Since the announcement of her prison release, the internet has been consumed in an uproar of memes dedicated to Gypsy Rose Blanchard. From the call to get her in a Heaven by Marc Jacobs campaign to her earning the title of ‘mother’, Gypsy ascended from station of public figure to celebrity status in a matter of weeks. Find her on the red carpet with the internet’s big sister Tefi, IG comments defending her boyfriend going viral and paparazzi photos snapped by TMZ as she goes shoe shopping.
The 32-year-old gained notoriety following the success of the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017). Gypsy suffered severe Munchausen by proxy at the hands of her mother for several years, which led to Gypsy planning and orchestrating her mother’s eventual murder by her then-boyfriend in 2015. This story would later be adapted in the Hulu show The Act (2019).
The news of Gypsy’s sentence of 10-years for her role in the murder quickly became a touchstone for the corruption of the American legal system and its perceived failure to adequately deal with the dynamics of abuse and self-defence.
This overwhelmingly sympathetic perception of Gypsy made her prison release into a cultural landmark event – as the young woman finally gained freedom after 32 years.
When we look at the case, it’s fair to say that Gypsy’s place in our news cycle was imminent – and its eventual mark on true crime lore permanent.
Not unlike other prominent true crime cases, this murder was characterised by bizarre and ever-intriguing circumstances: the cruelty of Munchausen by proxy, the Blanchard’s highly documented public life and of course, the hundreds of plush toys.
Beyond the fascinating optics, this case converted the archetypes we know from fairy tales – the cruel mother, the helpless daughter and the avenging saviour – into a real life event. While true crime has always emerged at the intersection of news and entertainment, this heavy personification of fairy tale tropes only served to push the needle into the latter for the general public.
Gypsy also subverts the expectations we have for women victims in true crime through her survival. True crime is predominantly the folklore of dead girls as we learn of women’s lives through the circumstances of their deaths. With Gypsy, we have a case of domestic abuse that broke the formula in a rare reconfiguration of the expected true crime plot.
This mould has been broken before. Most notably, in 1993 when the local police of Manassas, Virginia received a call from a woman admitting to having cut off her husband’s penis with a Ginsu carving knife. In the years to follow, this story of Lorena Bobbit became tabloid and late night joke fodder as its comparably bizarre details triggered the culture’s crude sense of humour.
The truths of the case, including the years of abuse and rape Lorena Bobbitt experienced at the hands of her husband that predated this responsive attack, didn’t manage to inform the dominant public opinion.
While Lorena was ruled not guilty through a plea of temporary insanity, the nuanced understanding of the jury was not shared by the public consciousness. As the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Kim Gandy told Time, “We thought that Lorena’s case might get domestic violence to the forefront and get people talking about why we need to do something. It didn’t have the effect we hoped it would have.”
Instead, tabloid media titled the event a “Surefire Way to Get a Man’s Attention” as Lorena became vilified into a punchline.
Only a few decades later, the cultural reaction to a woman participating in violence against her abuser would be met with a seemingly world of difference. Perhaps the positive response to Gypsy’s release could suggest a long overdue shift in the understanding of domestic abuse on a collective scale. One that makes room for the nuance of these cases and values the lives of victims. Or, more likely, perhaps not.
Somewhere along the way, it seems the respectful care towards Gypsy became blurred with internet antics and meme chaos. One X user used an AI-generated image to produce Gypsy in a pink Barbie-esque scene with the caption, “gag city welcomes its new resident gypsy rose blanchard.” A new TikTok captured a club night that featured clips of Gypsy playing on a projector screen whilst the audience danced to Ariana Grande’s Break Free.
A recent episode of the Barstool Sports’ podcast Plan Bri featured hosts laughing together over their “favourite meme ever”: a list of things Gypsy needs to do when she gets out of prison. This meme included: being a guest on Hot Ones, dating Pete Davidson, going on stage as a surprise guest at The 1975 concert, hosting the Teen Choice Awards and releasing a debut hyper pop single. All events are probably impossibly unlikely.
On one hand, this slew of content represents Gen Z’s attempt at affectionate support for Gypsy – just through the use of its own language (see: slay, mother and queen) and their darkened sense of humour. Most of the creators contributing to this cultural moment likely have the best of intentions and seek some levity.
But as the line thins between laughing with Gypsy and laughing at Gypsy, the recent frenzy echoes that endured by Lorena Bobbitt. And more importantly, the wider cultural tradition to convert women’s trauma into entertainment.
In the case of Gypsy, we laugh and find joy in her major recent life event, during which, she too has seemed happy and excited. But she also begins the difficult experience of assimilating to life after prison following years within a corrupt legal system.
True crime stars such as Gypsy, additionally, usually have to rely on media appearances for income. In her case, this sees Gypsy once again being a puppet for someone else’s interest as a means of survival.
The issues of contemporary true crime have long been debated since the podcast boom turned this genre into a daily staple, with the market expected to reach a worth of $2.3 billion by 2025. True crime may have had a captivated audience even before the release of In Cold Blood – but by the end of the 20th century, the genre found a gendered inflection.
From documentaries, dramas and podcasts, there’s an overwhelming focus on the violent crimes committed against women. Even more problematically, almost always only white, middle-class women, which tends to normalise only “one-type-of-pain” as worthy of public introspection and concern – to draw from Rachel Monroe’s seminal works on women and true crime.
By forcing real life events into the form of narrative entertainment, true crime can dehumanise real human experiences as we voyeur into the tragedies of other people’s lives – usually retold by strangers – on say, our commute to work.
Regardless of whether true crime is a guilty pleasure, inspo for amateur detectives or just an unbridled favourite, the consistent theme of women’s pain reflects a worrying underbelly of the genre when situated in the wider political context.
We may be approaching participants in violence against their abuser with more empathy, but our public interest still stems from the same source: an obsession with women’s trauma as entertainment. Subverted tropes and the well-meaning memes are still yet to uproot this cultural disease at its root.
Now, almost one month after her release, Gypsy is slowly disappearing from internet feeds – the joke just not sparking the same laughs it once did.
As her fame dulls, it begs the question: did we really care about her and her wellbeing as much as our own entertainment?