Honeytraps · Heidi Fleiss · Hardstark Agonistes

Plus a bunch of long-weekend reading

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Yes, this is in fact my rationalization for buying another fistful of Marvy pens I don’t NEED need; doesn’t mean it’s not genuine! Anyway: whatever your level of support, we’re glad you’re here. — SDB

Has the status of My Favorite Murder become a mystery of its own? I stopped listening to Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark’s massively successful pod years ago, strictly for only-so-many-hours-in-a-day reasons, so any drama in that fandom is going to miss me, but Vice’s Gita Jackson reports that a poorly communicated sabbatical by the hosts has some “Murderinos” in a tizzy.

In early June, the episode descriptions for new podcasts indicated that Kilgariff and Hardstark would be taking a few months off. Initially, the language in these descriptions said that the guest hosted episodes would last for June and July. By mid July, the language had changed to the more vague "summer."

Given that Hardstark has posted on Instagram about using this summer to go to a "trauma treatment camp", only a small minority of fans resent either host for taking a break from the show. It's clear that what's frustrating for them is the lack of communication. Fans on Reddit, Facebook and reviews of the show on Apple Podcasts say that not only was this break not clearly communicated, they have little faith that the show will ever come back.

But part of the frustration is that of paying customers not getting the product they ordered or expected — specifically, members of the pod’s “Fan Cult” community, who pay $40 annually for “access to exclusive weekly content and a fan forum.” This is the eternal tension of popular internet properties, in my experience: between the members of that property’s community, who often attach to it and to one another in an emotional and personal way; and the property’s creators, who may feel bonded to the community but whose priority is the content — and for whom that content is, in the end, a job. A job they love and take seriously, yes, but still a job. Where is the line between the kind of belonging that a podcast like MFM (or Crime Writers On…, or any of my podcasts, or Television Without Pity) tries to create among true-crime consumers, that feeling of My People, of belonging to a place or a group; and the kind of belonging that suggests entitlement and ownership? What behind-the-scenes decisions about scheduling, time commitment, community-building, et al. are none of the listener’s business, and which ones speak directly TO the business as an income generator for the creators?

My feeling, going back multiple decades now, is that…well, the internet decides how it’s going to “use” what you make, if that makes sense. You write or record the thing, people respond to it or don’t, but if a community coheres around it, it sort of does so according to its own rules. Those rules tend not to include an acknowledgment of the work you do that the consumer does not see; that’s just how it is, that if creators show their humanity in a way that inconveniences the community, versus empathizing with it, you will have that segment of said community that goes full

Which is not per se “wrong”! And I’m not trying to be all “y’all have no idea how hard [X] is to make” over here. It is, sometimes, but that is in fact what the money is for and you guys know what’s up. I’ve just spent most of my own career on the creator side of it, and having worked “here” since dial-up days, I’ve seen this evolution of beloved properties so many times. The internet has and has always had that…well, conflict isn’t quite the right word, but the community of theory and the commerce of practice don’t always co-exist comfortably.

Working in the true-crime space adds another degree of difficulty, for a couple of reasons: Kilgariff and Hardstark have talked a lot about the emotional/psychological goals of their pod and other content, and purposefully creating a safe space for people who are explicitly trying to own their fear? Is a lot to take on for people, never mind that you’re treating with terrifying and triggering content your own self. I can imagine that the MFM team is burned out — on all of it, not least “Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered,” which is…not how I’d come at it and I’ll leave it at that, but even if THEY have regrets, they’re stuck with it. And I can imagine that, until they can figure out how to manage that burnt-ness, they’re staying out of sight. And I have compassion for their predicament as the leaders of a movement of sorts, who now feel trapped by the scope of the thing, at the same time that I’m compelled by it and its meta implications for this particular editorial subgenre.

…Okay, gotta go write my dad a college-tuition refund check. Talk amongst yourselves, hee. — SDB

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Rambling on for that long about My Favorite Murder means I’ve got to go shorter for the rest of today’s edition. Let’s pull a bunch of things out of the B.E. story closet to hold you for the long weekend…

  • Back to Vice for a story on how the recent OnlyFans upheaval affects sex workers.

  • From WaPo last week: in Vegas, trafficked child “sex workers” — who are victims — are still treated like perps.

  • Hat Tip to Cup Of Coffee for mentioning this ugly but important longread on a KKK murder plot, which also revealed that more than a few klansmen work at Florida DOC.

  • “Who deserves absolution, and when, is one of humanity’s most vexing questions” — and MacLean’s tackled it last month in a piece about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and the figures at the center of the tragedy.

  • Deceit dramatized the Colin Stagg/“honeytrap” scandal in a four-part docuseries on Channel 4. Reading the coverage here, I flashed back to a section in Popular Crime about an investigation involving an undercover cop trying to date a murderer, and the many ways in which that could and should have gone south on the police. It took me a minute to chase down the specific case, but it’s Jon Scott Dunkle. A couple of books have been written on the case; anyone read either of them?

  • Looking for some new music? Baby & The Luvies have an EP called Get It Down, and I haven’t listened to “Murder” yet, but I liked “Heidi Fleiss” a lot. — SDB

Next week on Best Evidence: We’re off Monday, but after that, we’re talking Dog the Bounty Hunter, Impeachment, The Falcon & The Snowman, and much more.

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