Such discussions defy the black-and-white morality tales spun as entertainment in the ’90s. “The 1990s in the U.S. was the decade for infotainment, from more normative news coverage to Jerry Springer,” Ms. Ross wrote, citing the headline-dominating stories of O.J. Simpson, Nancy Kerrigan and Lorena Bobbitt.
The Menendez brothers belong to a category of criminals whose stories are being retold with more nuance and reassessed in light of shifting public opinion. “We are right now much more attuned as a society to the realities of the impact of domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, and racist violence and harassment,” wrote Ms. Ross. “This allows us to look at ‘reactions’ to such elements with 20/20 hindsight.”
Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer who was executed in 2002 for the murders of seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990, said the killings were self-defense against sexual assault; she has since come to be seen as a misunderstood feminist figure. (There are plenty of TikTok videos about her, too.) Same goes for Ms. Bobbit, who cut off her husband’s penis in 1993 after he raped her, she said.
In addition to inspiring sympathy from young people learning about their case, the Menendez brothers have been cast by some on social media as stars (their video edits invoke hallmarks of “stan” culture, like upbeat pop music and dreamy soft-focus shots) and sex symbols. This isn’t new: When they were first arrested, the brothers received 1,000 letters a week at the Los Angeles County jail, Mr. Rand said, some of which contained nude photos. He remembers seeing “groupies” lined up overnight to get seats at their trial.
But some posters see such romanticization as a distraction from their advocacy. “I want people to stop sexualizing them and actually focus on the case, because their looks have nothing to do with it,” said Zoe Patterson, 17, an avid Menendez supporter from Melbourne, Australia, who made fan accounts on Instagram and TikTok in August. She hopes the brothers never encounter “those sexualization edits, considering they’re both married and have suffered a traumatic childhood.”
“I just want to thank them for inspiring me — not only me, but other supporters as well,” she said, citing reports of the brothers’ efforts running therapy groups for other inmates. “I think what they’re doing is absolutely amazing.”