'Mindhunter' Is More Than Just an Uncritical Love Letter to the FBI

Content Warning for discussion of Sexual Assault from approximately 1:52:00 - 2:07:00

On this week's Waypoints, Austin watched all of Netflix's Mindhunter while he was on vacation and couldn't wait to talk about it with the rest of the crew. It's a look at the FBI during the late 70's, before the term "serial killer" existed, and how some of that methodology was invented. Rob brings us Arrival, Denis Villeneuve's 2016 movie about aliens landing on earth and language, communication, and trauma. Danielle visited Halloween Horror Nights and brings us the scoop on the design and craft of the various haunted houses. After the break, Austin, Patrick, and Rob discuss last week's NFL news, including a segment on Antonio Brown's sexual assault allegations. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ne837x/mindhunter-is-more-than-just-an-uncritical-love-letter-to-the-fbi

Mindhunter kind of loses its grandeur when you realize the FBI’s profile system is based in pop science.

Still amazing acting of people playing serial killers though.

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One of my favorite classes when I was working towards my bachelors several years ago was my profiling class because my professor talked so much trash about the FBIs profiling methodology lol. Whole sections of his book were about the failures of the FBI and it’s profilers to the point it called out specific people by name and dunked on their cases. It was fantastic.

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I think I knew Mindhunter would be my shit in the first episode where the surly sociology grad student asked Holden what he thought about Durkheim’s labeling theory of deviance, which did two things: (1) Made me happy to finally hear Durkheim mentioned by name in a piece of media, and (2) indicated that this would be a show that wanted to really ask some questions. And on that latter element, I think it mostly pulls it off. It’s definitely not quite at The Wire’s level of demystifying structural influence at the micro level, but it certainly makes a sincere attempt at doing so, which I always appreciate.

But what I appreciate most about it is how surprisingly accurate its portrayal of the social scientific research process is – particularly in regard to qualitative research. (I don’t know for sure, but I always got the sense that at least someone on the writing staff is very familiar with this particular field.)

From the often petty arguments about how to set up a methodology/vocabulary for their study, to showing how legitimately difficult it is to do in-depth interviews in a consistent/non-intrusive manner, to the major emotional toll this sort of research can take on a person. Like, I know Holden is (intentionally) an absolute asshole throughout this show, yet I completely empathized with his complete mental breakdown at the end of season 1. My own research projects require me to rationalize/categorize the thoughts and behaviors of incredibly abhorrent groups, and it can be so, so easy to get lost in their world if you don’t keep yourself in check. It’s like you willingly surround yourself with this horrid worldview so much so that it’s easy to forget that there are other, less bad belief systems outside it. So much of the discourse within sociologist circles revolves around how to balance being able to accomplish research while still coming out of it with most of your mental health intact, and Holden does not do that. Not only is he totally inductive with his investigative lens (which, as this show points out, is bad), but he simply does not have the training someone like Carr does with understanding the merit to not allowing personal reflections to enter into the researcher-subject relationship. And hell, even with that training, she’s shown to be susceptible to that complication as well. The sort of research Mindhunter shows is incredibly messy for everyone involved: for the subjects, for the eventual publication’s readers who might take away dangerous ideas from it (i.e. profiling ‘works’), and to the people who perform the research itself – none of whom seem like they’ll come out of this show as whole as they once were.

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As a huge Halloween Horror Nights fan (I’m crushed that I can’t make it out this year), Danielle’s trip report put a big grin on my face. Even in the houses and open-air zones with weaker execution, the production value, design, and storytelling never fail to impress me. The event even has straight-up lore if you dig deeply enough, which can carry over from year to year.

For context, here’s videos of some of the houses she was talking about during the segment, if you’ve never seen the kinds of haunted houses they have there. If you’re interested, there’s more videos of houses and scarezones on the ThemeParkHD channel, which is where I got these from.

(CW: Gore, Violence, Flashing Lights, Startling Noises, Firearms). Also, spoilers for Us, and Stranger Things 1-3, if you haven’t seen one or both of those.

