I’ve talked about dead women a few times on this blog, usually in relation to dead mothers, a trope I’ve become a lot more aware of since my mom died. When I wrote about the dead mom’s trope I counted seventeen different T.V. shows and movies that have characters with dead moms or use the trope in some way to further the plot and talked about how this trope is usually is written to make the child of the dead mother a destined character of some sort, that mother’s during the 1970s era of television were less interesting to write about, and possibly that the trope puts men in a position to think about how they can make themselves better fathers. Whatever the reason, mothers have disappeared or are killed in fiction to make a more interesting story for main characters. But fictional mothers aren’t the only ones who suffer its fictional girls and women as a whole who do.
Dead girls are a popular trope in fiction and I’m not sure why. Popular T.V. shows such as Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars begin their plots with a missing dead girl. Other mystery novels and movies use the same trope to get attention: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates the apparent suicide of model Lula Landry in Robert Galbraith’s/J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling and similarly Detective Mark McPherson investigates the murder of a successful business woman named Laura in the movie of the same name. There are hundreds of other mystery, detective, and thriller stories that follow the same plot: a girl/woman dies and an investigation ensues.
But why is it always a woman? Why are we so obsessed with them?
Well, it depends in part on the type of woman. Like what happens in reality, the dead women and cases we are interested in are usually those of white privileged women. TV Tropes writes about the Missing White Woman Syndrome trope (sometimes called “missing pretty girl syndrome” or “damsel in distress syndrome”) talks about how Western media focuses on reporting on real life missing and murdered women who fit a certain mold: they are often pretty, white, privileged while similar missing and murdered women and persons of colour are often ignored by the media. This real life syndrome has leached its way into the fictional media we consume, sometimes for commentary like in Scary Movie or Gone Baby Gone but more often than not these fictional dead girls follow the same pattern of dead girl stories we like to follow in real life. What do the dead girls Laura Palmer and Alison DiLaurentis in Twin Peaks and Pretty Little Liars have in common? They’re white, they’re popular, and they’re dead (at least at the start of the show…).
The dead girl trope is so common it’s one we don’t even think about anymore, ones we’ve grown desensitized too. With the rise of true crime from “guilty pleasure to high culture” stories of murdered women have become sensationalized to a point that when discussing these cases we do so for entertainment and rarely think of these dead women as real. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to kill women in fiction, to make a story exciting and depersonalize a fictional dead girl as nothing more than a body. Look at the weird ways in which we market them, even by selling these fictional dead bodies for our own entertainment.
It was this trope, and a few other reasons that made me want to think and talk out loud about all this more. So I decided to make a podcast where I talk about fictional dead girls and why we’re so obsessed with them. It’s an interesting topic that I’ve already learned a lot from and one I’m excited to learn more and talk about.
Because we deserve better than more dead girls, in the real and fictional media we consume.
LISTEN TO THE INTRODUCTION OF “WHAT GIRLS DO” BELOW!
SPOILER WARNING: GAME OF THRONES (LAST SEASON)
(Graphic made by myself using Canva.)