The Act and Mommy Dead and Dearest killed that bitch! No, I’m not talking about Dee Dee Blancharde…yet…rather, the effectiveness of telling the complicated narrative of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose, her daughter, by showcasing the abuse that Dee Dee afflicted onto Gypsy Rose and the masterful manipulation skills Dee Dee possessed. The Act is a drama series on Hulu that shows a dramatization of the true events encompassing the life and murder of Dee Dee Blancharde and the life of her daughter, Gypsy Rose. This television series is effective in visualizing the powerful manipulation and horrifying abuse that Dee Dee inflicts onto Gypsy for the modern audience due to the drama that captures viewers’ attention and the expansion of the story over several short episodes so that viewers with shorter attention spans will remain interested and invested in the story. On a scale of 1-5 stars, The Act earned 3.5 stars for its phenomenal job in the portrayal of the dynamics between Gypsy and Dee Dee as well as the atrocities occurring behind closed doors. Mommy Dead and Dearest is a documentary from HBO that details the manipulation of Dee Dee on law enforcement, public service representatives, and medical professionals as well as how she was perceived by family and community members through interviews by family, Gypsy Rose, and other people involved in the case. The documentary was effective in depicting the deceitfulness of Dee Dee through professional interview and hard evidence as well as the helplessness of Gypsy Rose through interviews with her. Mommy Dead and Dearest earned 4 stars for its establishment of Dee Dee’s character through various interviews.
In 2015, Dee Dee Blancharde was murdered by her daughter, Gypsy Rose’s, boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn. Shocking Facebook posts were found on Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose’s shared Facebook page shortly after the murder that alarmed friends and family who alerted the authorities.
After finding Dee Dee dead in her bed, the search began for Gypsy Rose, whom according to Dee Dee was extremely ill, suffering from muscular dystrophy that left her confined to a wheelchair, cancer, impaired mental developments, and many other illnesses. However, when police located Gypsy Rose with Nicholas Godejohn, she was able to walk perfectly fine and had no evidence of diminished mental capacity. Police discovered that Gypsy Rose and Nicholas Godejohn planned Dee Dee’s murder in the days before her death. They also found out that all of the ailments that she claimed Gypsy Rose suffered from were fake. Dee Dee managed to manipulate medical professionals into believing her daughter was ill and often was giving Gypsy Rose medications to induce the symptoms that medical professionals based their diagnoses on. Also, Dee Dee manipulated many organizations, like Habitat for Humanity, to donate large sums of money or other benefits (such as Disneyworld trips and a house). She also manipulated people online to donate money for Gypsy’s surgeries that were not needed, yet performed anyways. Dee Dee suffered from a condition called Munchausen syndrome by proxy, which is defined by Dr. Geoffrey Fisher and Dr. Ian Mitchell in their journal article Is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy Really a Syndrome? as, “A parent, nearly always a mother, falsifies illness in her child or children by fabricating a history and/or producing symptoms or signs. The child is presented for medical care with ‘illnesses’ that are unexplained, prolonged, and unresponsive to all approaches. Symptoms occur only in the mother’s presence” (Fisher, Mitchell 530).
The Act earned 3.5 stars for its graphic showcase of the abuse Gypsy suffered at the hands of her mother and the manipulation of Dee Dee on medical professionals, public service personnel, and neighbors. The Hulu miniseries utilizes strong style choices that strengthen the development of Gypsy and Dee Dee and make vividly clear the level of abuse and manipulation that occurred; however, there are some aspects of the miniseries that were not as stelar. Although The Act did a tremendous job at getting the main points of the plot in order and factually correct, the scene in which Gypsy communicates with a man, Scott, she met at a convention and tries to escape her mother by going to his house is highly disappointing and does a disservice to the severity of Gypsy’s desperation. In the scene, Gypsy shocks Scott by showing up to his house without her wheelchair and her late attempt to clarify that her mother is the one behind the lies before her mother finds her at Scott’s house and forces her to return home. In the real version of events, Gypsy corresponded with the man she met at the convention and told him of her situation with her mother, including the false ailments, to which he offered to take her to another state until Dee Dee threatened him with legal action. The show’s version of events was meant to create a longer plot out of that scenario and be more dramatic; however, to gain these aspects, the true power of manipulation Dee Dee possessed and the desperation of Gypsy were sacrificed. Also disappointing in the miniseries was the over-sexualization of Gypsy. The Act made it appear that Gypsy was the one who had all of these taboo sexual desires and interests; however, in interviews conducted for the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest, Gypsy explains that her boyfriend, Nicholas, was the one who introduced her to those topics and that she was not really interested in engaging with these forms of sexuality but wanted to please Nicholas.
