No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends, and the Internet

By Pamela Donovan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

The Market in Snuff Films

This chapter concerns the first of three case studies in this project. The legend of the snuff film alleges that films, videotapes, and now Internet webcasts of real murders, usually sex-related murders, circulate in underground social networks. Most versions of this legend include some profit motive attached to these recordings and to the violent actions of the filmmaker murderers. However, in some cases, it is alleged that such recordings are merely passed along for the sexual excitement of clandestine viewers. In most versions, the killers are men and the victims women—women who thought they would be making a conventional pornographic film.

One factor that makes this crime legend distinct from many others, including the other two explored in this project, is that it is often presented as an explanation rather than a warning or a narrative. That is, diverse activities in the criminal underworld and their manifestation in above-ground evidence—from seizures of property from organized crime participants to unsolved murders or disappearances to discovered caches of child pornography—are linked to a supposed snuff film industry.

Best (1990:144) describes the urban legend generally as an “unconstructed social problem, ” which is quite applicable here. However, compared to other legends, the snuff film legend is somewhat more “constructed” than usual. By constructed I mean that the legend has a degree of institutional presence as a constructed reality, which society is called upon to address as a social problem. 1 This has not always been the case. When the initial snuff film rumors emerged in 1969, they were more the stuff of idle gossip connected with the activities of the Manson family. When the idea of an autonomous market in snuff films took hold, thanks to the contextualization of the problem in a variety of organized claims-making activities, it began to be a social object surrounded by constant speculation and mystery. That is, ironically, the more that moral entrepreneurs took it up as a cause and condensing symbol, the more a shroud of uncertainty began build around it.

The idea of the snuff film is also seemingly more compelling to many who believe in the existence of underground commerce than other crime legends. People who know what an urban legend is still feel strongly, in some cases, that the market in snuff films does not qualify—due to what are often

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No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends, and the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - The Market in Snuff Films 27
  • Chapter Three - Stolen Body Parts 61
  • Chapter Four - Shopping Mall and Theme Park Abduction Legends 85
  • Chapter Five - Debunkers and Their Orbit 111
  • Chapter Six - Crime Legends and the Role of Belief 133
  • Chapter Seven - Crime Legends, Protection, and Fear 157
  • Chapter Eight - A Summary 189
  • Appendix 1 197
  • Appendix 2 201
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 217
  • Index 229
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