, the neighborhood where I spent my lost time and also the fact that to me, what makes it so complicated is that we are seeing people coming forward with stories of sexual abuse. Many of these specific cases, McMartin, Jordan in Minnesota, the Fran and Dan Keller case, et cetera, are just demonstrably untrue.
Like, you really have to believe some stuff that that logically doesn't scan and that is is really unsupported by all the factual information we have in order to believe in the possibility of these stories.
And yet they're coming forward at a time when, you know, the police and the public have just started talking about the sexual abuse of children is something that even exists or something that exists enough to not be like either this weird thing that almost never happens, let's not talk about it or something that like if it happens, like don't talk about it. Don't make a. Big deal, and the child won't form negative memories like this is the attitude that a lot of women and the boomer generation and earlier seem to have grown up with.
And so I think you also see this moment of, you know, in the early 80s, this is when boomer women are having children. And I am led to believe by my research, a lot of them are saying, like, never again, like my child isn't going to experience what I experienced either in terms of the trauma that I experienced that wasn't addressed or just no one caring. We're talking about the ways that they can be abused by somebody.
And so there's this very real reckoning that needed to happen and needed to happen somehow that gives birth to these dozens upon dozens of wrongful convictions.
And so when you talk about that, I feel like what I tend to focus on is the fact that, you know, these imagined traumas seem always to come from some actual trauma like this need that parents have to protect their children from these. It turns out sometimes imaginary foes that we see in the 80s, I think comes from the fact that they really have been through or their generation has been through trauma that no one wanted to talk about with them and no one wanted to acknowledge with them ever.
That's interesting. So I think with moral panics, I mean something that I feel about pretty much every moral panic that we've talked about on the show and something that I really tend to look for now, like when I'm starting to educate myself about something that seems like a moral panic, is that the fear that people express it will be directed at some proxy object that's unrelated to what's going on, but it will be real and it will be relevant and it will be, you know.
Right. It would be reasonable to be directing it somewhere else. And I think in the satanic panic, there's this revelation that we start to see in terms of increased literature and studies of child sexual abuse is like this seems to be a problem with men in the home or men in the family, like should we look at radically altering rebuilding from the ground up our concept of the family?
Because that seems to be what we need to do. And then they're like, no, no, it's the lesbian daycare teachers. It's not the dads or the boyfriends or the male relatives or people the child knows at all.
You know who I think it is? Immigrants. It's immigrant problem. Yeah.
Let's not let's not deal with the fact that our country is held together with tape and not even new tape, a tape that's kind of old and gritty. Yeah, it's the immigrants. Right. And just the need to find a proxy fear. And also that, you know, if you have fear or reasonable anxiety about something that is an aspect of mainstream culture or something that seems like an immovable part of society as it is, then you will then take that fear and bounce it on to an outgroup that doesn't have very much power and members of whom you can kind of quickly and cathartically incarcerate.
I really think that's a perennial theme.
I mean, redirection is one way to describe the processes that you're tracing in your podcast in general. Right. Like how things get rerouted in ways that are convenient, sort of lifelines for a society, but that ultimately leave the festering problems untouched and keep inventing problems that either don't exist or aren't currently framed. Right. That are misunderstood.
We get these more open and keep getting redirected to the same things. Right. Right. It's always either the outsider to our society or it's a group within our society that is becoming morally depraved. Right. Right. It's stranger danger or it's like street gangs. Right.
Those are like the two ways that we know how to channel those Marxist professors so dangerous, these Oberlin underground.
The final final question, if you could say anything to Jessica Simpson, what would you say?
Oh, my gosh. I would say, Jessica, I think that the timing of your, like, reckoning with your life, inviting all of us into that circle, like, was just so perfect. And I appreciate you. And I just thank you for bringing in high rise jeans because somebody had to do it.
I have some ideas for a song about John Mayer. I would want to I would want to workshop this.
Well, Jessica Simpson, if you listen to this podcast, which she certainly is.
I'm sure she does. I'm sure, Jessica, I've every confidence. Yeah, we're here. Jessica, let us know. Yes.