Why Making a Murderer is a cultural phenomenon

It's a mere three weeks since Making a Murderer premiered on Netflix but at this stage Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey have become household names for all the wrong reasons. Every second person you meet is talking about it and it's struck up a national debate in America and abroad over the judicial system they so heavily rely on.

If you have somehow missed out on it, a quick synopsis of the documentary is that it follows the story of Steven Avery, a man wrongly convicted and sent to jail for 18 years for a crime he did not commit, who is then released thanks to DNA analysis, only to find himself up for a murder conviction two years later.

The allegation came amidst a multi-million dollar lawsuit Avery was taking against his home of Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction, with the defense going on to argue in his trial that he was framed by the police.

It's no doubt a gripping story but just how and why has Making a Murderer reached the dizzying great heights of popularity it has? It's the first time a documentary series has taken the world by storm in this way with everyone and their mother discussing, analysing and reading everything to do with the case of Steven Avery for the past few weeks.

The reasons are obviously multi-faceted as to why this documentary has become the cultural phenomenon it has, but we have stripped it back to just six main points below.

1. Netflix

Why not start with the obvious. There is no way this style of documentary would have worked on anything other than a streaming service like Netflix. If this had played out week by week on a television network, there is just no chance it could have held people's attention in the same way. Firstly, we would have all just googled it, saw what happened and moved on with our lives, and secondly, it would never have instantly reached and drawn in the global audience it did, that only love the opportunity to have a good binge watch.

2.  Timing

Again, we are playing a few obvious cards here but the timing of Netflix dropping Making a Murderer was pretty genius. Right before the holidays when they knew people would have the time and head space to really sink their teeth into ten hours of documentary footage. It probably would still have garnered the same attention at a different time of year but certainly not so instantaneously. It also meant we all had a great go-to topic of conversation at every party over the festive period, thanks Netflix.

3. The rising popularity of the 'True-crime' genre


Now we are into the more meatier points as there's no denying that for this last year or two, audiences have been building up an insatiable thirst for all stories of the 'true crime' variety. It could be argued that the Serial podcast in late 2013 kicked things off, when the whole world became gripped with the true story of Adnan Syed, a man serving a life sentence for the murder of his girlfriend where there was a compelling case to suggest he did not do it... or did he?

2015 then brought TV mini-series The Jinx, the story of gruesome and baffling controversy surrounding eccentric billionaire Robert Durst and his alleged crimes. While later in 2016 we will also have the must anticipated American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson starring Cuba Gooding Jr and John Travolta. There's no denying it, when it comes to our crime series these days, we want the truth, and the grittier the better.

4. Armchair Detectives

While the likes of CSI prove that, in general, we humans love a good 'whodunnit', we no longer want to sit back and watch the TV detectives solve the crime, we want to get amongst it ourselves. Like Serial before it, Making a Murderer has also sparked this trend of internet sleuths too with entire reddit communities dedicated to piecing together and solving every part of this case, along with an ever-growing online petition for Avery's release. It's not just Cumberbatch who can be Sherlock these days.

5. There's a bang of True Detective off those opening credits

It's almost too obvious. But then why not piggy back off the success of a hugely popular fictional series (let's forget season two happened) to get people in the mood for what's ahead. The contrasting black and white images, the sombre menacing score. It's clearly a nod to Nic Pizzolatto's work.

6. Word of mouth

A crucial aspect in the making of any cultural phenomenon and a point we have already stepped on is 'word of mouth'. You watched Making a Murderer because somebody told you to watch it, and somebody else is watching it because you told them. Nowadays though, word of mouth is not just reserved to chats down the pub, with social media we can let the world know our thoughts in a click of the button. Never mind building marketing or ad campaigns, if you've got people talking about your show, your product, or whatever it may be, you're already onto a winner.


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