Master of Liberal Arts (M.L.A.)
Degree Granting Department
Humanities and Cultural Studies
Amy Rust, Ph.D.
Maria Cizmic, Ph.D.
Andrew Berish, Ph.D.
True crime, Documentary, Digital, Thriller, Reenactment, Affect
In this thesis, I outline the changing shape of the reenactment in the contemporary true crime documentary to illustrate a burgeoning crisis of epistemology and anxieties about the authority of evidence in the Digital Age. I examine two works—The Jinx and The Imposter—that deal with evidence in formally similar but ideologically opposite ways.
Logic in the Digital Age prioritizes an ever-widening collection of increasingly more precise artifacts and details, which supposedly paint a more complete picture but end up highlighting what is unknown more often. Key to this examination is the adoption of classic Hollywood thriller techniques (e.g., non-traditional narrative structures that emphasize subjectivity, twist endings that create uncertainty and doubt, etc.) which indicate a shift away from the traditional “cool” rhetorical control of social realist documentaries towards the emotionally charged manipulation of the thriller. This shift cannot be sufficiently explained by the overarching progression of the documentary towards more reflexive and performative modes. Rather, at the center of this shift is the use of stylized reenactments that share both the thriller’s preoccupation with subjectivity and uncertainty and digital logic’s pervading heterogeneous makeup.
This shift troubles the mastery true crime docs implicitly claim to offer through evidence and the authority of the American criminal justice system in a different way than the more self-reflexive modes of documentary. To resolve the trouble, these films appeal less to evidence and more to emotional certainty and pathos as a way of judging guilt and innocence, shifting the way concrete evidence is understood.
Scholar Commons Citation
Phillips, Brett Michael, ""You want it all to happen now!": The Jinx, The Imposter, and Re-enacting the Digital Thriller in True Crime Documentaries" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.