America’s unlikeliest sweetheart of 2024 has to be Gypsy Rose Blanchard-Anderson, released last month from prison and into the warm embrace of 8.2 million Instagram and 9.8 million TikTok followers. Her feeds show her settling into life in Louisiana: posting a shopping haul from a girls’ day; playing with her Malchi puppy named Pixie; date nights with her husband, Ryan, at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway and an All Elite Wrestling match. There’s something fitting about that last one, with professional wrestling’s famous mixture of fictional performance and real-life violence resonating strangely with her own story.
Of all the true-crime cases that have earned our morbid fascination in the past ten years, few were more morbid or more fascinating than Gypsy’s. She was subjected to extreme and grotesque medical abuse by her mother, Dee Dee, who falsified disabilities and illnesses for her daughter including intellectual handicaps, muscular dystrophy, and leukemia, despite the fact that Gypsy was developmentally normal. Dee Dee wove a web of lies so intricate that she was able to convince doctors to provide medicines and surgeries Gypsy didn’t need. She hid information from her daughter including her real age, so that when she was 19 she thought she was 14. Gypsy says that she knew she could eat normally (though she was made to use a feeding tube) and did not need a wheelchair, but in other ways she was convinced by Dee Dee’s lies — why else would her mother, whom everyone praised as a paragon of love and devotion, do this?
That was until Gypsy was 24, in 2015, and the boyfriend she secretly met online stabbed Dee Dee to death while she hid in the bathroom, listening to her mother scream her name. The couple fled from Springfield, Missouri, to his home in Wisconsin, where they were quickly apprehended and confessed to the crime. The case has been retread seemingly constantly since, in think pieces, documentaries, Reddit threads, and a Hulu drama. In January, the yearslong media frenzy climaxed with Gypsy being released from prison after serving an eight-year sentence for second-degree murder.
Thirty-two now and appearing poised and eloquent, she has been talking to everyone from the hosts of The View to Bachelor alum Nick Viall about how advocacy for victims of abuse is her main priority. She is also promoting The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, the Lifetime documentary she filmed just before getting paroled. Gypsy Rose is not the first to parlay a high-profile criminal case into fame, whether it’s Anna Delvey’s Instagram shenanigans or disgraced governor of Illinois Rod Blagojevich appearing on Dancing With the Stars. (Of course, the dancing felons allowed a second chance are nearly all white.) The exhibitionism of internet celebrity seems to have come naturally to Gypsy, and she has taken her viral fame in stride — perhaps if all of the darkest moments of your life have already been paraded for all to see, it is less embarrassing to tell your 20,000 X followers that your new husband’s “D is fire.” But at the same time, it feels like a disservice to let her become just another social-media curiosity, with her abuse and her crimes being meme-ified for an uncaring public. There is something so dark in the way that influencer culture flattens fame and infamy, turning everyone into simplified icons of themselves, brands that can be bought and sold. (My mind flits to George Santos, erstwhile congressional con man turned gay icon turning a tidy profit on Cameo.) To an irony-poisoned internet culture, Gypsy is Mother now.
In some ways, the latest turn in Gypsy’s story falls perfectly in line with the rest of it. Even people involved in the case seem unable to talk about it without pop-culture touchstones. Gypsy has described the fantasy world of fairy tales and Disney movies — an eternal world of childhood where parents are either absent or can’t be trusted — which helped her survive her years of abuse. Coverage since the murder has cast it as a real-life horror movie or melodrama, with a psychologist in the new Lifetime documentary comparing Dee Dee to the mom from Carrie, who used supernatural means to prevent her daughter from entering sexual maturity. Gypsy’s cousin describes Dee Dee as “Mommie Dearest,” a reference to the campy 1981 biopic depicting Joan Crawford as an abusive and unstable mom from hell, in a 2017 documentary about the case, lending the film its title, Mommy Dead and Dearest.
In many ways, Dee Dee was like a stage mom, forcing her child to perform to satisfy her own narcissism. I can’t be the only person who thought of child star Jennette McCurdy’s harrowing memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, when listening to Gypsy tell her story in her Lifetime series. Dee Dee was savvy about how to pull on people’s heartstrings — after Hurricane Katrina, she moved with Gypsy to Springfield, Missouri, far from the girl’s father and their extended family in southern Louisiana, some of whom may have begun to question her ruse. By claiming displacement in the hurricane along with her daughter’s fabricated illnesses, Dee Dee was able to scam trips to Disney World, meet-and-greets with celebrities through Make-A-Wish, and a house from Habitat for Humanity.
