Notes on the celebrity of Making A Murderer defense attorney Dean Strang.
For me, 2016 will already go down as the year I had the dubious honor of having my “content” embedded in a Buzzfeed article about Making A Murderer, the wildly successful Netflix documentary about the murder trial of Manitowoc County resident Steven Avery. Admittedly, I had already been planning on writing up something not too dissimilar from their smash-n-grab quasi-listicle about the bizarro heartthrob status it has created for Madison-based defense attorney Dean Strang.
Let’s back up a tick, though (and be warned, all you spoiler hounds, because the results of Avery’s case, which was decided almost a decade ago, will be discussed explicitly).
For anyone out there who has not watched the decade-in-the-making true crime ten-part documentary series, it systematically breaks down the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, and deftly connects the dots to argue that Avery, currently serving a life sentence for the crime, at the very least did not get a fair trial, and at most (as well as most distressingly) was the victim of a Manitowoc County police conspiracy. Threads of that suggested conspiracy lead back over almost two decades to a previous and totally unrelated rape conviction that was overturned (thanks to improved DNA testing technologies), but only after Avery had spent 18 years behind bars for a violent crime he did not commit.
The series takes pretty much a whole day to watch (and you seriously might be tempted to burn it end to end once you get a little ways into it), so yes, I left out a ton of stuff in that brief rundown, but none of that matters for our purposes today. What we’re here to talk about is the strange social media phenomena I found myself oddly wrapped up in and embraced by over the weekend.
As a volunteer producer for WORT-FM’s Thursday edition of the 8 O’Clock Buzz (with host Tony Castaneda!), I realized pretty quickly that it would be a great idea to ride the cresting wave of pop cultural and regional momentum and lock in one of Avery’s two defense attorneys on as a guest for the show. Dean Strang (arguably the more dapper of the duo—no offense to Strang’s co-counsel Jerry Buting) lives here in Madison, so I reached out to him and in next to no time he had graciously agreed to show up in the studio and answer whatever questions we had about the show as well as the case and where it all stands currently.
In the six or so months that I’ve been a producer for the show, I’ve never seen a guest garner so much interest. There were literally self-described “fan-girls” who showed up and took photos with Strang at the WORT studio on Bedford Street in downtown Madison. Being a fan myself, how could I pass up an opportunity to take a photo with the man who had just days before been described as “Like Atticus Finch, But Not Racist”? I cracked a silly comment about ladies on the Internet having crushes on him, and, as was captured in the photo, he laughingly said something to the charming effect of “Ha! My wife thinks they’re crazy!” and so I tossed it out there onto the Internet, at which point the appropriately hashtagged ball began rolling.
Within hours, my tweet had already become the most shared thing I had ever posted which, let’s be honest, wasn’t a very high bar to begin with.
The first person to jump onboard and voice her personal obsession with Avery’s legal team was Daily Beast crime reporter Kate Briquelet:
...who is also apparently the founder of the Dean Strang-Jerome Buting fan club:
The fan club is large, it turns out:
There is even a “YaBoy” parody account rolling deep in the Twitter streets:
Like all things that end up as even the smallest blip on pop culture’s radar, the meme-ification of the Avery case was bound to happen—and honestly, given the grisly nature of the crimes discussed, we should be pretty thankful that this relatively benign fetishizing of the defense attorneys and their zeal for justice has been the more prominent ways it’s manifested itself. Given the range of discussion that has been catalyzed by Making A Murderer, Strang's subtle manly charms are far from the center of all the stories swirling in the wake of the series’ impact.
The documentary ends frustratingly at a dead end for Avery (and heartbreakingly so for Avery's nephew, Brendan Dassey, also serving a life sentence for his very sketchily established role in the crime), with his case appealed as far as he can possibly get it in Wisconsin, and the only hope of getting out of prison resting on the elusive possibility of new evidence which, well, who knows. Will the legion of folks, including this vocal base of fans voicing their #StrangCrush, unite and affect the culturally systemic issues (from schooling, to policing, to the media, and on and on) that stymied Avery every step of the way to this eventual fate? At the very least let’s hope they help get the word out that, regardless of how innocent you may think you are, you should never (ever!) let yourself be interrogated by police without the presence of counsel.
As of press time, no one has been revealed as having a crush on the over-dramatic anthropomorphic helium balloon in a suit sporting a high school janitor’s push-broom of a mustache that we all know as Avery prosecutor (and sexting aficionado) Ken Kratz.