Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of Alissa Bennett
It’s been just about a year since we covered the release of “Dead is Better” the first in an ever more impressive body of zines about America’s most gruesome and the experience of obsessing over them. Over the course of the year Bennett claims to have gone from a (metaphorical) “peeper” to a “flasher” as she has taken a more investigative turn in her approach to her material, proving even more how much she is the 21st-Century Truman Capote in terms of both the high-level literature and the subject matter. For the full experience of Bennett’s investigations, it is recommended that you follower her on Instagram @arnoldfriend6 so that you can watch their fullness unfold in real time.
Over the course of my year as a Bennett fan, her perspective colonized the part of my brain that reads the baroque corner of the news. I found myself reading the Michelle Carter text messages aloud to friends, and as I mention below, couldn’t wait to hear what Bennett would say about the suicide whisperer. Obviously, Bennett doesn’t disappoint and adds an entire “duck face” angle to the story that no one else was covering. She also takes on the truly dark tale of Michael Woodmansee, a murder with a journal so graphic that no one has ever read the entire thing. Also dark but less so and definitely feeling like the opposite end of the spectrum is a deep delve into the life of the Noxema Girl. Bennett also covers “wealthiest woman in the world” Barbara Hutton, who she claims set the entire “I Expected Something Nice” project in motion. Over the course of the telling, Bennett reveals how close she came to having a “Dead is Better”-style TV show, which would have been amazing, had the process not sounded so damn dreary. Thankfully, we have “I Expected Something Nice” instead. Pick up your issue and go to one of Bennett’s readings to hear these stories and more in their fullness. Also, check out the interview below.
Michelle Carter was my first experience with a news story in my “post-Alissa Bennett” existence. As the story unfolded, I sensed you would write about it and kept hearing the coverage translated into your voice (although reading the chapter on her, you seemed actually pretty reluctant). How many of these stories emerged in the news since you started the zine, and does it change your approach when they are unfolding almost at the same time that you’re writing about them?
I guess I’m typically interested in writing about a crime when the mainstream media coverage starts to die down; when you start to get past the initial mania, the information somehow starts to get weirder more interesting, so it is unusual for me to write about an event that is so fresh in everyone’s mind. I always like the idea of focussing on people who have been forgotten about, people who were all over the news for one minute and then just totally disappeared the next, so Michelle Carter was definitely outside of what I usually get into. She is probably the most current figure that I have engaged with, but she felt impossible to ignore.
How open to interpretation did you intend your title to be? Are you the one expecting something? Is this issue about disappointment?
Absolutely. I think the one outlier is the Michael Woodmansee case- I decided to include it here because I just kind of understood that there was never going to be an appropriate context for his story. He is so outside of what I am typically interested in that I thought it kind of made sense to just totally exploit the difference between him and the other subjects in this issue. In a way, I guess I wanted to amplify the obscenity of what he’d done. This felt like the right place to do that.
Have you started taking a more investigative approach in researching these stories? I get the feeling that you’re reaching out to the people involved more now than you were. You seem on the trajectory to becoming an investigative journalist if you aren’t one already.
I have been thinking about this too but in different and less professional terms. I think I used to be a peeping Tom, and now I’m a flasher. Writing to these people has some element of perversity for me like I think “You can write back to me, you can tell me to fuck off, or you can ignore me, but you will have seen me.” I’m less frightened of being rebuffed now, so I just started going for it.
I always like the idea of focussing on people who have been forgotten about, people who were all over the news for one minute and then just totally disappeared the next.
It feels like every issue there’s a feature on someone where I think “Of course!” This time around it was Heidi Fleiss — I’m still struck that her name is Heidi! Had you been saving that up for a while or are you not that calculating?
I make lists of who I think I will want to write about when I start working on each issue, and even though I am a long-time admirer of Heidi’s, it had never really occurred to me that I would have anything to add to what everyone already knows about her. She ended up in this issue mostly because it was so heavy for me to research the Woodmansee case; I was anxious and stressed out about it, and one night I decided to kind of narcotize by watching the Nick Broomfield documentary about her arrest. One of the things that I love about his films is that he always manages to tell someone’s story through characters who seem insignificant but then somehow end up being as or more interesting than the focus subject. I found myself googling the women he interviewed while I was watching it and just feeling really curious about all of them. I always love when a documentarian does a Where Are They Now update, because don’t you always wonder? It was really interesting to try to do one here and kind of fail at it. Writing these zines is always an unpredictable experience because 90% of the time, I end up writing a few entries about people I hadn’t planned on and having all of these ideas at the end of people who weren’t on the initial list who I wish I’d included.
Do you take requests? Have you been following the James Rackover story?
You never knooooow!!!!