Should We Be Mad At Ryan Murphy?

“Fuck Ryan Murphy for making Richard Ramirez into a horror chic character,” a friend texted me last weekend. He was bingeing American Horror Story and had just gotten to the 1984 season, which features Ramirez as a figure of anti-heroic fun. “Murphy had to know that there are still people suffering from his spree.”

Coincidentally, the text arrived while I was watching Netflix’s Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (which Sarah recently reviewed). I had just finished listening to Anastasia Hronas describe how Ramirez assaulted her for hours when she was only six years old. She is not the only child he harmed, nor was she the only victim of his — from rape, or beating, or shooting, or a combination thereof.

It made me wonder how San Franciscans reacted when Armistead Maupin made Jim Jones an arguably romantic figure in his 1982 book Further Tales of the City, just a few years after the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. Maupin lived in San Francisco, where the book is set, and knew that the city was still reeling from the tragedy. If there had been an internet back then, oh, boy.

Is there an ethical statute of limitations on when a crime or killer can be adapted in ways beyond the straightforward? Is it as simple as thinking “are there still folks around who might be harmed by this”? Or is all fair when it comes to crime and fiction? I haven’t made my mind up myself, and can’t wait to hear what you think. — EB

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