Spoilers for American Vandal
American Vandal is a seemingly simple story filled with juvenile humor. As the show goes on, it tricks its viewer into getting invested in a story about spray painted dicks. One of the other compelling features of the show is that the characters are ridiculous enough to be funny but grounded enough to feel real. The show uses dick jokes and prank calls to tell stories relevant to high-school-aged men and women. However, the stories are only told from a single perspective.
For most of the show, Peter fails to provide much introspection. He speculates about motives that can be neatly summarized into a few bullet points, but, once he begins to consider the larger implications of the actions of his peers and teachers, he shuts down the production, refusing to continue the story and possibly provide another false accusation. From the show’s (and, therefore, Peter’s) perspective, this is admirable and a sign of maturity, but it does not allow full exploration and realization of the female characters on the show.
Christa, Sarah, MacKenzie, Mrs. Shapiro, and Madison have a story revolving around sexual harrassment, and each of these stories is either exploited by or caused by Peter and his show. It takes the majority of the show for Peter to realize the consequences of his actions in the name of art, and even then, it is mostly caused by his best friend’s humiliations and abandonment of the project. Even after this, he allows Dylan to decide if Mack’s private video should be broadcast on the show. Dylan, in his anger, decides yes.
Peter hides behind artistic integrity and justice for Dylan when showing this private footage as well as footage of Dylan’s sexual harassment of Madison and Mrs. Shapiro, footage of Christa being tackled by a much larger man, and footage of extensive speculation about Sarah’s sex life. It takes Sarah’s confrontation with Peter and Sam’s quitting the project for Peter to wonder if his actions have larger implications than creating a portfolio piece or proving Dylan’s innocence.
Though the show clearly implies that it was likely Christa who was the mastermind behind the incident, it purposefully leaves the original question open-ended. Peter lets the audience speculate without naming a perpetrator. This is done because he feels false accusations cause harm. What he fails to acknowledge, however, is that speculation and rumor causes the same amount of harm. Moreover, some life-changing revelations have been broadcasted over the internet for the consumption of these women’s peers and beyond.
Sarah, Christa, MacKenzie, and Madison all want to move on with their lives and pursue their dreams in college and beyond, but this show, in the context of American Vandal‘s fictional world, will always exist to haunt them. High school rumors and morning shows may disappear after a while, but this show lives on the internet, where nothing truly dies. American Vandal ends with Peter (and even in some cases, Dylan) excelling because of the exploitation of women.