Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Good Grief: When It Reigns, â€¦
Boom Times for Billionaires, Bust â€¦
Dropping The Bomb On CD-ROM.
Joseph m. Perry
Privileged Dependency and Waste: The â€¦
Justice Too Long Delayed
Slippin' & Slidin'
Gay and Lesbian Community Notes
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The Andrew Cunanan story from its beginnings as a nearly unnoticed Minneapolis murder on through the killing of Gianni Versaceended in a not-very-dramatic suicide that swept the story off page one into news oblivion. But as the smoke from the media blitz clears several facts are now evident. First of all, the police and FBI handling of the case was, from beginning to end, riddled with incompetence. When the victims were only gay menthey had little interest. When they did become more dedicated, after the murder of the allegedly straight Lee Miglin, they had little notion of how to understand the gay world in which Andrew Cunanan lived. When the police had to explain their handling of the case and the media had to report to the non-gay public, it was their fantasies of gay lifeextrapolated from flimsy evidence and shot through with lurid and less-than-imaginative detailthat took center stage.
While Cunanan was not convicted, his culpability seems fairly evident. But what was fascinating about the medias reporting was not the presumption of guilt but how they dealt with homosexuality. The media continually referred to Cunanan as a "gay serial killer"the phases "black serial killer," or "Jewish serial killer" would never be used by mainstream journalists, nor would Cunanan, who was half-Filipino, be called a "Filipino serial killer." Also fascinating was how the media constructed images of Andrew Cunanan as an evil, dangerous, deadly homosexual. These imagesoften based on nothing more than hearsay or conjecturetell us more about fantasies and fears of heterosexuals and mainstream media than about facts of the case.
Take for instance the endless prattle in the press about Cunanans purported relationship between sex and money, repeatedly labeling him a "hustler," "call boy," "gold digger," "high-priced prostitute," and "kept boy." One report claimed, in a commendatory tone, that "he selectively dated wealthy older men." (As opposed to what? Undiscriminating dating of older men? Dating by its nature is selective.) All of these terms conjure up indolent, immoral characteristics centered on trading sex for money.
The reality is that Cunanan lived for several years with an older gay man and had access to some discretionary spending money. This same description might be applied to many women like, say, Ivana Trump or Princess Diana. The exception being that they had access to the institution of marriage.
In none of the news stories was Cunanans several years long connection with this man called a relationship or an affair. Did they have sex? Did they have emotional feelings for one another? We have no idea, yet the media was intent on portraying Cunanans sexual behavior as unfeeling and predatory. The mainstream press has a hard time imagining that any gay relationships can be as loving, tender, confusing, or valid as heterosexual relationships. More to the point, Cunanans alleged financial relationship with other men made him, in a culture that demands men be actively productive, less of a man. This "feminization" of Cunanan would emerge later in the investigation as a major theme.
Cunanans construction as a "kept boy"often described as "flamboyant"; now thats a code word for youwas also conflated with images of a vaguely illicit and superficially glamorous social life in which he is described as "always picking up the tab" or "treating a tableful of friends to dinner." Some of these phrases, innocent enough when used in other situations, were given a meaning that smacked of decadence and frivolity. One newspaper report claimed that Cunanan was a "clever, name-dropping, gay socialite who would do anything for attention," implying that each of these traits or descriptions lead, inevitably, to serial murder. For a "journalistic ethics" check, imagine a newspaper claiming that someone was a "shrewd, financially-well connected, Jewish socialite who would do anything to get ahead." I dont think so.
After the Versace murder all media hell broke lose and theories began flying fast and furious. Maureen Orth, a journalist who was already at work on a story about Cunanan for Vanity Fair, discovered that while in Miami, Cunanan had rented several "pornographic s/m videos." Ah hah! Orth, interviewed on televisions "Dateline" and other faux news shows, claimed that she had spoken to several psychologists who explained that the basis of s/m activity was an unlimited and violent rage. Orth presented this plum with great satisfaction.