As Sophie Gilbert, writer of culture for The Atlantic, writes in her review of The Act, “The particular horror that Dee Dee represents – the fundamental corruption of the maternal imperative to provide care” (Gilbert 4). This fear of the corruption of motherhood or maternal love is a cultural phenomenon that is particular to the United States in the 21st century. This cultural fear is an example of Dr. Jeffrey Cohen’s first thesis – The Monster’s Body Is a Cultural Body – from his Monster Theory, a body of working containing theses to describe the way cultures represent monsters as having a deeper meaning that is a reflection of something within that culture or society. In this first thesis, Cohen states that the monster is created to represent a specific cultural moment based on that moment’s fears, desires, and anxieties (Cohen 4). The Act portrays society’s fears of this absence of maternal care by utilizing disturbing visuals, such as Gypsy Rose getting her feeding tube replaced and her teeth rotting, in order to strongly depict Dee Dee as a monster who is torturing her child in order to gain positive attention for herself. It is also clearly apparent that Dee Dee is a monstrous force in The Act as viewers are excited for Gypsy Rose when Nicholas kills her mother. This miniseries twists perspectives of its audience, as in most shows the person getting killed is the victim and is a scary, sad occurrence that deepens the disdain for the monster; however, in The Act the audience is persuaded through the development of a discord in Gypsy and Dee Dee’s relationship regarding Gypsy’s health and freedom that Dee Dee is the monster and Gypsy, who takes part in plotting the murder, is the victim.
Mommy Dead and Dearest earned 4 stars for its establishment of Dee Dee’s monstrous character and deep-rooted problems. Although the documentary did a phenomenal job in establishing a truthful and clear timeline and plot, interviews with professionals, and interviews with Dee Dee’s family to get a better picture into what she was really like, the documentary failed to dive deeper into how the medical and justice system failed Gypsy Rose. Out of all the professionals involved in the interviews, none of them admitted to the system failing Gypsy except for the neurologist – Dr. Bernardo Flasterstein – who had contacted child services. The documentary, although strong, is biased in the representation of the professionals, law enforcement and public safety services, as the only explanation for how this could happen is how rare it is and how great of a manipulator Dee Dee was. Other than skimming the surface as to the system’s failure to stop Dee Dee’s abuse, the documentary provides insight from Dee Dee’s family and strong testimony from Gypsy Rose to showcase the severity of abuse and the monstrous character of Dee Dee.
In Mommy Dead and Dearest, Dee Dee is shown in monstrous form because she is different and her actions and thoughts are beyond our understanding. In Dr. Cohen’s fourth thesis from Monster Theory – The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference – he states that the monster represents a difference, through gender, sexuality, mental composition, or other forms, that threatens a certain culture’s virtues or norms (Cohen 7-12). In the documentary, an interview with Munchausen expert and clinical psychologist Dr. Marc Feldman gives a definition and explanation of Munchausen syndrome by proxy; however, there is not much else that is explained about Dee Dee’s mental illness. Instead, family testimony about her strange behaviors and potential killing of her own mother strengthen the development of Dee Dee into a monster because she is odd and can not be understood. Even more damning for Dee Dee, Gypsy Rose gives a riveting interview in which she compares her and Dee Dee’s relationship and situation to that of Mother Gothel and Rapunzel in the Disney animated film Tangled.
In this interview, Gypsy describes how Rapunzel pushes Mother Gothel out a window and to her death while trying to stand up for herself after being confined to a tower by Mother Gothel and implies it is a direct correlation about how Dee Dee controlled her and that she had to stand up for herself. Throughout the documentary, people giving interviews condemn Dee Dee for her abuse of Gypsy and frequently question how a mother could act in such a manner or how Dee Dee could ever do any of the things she did, further advancing the narrative that Dee Dee is monstrous because she is different from us: a monster who couldn’t care for and love her child.
