Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in US History (1999)

Old favourites: Rob Doyle on a year of his best loved books

 Gianni Versace was murdered by Andrew Cunanan in 1997. Photograph:  Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Gianni Versace was murdered by Andrew Cunanan in 1997. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

 

The most upsetting and unexpectedly profound art experience I’ve had lately was watching the 2018 TV series The Assassination of Gianni Versace. A riveting study in shame, self-loathing and damnation, the series set itself an audacious narrative and moral challenge: it began in media res with the preppy, erudite serial killer Andrew Cunanan committing acts so repugnantly vicious they put him beyond any hope of redemption, and then, by way of a slow-burning reverse chronology, lured its audience into a disturbed empathy with him.

No less provocative was the show’s flirtation with nihilism in consciously positioning itself – and its audience – within the same symbiotic matrix of mass-media violence and voyeurism it interrogated, by exploiting the trauma of lives already shattered by Cunanan’s actions in an entertainment that was as lurid as it was politically sophisticated.

The book that did much of the heavy lifting the series drew from is reporter Maureen Orth’s extensive account of Andrew Cunanan’s life and killing spree, and the resultant manhunt and media carnival. Vulgar Favours grew out of a long-form piece for Vanity Fair – Cunanan’s favourite magazine – that Orth had already been commissioned to write before the fugitive turned up in South Beach, Miami. It was there, after lying low in sleazy hotels and gay bars, that Cunanan murdered his fifth and famous victim, before turning a gun on himself in a boathouse surrounded by TV-network helicopters and armed police.

Though written only two decades ago, the book promulgates certain prejudices that now seem laughable. Cunanan enjoyed drugs and pornography: “Experts on serial-killer behaviour say the combination can be explosive.” The TV series’ brazen nods to the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho turn out to be more than a brinkmanship of tastelessness: Cunanan was transfixed by Ellis’s fiction, identifying heavily with his blank, dissipated rich kids. At a gay nightclub hours before he shot Versace in the head, someone asked Cunanan what he did for a living. “I’m a serial killer,” came his blithe, Batemanesque reply.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.