"The Man Who Would Be Vogue"
*SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST EPISODE OF AMERICAN CRIME STORY'S SECOND SEASON*
The second season of American Crime Story, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” begins with a sequence of nearly no dialogue and dramatic orchestral music taking place around Versace’s (Edgar Ramirez) Miami Beach mansion. The incarnation of Italianate decadence blended with the ‘90s effortless luxury immersing the viewer straight into the scene. Simultaneously following character Andrew Cunanan on the beach, he wallows into the ocean and screams into the water. The collision of the characters occurs within the first five minutes of the episode with the inevitable assassination of Gianni Versace right outside his villa steps by Cunanan. From the moment of his murder, the season weaves back and forth in time to give the viewer bits and pieces to try to solve the story. The crime’s nature and perpetrator are known almost immediately, and though space is given to the investigation and the sensationalism around Versace’s death, it’s all secondary to the story’s interest in Cunanan’s development. Even the Versace family are sidelined to follow Cunanan’s journey immediately after the assassination.
Series creator Ryan Murphy had based the second season of the anthology on a book by journalist Maureen Orth, “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U. S. History.” However regardless of numerous complaints from the Versace family, Murphy said that the series is “a work of nonfiction obviously with docudrama elements since Orth’s book is full of gossip and speculation.” Meanwhile, Orth’s publisher, Random House, defended the book as “a carefully reported and extensively-sourced work of investigative journalism by an award-winning journalist with impeccable credentials.” The back-and-forth conversation between the creator, the author, and the family leaves the audience unsure what is fact and what is fiction in the show. However, I approached this first episode as an obvious dramatization based on real events. Washington Post reporter, Stephanie Merry comments in similar vein stating, “Recreating a murder in the exact place where it happened might upset the family. So too would the multiple scenes of Versace’s bullet-riddled face and body. Still, that doesn’t make the series a work of ‘fiction’ so much as disturbingly accurate."
In regards to George Gerbner's Cultivation Analysis Theory, violence produces predictable outcomes and, critics argue, is easily transferred from a domestic audience to a global one. FX’s anthology has seven minutes into the first episode before having gunshots fired and graphic scenes of Versace’s bleeding face on screen. Less than halfway through the episode, Versace is seen laying on his front steps with a dead bird next to him and his fingers twitching. Showing several scenes of Versace’s bloodied face with holes in it, at 28:03, the episode shows close ups over 10 times of his bleeding face within a five minute span before his unfortunate death.
What struck me most within this episode was the lack of realizing Gianni Versace was a real human being. From being shot right in the face to his boyfriend helpless pleading with the police to bring an ambulance to save his beloved, crowds gather the Versace mansion to gawk and gaze at the crime scene. FX, originally stylized as "fX", launched on June 1, 1994 under 21st Century Fox. In early 1997, fX was relaunched as "FX: Fox Gone Cable", refocusing the channel's target audience towards men aged 18 to 49. Repeatedly, every 4 to 5 years FX has rebranded itself in some way in order to approach a broader audience but has remained within the drama and sometimes comedic tv-series. Fox filmed entertainment was founded by William Fox (although originally named Fox Film Corporation), but is now owned by Rupert Murdoch and has been for some years. Murdoch also owns Fox TV Network, Fox News Channel and 21st Century Fox therefore all falling under News Corp worth $56 billion in the United States alone.
With an international reach in Asia, Australia, Canada, Latin America, and Turkey, FX’s “Assassination of Gianni Versace” allows for an all encompassing portrayal of what it was like to live in the US during a stigmatized homophobic era of the 1990s. During the first episode, investigators also question Versace’s longtime partner Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin), who discusses the couple’s sexual endeavours with other men. Versace’s sister, Donatella (Penélope Cruz), mortified when she comes into the room especially with D’Amico says that investigators will surely find out “everything.” The “everything” that the Versace family was nervous to have everyone find out about was that vague assertion refers to the fact that Orth reported that Versace was HIV positive. While very obscure in the first episode, the track of the story seems to begin leaning towards this arch.
In the early 1990s, discrimination of homosexual relationships was slowly becoming part of the world-wide conversation. With greater media attention to gay and lesbian civil rights in the 1990s, “trans and intersex voices began to gain space enhancing shifts in women’s and gender studies to become more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary identities.” After the first 10 minutes of the episode, the viewer sees Cunanan and Versace interact casually in a gay strip club. As the story begins to slowly unfold, the viewer does not yet know much about Cunanan’s character other than he’s the killer. Although the episode is not particularly violent, there are some idelogically disturbing scenes that disassociate Versace as a human being and just a celebrity. Take for example, gawking crowds standing outside the villa steps trying to take photos. As the police officers tape up the surrounding area, a woman runs under the yellow crime tape straight to the steps that are covered in Versace’s blood and rub a magazine page from a Vogue magazine of Versace. Running back to her husband, they put the bloodied magazine page into a ziplock bag.
Part of what makes the real stories interesting is this moral gray zone: “we’ll never know what pushed Cunanan, or if he could have been somehow saved”, wrote TIME reporter, Daniel D’addario. The viewer is forced to see the blood gushing out of Versace’s face and close ups of the hole from the gun wound over six times within a span of ten minutes. Arguably on Gerbner’s behalf, this narrative alone translates as a normalization of brutal death particularly those that we tend to idolize. The compartmentalization of celebrities allows everyday people and normal individuals to distinguish a difference between “us” and “them”. This othering technique can be seen across media platforms especially in entertainment with the amount of violence that ensues on our televisions today. Rather than setting up the crimes Cunanan commits or giving a backstory into the assassination of Versace, American Crime Story decided to work its way backwards through the tale. Although creator Murphy pushes that “Getting the most out of American Crime Story will similarly mean looking past the frescoes and fabrics to the plight of people whose ken for beauty fascinated a sick man and a sick society”, much is to be said about the vividness Murphy included of Versace’s assassination.
In 1997, the murder of Gianni Versace took the world through an emotional rollercoaster. Renowned fashion designer known for his family values and Italian decadence, was pronounced dead on July 15. Reporter Adam Lusher said, “To most minds, this was never a whodunit. It was, rather, a why did he do it.” In the actual investigation, Cunanan was found within eight days on a houseboat less than three miles from the Versace mansion, dead on the scene due to suicide. The brutal retelling of Versace’s murder gives a fair depictiong of the LGBTQ movement at the time, how the world was trying to handle the AIDS epidemic, and the mourning of a beloved fashion icon all play critical roles in FX’s series. And while the focus may not be on the explicit violence, Gerbner would argue that the subliminal ‘you are what you consume’ concept, still has an impact on the viewer.