What were these videos and who evaluated them as s/m? Can Orth, who has exhibited no particular expertise in gay male sexuality, make this evaluation? Many mid-list videos from mainstream companies like Catalina and All Worlds now feature a few leather body harnesses, a dildo or two, and some light spanking. Is this what Orth mistook for "s/m?" But what if Cunanan had rented hard-core dungeon/torture videos like Kink Videos Delivery Discipline on Punishment Punks? Does that mean that he was "into" s/m? Does that mean that s/m equals rage and that rage equals murder? Orths hop, skip, and a jump through these fallacious assumptionsreported in the mainstream media as truthare worthless rumor mongering predicated on misunderstanding sexuality and used to further the image of gay sexuality as monstrous.
Another ethics test was the national front-page headlines claiming that Cunanan crimes were the result of his having AIDS. The New York Post screamed "AIDS Fuels His Frenzy," embodying a now classic mainstream fear: the AIDS killer. This story found its source in the statement of an HIV councilor who claimed that Cunanan, in passing, mentioned that it was possible that he might be HIV-positive. This, in turn, was promoted by the Miami police as an "explanation" of Cunanans actions. The insanity of this logic, and its promotion as "news," is evident in the Posts reporting: "Dr. Scott Allen, a senior staff psychologist with the Metro-Dade Police Department in Miami, said investigators believe Cunanan fearing he is HIV-positive or enraged about some humiliationis targeting people he fantasizes may have infected or embarrassed him." In attempting to pinpoint some element in Cunanans personality as a "cause," they equate being HIV-positive with being "embarrassed." There was never any logical connection between Cunanans sero-status and his actions; it was only his being gay that led to this public hypothesizing. In fact, an autopsy showed Cunanan to be HIV-negative.
In the last stages of the investigationsand Cunanans lifethe authorities became even more desperate in their attempts to demonize the gay aspects of Cunanans image. After finding hair clippers in a motel room in which Cunanan supposedly stayed, the Miami police put out a press statement that they believed Cunanan had shaved his body hair and was now in drag hiding as a woman. This nonsense was promoted in all seriousness by the police and the news media as a respectable theory. Based on nothing, and ignoring the elemental fact that most menunless they are highly practiced or professional cross-dresserswould be more, not less, obvious in drag. Clearly it was Cunanans openly gay identity that was the driving force behind most police and media speculation. The media re-creation of Cunanan as a killer drag queen paints him as the ultimate deviant: the feminized homosexual who has become the male fantasy of the evil, deadly women: the apotheosis of heterosexual fears of the queer. This gender-traitor as murderer is resonant of Cunanans earlier media image as the feminized kept boy and the gossipy, gay socialite.
Another media image of Cunanan was that he was an "invisible" yet "deadly presence." After the Versace murder, almost every news report ended with a phase like, "In spite of intensive police efforts, Andrew Cunanan cannot be found. He is a master of disguise." This image of an undetectable danger is a highly evocative replay of the "hidden homosexual" that stalked the popular imagination of the 1950s. The queer passing for straight; the apparently happily married suburban man who led a secret life in the city; the "latent" homosexual that lurked inside of unsuspecting "straight" men. The fear of the undetectable danger runs rampant in cultures quick to demonize the outsider and non-conformist. Fear of the Jew posing as gentile was the nightmare of British Victorian and Nazi culture, as were blacks passing as white in the American South.
Like Elm Streets Freddy Kruger, the media constructed an Andrew Cunanan who lurked on the edges of reality, struck terror into the hearts of "normal" people. He was, like homosexuality itself, unnamable and indescribable.
There was no need to make Andrew Cunanan any more scary than he wasa suspected serial killer is pretty scary. But homosexuality is so feared that given half-a-chance the police and the news media will construct every gay monster they can to reassure themselves that whatever gay is, it is not them.