Many who came into contact with the pair comment on Gypsy’s sweetness and charisma, and in some sense, Dee Dee must have recognized her daughter’s star quality. She was made out by her mother to be “slow,” but in reality she was intelligent and precocious — Michelle Dean, who wrote the definitive early coverage of the case for BuzzFeed, notes the “long, beautiful sentences” Gypsy speaks in, despite her having only a second-grade education — and she must have been able to intuit what her mother and others expected of her, how to perform the “perfect” disabled child. In response to her polished answers on her recent press tour, some have wondered who prepped her so effectively to navigate the media. In the Lifetime series, Gypsy looks back on a local news spot she and her mother did after they got their Habitat for Humanity house, where her younger self says winsomely that fairy tales do come true. “I remember being coached that day,” she says. Who media-trained Gypsy? Dee Dee, of course.
In staging herself and her daughter as the ideal objects of charity, Dee Dee locked their story forever in the border between reality and a burlesque of it, so much so that Gypsy has no choice but to keep performing. And in 2024, where else to perform than online? Especially if you’re a convicted murderer with no education, no job experience, and severe trauma who needs to make rent. She has reemerged at the perfect moment, not only during the cresting wave of a decadelong true-crime craze but in an era when our attitudes toward victims, abuse, and trauma are undergoing a massive cultural transformation. When Dean covered the murder for BuzzFeed, she wrote about how online communities discussed the case with particular viciousness, describing both Dee Dee and Gypsy as disgusting frauds. This detail surprised me in rereading — the narrative has been so reshaped around Gypsy as a survivor that I forgot that her intentions were ever in question.
In documentaries, podcasts, and Ryan Murphy series, there is now a true-crime cottage industry reevaluating the stories of the fallen women of ’90s and ’00s tabloids. Margot Robbie’s I Tonya and the Jordan Peele–produced docuseries Lorena focused not just on the media circuses that swallowed the women whole, but also connected their violent behavior to being victims of domestic abuse. In a post–Me Too world, we are more sensitive now to how women in particular were vilified by a brutal, sexist press, dehumanized and robbed of the opportunity to tell their own stories, with a new raft of memoirs by figures from Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky to Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears attempting to set the record straight. And in recent true-crime documentaries like Secrets of Playboy and Escaping Twin Flames, they have taken the step of having abuse survivors process with a therapist on-camera to avoid retraumatizing these people in the name of telling their story.
I’m relieved that Gypsy has been released from prison to this more enlightened environment so she is not forced to answer even more invasive, awkward, or victim-blaming questions than she already has. But this sympathy can almost work as a pose to absolve us of our curiosity. And it doesn’t erase the ambiguous aspects of her case, leading to moments like when Gypsy had to gently remind the fawning hosts of The View that murder is wrong, which seemed to awkwardly encapsulate the whole mess.
We have eagerly accepted Gypsy’s contention that at a certain point it felt like only she or her mom could survive, and we allied ourselves with the living. But this doesn’t resolve the open questions about Gypsy’s role in her mother’s murder and how that event itself has been another source of profound trauma for her. One of the moments that struck me most in the Lifetime series was when Gypsy says she has not been receiving therapy in prison, the need for which was one of the most compelling arguments for her release. This is a person who has been unable to process all that happened to her over a lifetime of gaslighting and abuse, who went from one kind of captivity to another, and who is now forced to sell a superficial version of her story for social media, transitioning from her role as perfect disabled child to perfect abuse victim.
Considering this, it makes sense that she may have had to sand down some aspects of her history, for instance speaking of her ex-boyfriend and co-conspirator — still serving life in prison — purely as a disturbed, violent abuser. The other way we could see their dynamic is as a relationship in which two people with a tenuous hold on reality constructed their own, to disastrous results. This is more the way that his family, interviewed in the 2017 documentary, seem to see it, and they blame Gypsy for being the catalyst for the crime that ruined his life. This is not to say that Gypsy’s “confessions,” as the recent docuseries calls them, are just some publicity stunt or attempt to manipulate the narrative. For the most part, she seems to be transparent and vulnerable in telling her story, and I hope she can make money from the tragic events of her life — enough other people have. And I don’t want to discount the real compassion that people have shown her. Ten million people have watched her Lifetime series, and they are clearly interested in her beyond the memes and cringey tweets.
But just because we “believe victims” doesn’t mean our support can’t be clumsy, particularly when every detail of Gypsy’s abuse continues to be made graphically public and then the act she is most ashamed of is perversely celebrated. In all of this, Gypsy has been the only person who insists on remembering her mother’s humanity, emphasizing Dee Dee’s mental illness, expressing remorse for her part in her death, and saying that there are times when she misses her. This may be the most inconvenient narrative of all, and one of many reasons that this latest chapter in Gypsy’s biography rings with dissonance. In trying to fit her life into true-crime clichés — of the maternal monster and the strong woman survivor — we forget its greatest lesson: that people are complicated and mysterious, and desperation can drive them to do hideous things.