Jessica Chambers: Murdered, Burned, and Framed Online

Jessica Chambers got murdered, and what an interesting story it is.

No one knows who did it, and everyone’s trying to arm-chair solve the mystery online, and there are more sleuths working on it than residents in Jessica’s hometown. Jessica is the current poster girl for “missing white woman syndrome” and her latest murder(s) are members of a gang, just proof that black men are nothing but thugs, and that black lives don’t matter. Jessica, you see, actually dated black men. In Mississippi, even. So that’s a hot mess. A hot mess of racism in the dirty south made all the worse by the internet’s erosion of expertise. Anyone can become a CIS because we can do it online with Google and a cellphone.

And Buzzfeed can tell a story about it. Buzzfeed does a nice job of storytelling, actually. Another similar example is the podcast, Serial, by Sarah Koenig. Koenig sleuthed a cold case about Adnan Syed who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

That’s the point – the storytelling. Buzzfeed and Serial‘s story make a person think about storytelling, and how complicated it gets online or in other media now that people can produce. Frame tales get more and more complex when new media change the form for telling. Conversations open, nets get cast wider, space and time shift strangely, and form and content morph in the era of secondary orality in unusual ways that a simple book or print or filmic form cannot contain.

In book-based frame tales, where the story of a murder gets nested within the story of a sleuth uncovering the murder, experiencing the phenomenon, and critically commenting on some facet of contemporary life, texts are physically dead. Books are dead. No amount of poststructuralist theory will bring them to life except philosophically. And while all that philosophical talk matters, i.e., while words and ideas about the fluidity of meaning and interpretation matters, new media underscores how books are, in fact, dead and dying. Or at least deader than, say, a comment page, YouTube, social media, Web 2.0, or a podcast. The global village, the wider reach of the town busybody, and the lynch mob effect of Fox news also matter in different and significant ways because of how new media literalizes all the claims postmodernity made on the nature of texts and truth.

Well, maybe the phrase “necropost” undermines this whole argument.

Nevermind.

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