Are you familiar with JonBenet Ramsey? If you exist in a timeline dating from now back to 1996, then you must be, because this poor little girl has not gone away in the last 20 years, despite the fact that she was murdered. It's not enough that such an awful thing had to happen to a child who was only six -- for some reason, a dreadful calamity golem formed, and the media won't ease its greasy grasp on the story for even a second and let JonBenet rest in peace.
An IMDb title search of "JonBenet" reveals over 100 entries. Of those, 15 or so are movies or miniseries. That's nearly one a year since she died. And a new one is coming in 2017.
There are more JonBenet rehashes than than every superhero reboot combined.
The story is that this young daughter of rich parents, involved in the pageant circuit (which is a whole different bag of creepy), was found dead in her home on Christmas in 1996. There was a ransom note at the scene, and the death was ruled a homicide owing to the circumstances -- strangulation and a blow to the head. Her mother was blamed. So was her nine-year-old brother. So was her father. So was the housekeeper, a handful of strangers, and even Santa Claus. For real, the dude who played Santa at a party got dragged into the whole debacle. None were ever found guilty, none matched DNA evidence at the scene. The crime is still unsolved. Case closed for now? Nah!
Year after year, people keep ushering out new movies, books, miniseries, and special episodes of shit like Dateline in order to dig this up like a time capsule full of half-assed theories and random speculation, because isn't this story great? At this point, there's an entire industry of filmmakers who could probably retire thanks to the death of a six-year-old. It's the best thing that ever happened to them.
If that sounds pessimistic, you have to take into account the fact that there is no new evidence. Each new movie or miniseries isn't providing new insight; it's taking old shit and old opinions and trying to mold a pile of turds into a chocolate mousse. Just last year, CBS rolled out a circus sideshow of a documentary which concluded that the brother killed her.
They reached this conclusion in much the same way you do when playing Clue: They just picked a guy and guessed. They literally had no new evidence; they just felt like giving slander a try in a bid for ratings.
The whole JonBenet cottage industry is a lot like the movie version of Clue, now that I think about it. We have the details of a crime, now let's just run through a bunch of alternate endings in which it's more or less plausible that each new person we accuse did it, and that'll be super entertaining. The 2017 documentary which will air on Netflix is described as a "vision of a mythic American tragedy." But it's not a mythic American tragedy. It's the personal tragedy of a family who have to keep living through it 20 years later. Imagine if your child was killed, and for 20 goddamn years, no one would stop talking about it ... or accusing you of doing it, despite the fact that you'd been eliminated as a suspect by the district attorney. How do you manage to keep going through your days with this shit tossed in your face endlessly?
Obviously, many people still believe the family was involved. But it's been 20 years. They're not being found any more or less guilty. There's no new evidence. Unless someone confesses or a witness somehow comes out of the woodwork, this is it. The story is over, and has been for a long time. Even OJ Simpson didn't get as many TV movies made about him, and they at least had a crime, a car chase, a huge trial, and all kinds of media-fueled drama to pad the plot of those.
Just remember this column when JonBenet -- America's Daughter: American Crime Story gets announced.
The sad truth is that these movies or pseudo-documentaries are by and large not really concerned with the truth of the story. They're not here to add depth and context and insight. They're the "reality" version of a CBS procedural drama, endlessly played over with predictability and time-tested formulas. They're CSI with real victims. People are entertained by them. Child beauty queen, a rich family, a sinister crime with crazy details like a suspect ransom note, a curious 911 call, and hints of potential sexual and physical abuse. If it wasn't real, it'd make a perfect Special Victims Unit episode, wouldn't it? Oh man, how will Ice-T get to the bottom of this one?
You don't even have to imagine, because of fucking course they already made it into an episode.
No one's saying it's wrong to explore the ins and outs of crime in the kind of detail you'll only find in documentary. There are tons of really interesting, chilling, and jaw-dropping documentaries that delve into all kinds of human depravity and the criminal mind. And it's important to realize that the world works this way sometimes. It's not important to realize it 15 times over with no new details. We got sick of Spider-Man with the Andrew Garfield reboots, so why is the death of a child given a free pass? Shouldn't this be seen as more disgusting? And horribly exploitative?
This Netflix doc will probably not be the last, and that's the most frightening part. It's pretty well-known that they create shows based on hard data. House Of Cards was basically generated by that data, and the computers were correct when they said, "This is what the people want." It's doing the same thing with this documentary. It's not frightening that they're creating it. It's frightening that we obviously want to watch it. Even after 20 years. Even with no new information. Is that not just ultra creepy? Well get used to it, because as long as those algorithms keep spitting out hits, we'll keep funding them, no matter how fucked up it gets.
One of our most popular episodes from 2016 was when we invited Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark from 'My Favorite Murder' to talk about some of the best true-crime stories out there. So successful, in fact, that we're resurrecting it (get it?) for a part two! Metal Fang, the Strangling Executioner and the murderer living in the attic just weren't enough. So Jack O'Brien, Dan O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Karen and Georgia back for another creepy hour of serial killers and urban legends that are bound to make you terrified to go outside or talk to a stranger or do anything.
Get your tickets here:
Also follow us on Facebook, it'll be worth your time.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.
It's easy to work the system and win these awards even if you don't deserve them.