Stranger Things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbJtDmip4Io

Us: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaI_1VP8R8Q

Yeti - Terror of the Yukon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEC8RqG8iJk

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Cameron Britton’s portrayal of Ed Kemper is absolutely fucking incredible.

Also, to Austin’s point about BTK: SO many of these killers just end up fucking up and revealing themselves. The whole reason Kemper gets caught is 'cause he turned himself in! The police had nothing to do with it.

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Yeah, BTK asked THE COPS if what he was sending was safe and would keep his identity secure.

Quite the moron, BTK turned out to be.

The Wayne Williams story is fucked…

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This whole conversation reminds me of this twitter thread I ran across the other day:

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The root beer kegger makes sense, Pete Wentz USED to be super vegan straight edge. Andy Hurley, the drummer, is still vegan straight edge and active in the community.

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I finished listening to this about 5 minutes before the Pat’s cut Antonio brown, which I believe is now the 3rd time I have listened to a waypoint discussion about him and then some further insane wrinkle in his story has come out within an hour. I dont know if it’s me or the staff causing this, but one of us needs to stop

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Okay, this isn’t trying to be a call out post or anything. But after listening to the pod describe how playing football badly can make people more hurt, I do not understand how you can keep watching football when the human wreckage is so obvious. This segment, beyond any other football talk on the pod, paints football as walking on this knife edge between it working as intended, and slowly injuring players as a matter of course, or not, and completely destroying people.

I don’t understand it. Like, I’ve spent years watching hockey, I sometimes follow it casually, and it feels so fucking bad when you see a play get injured because of a routine play, or they get taken advantage of by a shitty player. But I’m not sure it was ever such that, bodies were so instrumentalist and used up as they are in football. I just can’t get it what let’s people get over that to enjoy what seems like, an okay at best sport.

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After some personal tragedy in my family, The Arrival is one of those movies that made me basically gasp in air, run out of the theater then weep uncontrollably for about five minutes. I don’t really find myself crying too often when it’s just bad things, I cry more when people are beautiful to each other in the face of awful things.

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Everything you say is valid, and as someone who has stopped watching football for these reasons, I do think it’s something more people should be asking. And they should be asking that of the NHL as well. They’ve flown under the radar for a while now, but they are comparably bad in disregarding player safety:

Not to go all Old Man Yells at Cloud or anything, but listening to the crew lament that Homicide isn’t available on streaming services gave me a vivid flashback to when it was on the air and if you missed an episode, you either hoped you could find a friend whose dad recorded it, scoured the TV guide every week to catch the re-run, or happened to catch it 5 years later on WGN at 2:00 PM on a random Saturday.

Every once in a while it’s worth remembering that as much of a frustrating mess that stuff can be at times, it used to be infinitely worse.

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Just have to sliiiiiide in her and say that Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang is definitely worth a read! I’m pretty sure you can read it online somewhere. Even though I am well aware of many of the problems and criticisms of linguistic relativity, it is eternally my shit whenever it comes up in media

Also, get quietly excited for Xenolanguage with me!

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Per Mindhunter: Love that in the first Boston scenes Fincher reuses shots from The Social Network.

Halloween Horror Nights: So did they pony up the licensing fees to make it the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or is it just generic boardwalk without enough used needles on the beach?

i watched prodigal son, which was mocked in this episode… and its not bad. its not interrogating the fbiin the same way mindhunters is, but it seems to be a solid pulpy show with surprisingly good acting

Binged both seasons of Mindhunter in a week. Really loved it, definitely one of the better shows on Netflix. Can’t believe I didn’t twig it was made by David Fincher, I loved Zodiac - it was both effective as a serial killer procedural as well as a deconstruction of the genre. When Gyllenhaal is able to go into the shop at the end and just stare down the man he knows was the killer. Chills.

Much of the drama with Mind Hunter is the way it both proves and disproves the processes Tench, Holden and Carr are building. I also love how much they don’t hold back in showing Holden as the twerp he is. When Manson sticks out his tongue at him in the second season. Just embarassing. I’m with Tench all the way.

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