American Vandal”, a Satirical Take on the Presumption of Innocence

“American Vandal” is a Netflix mockumentary, which attempts to recreate the style of true-crime documentaries, such as “Making a Murderer” or the Ted Bundy Tapes documentary. However, “American Vandal” simulates the genre by providing a fictional setting and scenario in the same format. I will be writing solely about the first season as that is its original documentary. “American Vandal” revolves around an act of vandalism, of which dicks were drawn upon 27 staff vehicles at a high school. The premise is quite comedic and simple, yet the issue it tackles is a bit more complicated.

Dylan Maxwell is accused of the crime simply because he is a notorious troublemaker, who also tends to draw phallic images on teacher’s whiteboards. When translating this to reality, many times suspects, who are not even fully convicted of a crime, are indeed treated as if they are already criminals. The US upholds the presumption of innocence, which is best explained by “innocent till proven guilty.” However do we really uphold that principle? There are wrongly sentenced criminals, but not even touching upon that subject, when someone is considered a subject, what are our first instincts? Do we already put a label on the suspect, assuming that they conducted the crimes they’re charged for? Do we jump to conclusions and believe we’ve already caught the perpetrators? It surely would make lives easier for others if these initial suspects are the actual criminals: less money and time spent on investigations, we can move onto more pressing, important matters, etc. And in the context of “American Vandal,” he had the motive, he was ostracized by and hated the teachers/staff, already had a track record with vandalism and crime. Just like that we’ve already set up a case for an innocent man. How much more real is this in reality? There are already countless people with track records or small misdemeanors and such, and lawyers or officers can use these previous experiences to completely nullify the presumption of innocence.

So the next time a suspect appears on our social media and such, what are our first impressions?

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Gideon Lee

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