Dee Dee Blancharde was the monster in The Act and Mommy Dead and Dearest because, as Dr. Cohen explains through theses in his work Monster Theory, she symbolized a cultural fear of the corruption of motherhood as well as symbolizing the difference of people with mental illness. The Act and Mommy Dead and Dearest both did excellent work in showing the incredible manipulation skills of Dee Dee as well as the horrific abuse Gypsy suffered for over a decade. Yes, Gypsy and Nicholas killed that bitch…but the monster still lingers as more children will suffer in the hands of mothers who lack the maternal love to care for and love their children.
Antosca, Nick and Dean, Michelle, creators. The Act. Hulu. 2019.
The Act is a miniseries on Hulu that shows the story of Dee Dee Blancharde and Gypsy Rose Blancharde: a mother who suffered from Munchausen by proxy and convinced her daughter, Gypsy Rose, and medical professionals that Gypsy Rose suffered from a variety of ailments, including cancer, epilepsy, and many other illnesses. Gypsy Rose discovers she doesn’t have all of the ailments her mother claims she has and tries to gain freedom; however, Dee Dee will not let her escape nor will she admit that Gypsy is healthy. Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, meet on a dating website and after several years of corresponding and dating online, finally meet in person and shortly after plan the murder of Dee Dee when she perceives Nick to be weird and they realize they cannot have a future together with her in the picture. The Act is one of my primary sources to analyze Dee Dee as the monster. The writers and producers studied the real case of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose and used a prominent article written about them to base the series on, making them credible to adapt the story for television purposes.
Cohen, Jeffrey J. Monster Culture (Seven Theses), 1996.
Monster Culture is a book written by Cohen that contains seven theses that explain the correlation between monsters and culture. In this book, Cohen discusses the creation of monsters to stem from something that particular culture is fearful of, such as the creation of King Kong in the 1930s to symbolize racism. I will be using thesis 1 – the monster’s body is a cultural body – and thesis 4 – the monster dwells at the gates of difference – to show how Dee Dee Blancharde represents our culture’s fears of the lack of maternal instinct to provide care as well as the fear of difference in both her mental health and her inability to have “normal” maternal love for her child. Cohen’s Monster Theory is credible because Cohen has a PhD in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University which would give him the skillset to make these theses.
Fisher, Geoffrey C., and Mitchell, Ian. “Is Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy Really a Syndrome?”, Archives of disease in childhood vol. 72, 6 (1995): 530-534. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1511146/?page=1.
This article describes the definition of the term Munchausen syndrome by proxy as well as the issues regarded in diagnosis, medical classification, and criteria of the syndrome. Also discussed in the article, the various ways that Munchausen syndrome by proxy can be manifested and the difficulties this creates in diagnosing, classifying, and creating a true definition of the syndrome by medical professionals. I will be using the definition that Fisher and Mitchell provide of the syndrome in order to inform the audience of Dee Dee’s condition. Fisher and Mitchell are both doctors of pediatrics and as such are reliable sources of conditions affecting the parents of young patients in relation to the illness of a young child.
Gilbert, Sophie. “Motherhood is Monstrous in The Act”, The Atlantic, March 2019. Accessed 6 May 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/03/motherhood-is-monstrous-in-the-act/585454/.
Gilbert’s article is a review of the Hulu miniseries The Act, which discussed her overall impression of the miniseries in relation to character development and portrayal, stylistic choices, following the true events, and pacing of the series. Gilbert also discusses the “corruption of the maternal imperative to provide care” as the horror Dee Dee represents. I will be using this article to discuss the representation of Dee Dee as a monster through Gilbert’s claim that Dee Dee represents the corruption of maternal care. This article is a credible source as Gilbert is a writer of culture and watched the series in order to do her review.
Mommy Dead and Dearest. Directed by Erin Lee Carr, HBO, 2017.
This documentary is a detailed account of the murder of Dee Dee Blancharde and medical abuse of Gypsy Rose Blancharde. The documentary is structured through the conduction of interviews with law enforcement personnel, medical professionals, public service personnel, community members, friends and family of Dee Dee and Gypsy, and Gypsy herself. I am using this documentary as a primary source in which Dee Dee as the monster is portrayed. This documentary is a credible source as the production team and interviewer spent a lot of time researching the case and finding the documentation (legal and medical) to support their claims.