True crime: the good, the bad, and the ugly
There is nothing wrong with a few good murder mysteries, but where does fascination turn to obsession?
CW: Murder, sexual assault
We all love a good grisly story. Murder mysteries and ghost stories alike dominate the box offices and top podcast charts—even Youtubers have cashed in on the craze. Grim stories sell. So why is there a stigma surrounding the consumption of true crime?
Some people argue that because true crime reports on real events, approaching it from a storytelling angle disrespects the victims of these horrific crimes. This is not particularly true; a study from the University of South Carolina found that women who were victims of severe crimes found comfort in true crime. Another critique of the genre is the unproven assumption that true crime fans lack empathy. While not all true crime outlets and fans walk the line of fact and fiction respectfully, there is true crime content out there that still uses sensitive language whenever possible. It is important to explore all angles—from the benefits of a good podcast to the hair-raising serial killer devotees.
True crime can be a genuinely positive source of enrichment by fulfilling the need for escapism. Fans live vicariously through the storyteller, experiencing the adrenaline from the safety of their home.
Another benefit of true crime is that fans can learn survival techniques from storytellers. True crime enthusiasts, particularly women, report paying special attention when a storyteller discusses technical details of a crime.
A statistic worth noting for true crime is that the majority of the audience is female. When given a choice between a book on gangs, war, or true crime, women overwhelmingly chose the book on true crime. Kate Tuttle in The New York Times describes the thought process behind this choice saying, “If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.” This genre provides feelings of safety through preparation for the unknown.
A healthy serving of true crime can be entertaining, but unchecked obsessive engagement may confuse a desire for preparation with hypervigilance and paranoia.
Fans may want to ask themselves a few essential questions when considering a break from the genre. Do you find yourself worrying someone might break in while you are asleep? Do you obsessively pay apprehensive attention to strangers? If you have internalized the anxieties of the content you consume, it may be time to take a step back, reassess, and possibly reduce your true crime consumption.
Requiring a break from the genre does not reflect individual strength. Fans should keep in mind that the human psyche mirrors whatever environment you leave it in, and if that environment consists solely of true crime, anxiety and paranoia may come with the experience.
With the good and the bad, there is also the ugly. Within the fanbase of true crime, there is a separate small population of serial killer fans. These serial killer fans venture further than other true crime fans because of their interest in discussing the motives of serial killers and delving into the psychology of a criminal’s patterns.
Fan communities stretch across the internet, and while their niche is unconventional, most true crime fans generally maintain the unspoken but encouraged empathy for victims far more than empathy for the serial killers. Their interests may be considered unusual, but many of them approach their fascination with criminals from an anthropological perspective. The issue lies in the serial killer fans who admit attraction, even sympathy, for these criminals; these fans overshadow the abominable misdeeds of serial murderers and rapists in favour of inappropriate levels of empathy.
In an interview with the magazine New Statesman, Rebecca—a Ted Bundy fan—admitted, “I was attracted to him physically, I am not going to lie. There was something compelling about him.” Rebecca believes that Bundy’s murders do not define him as a person, insisting that she does not “think the Ted Bundy who killed people is the real Ted Bundy.” Statements like these dismiss the tragic crimes Bundy committed and disrespect both the victims and their surviving families.
However, another person interviewed in the same article named Geri said, “I’ve definitely encountered a fair share of serial killer groupies and it can get a little offensive […] I feel like I can’t relate to those people at all.”
Thankfully, the niche serial killer fanatics are largely disowned by most true crime fans. If true crime entertains you, then a tasteful murder documentary in the morning does not hurt. If you are new to the genre, you can check out Dateline NBC, a classic true crime podcast and show that reports the facts documentary-style; True Crime Obsessed, a laid-back podcast that feels more like a fun conversation with friends; and Bailey Sarian’s Mystery & Makeup series on YouTube, where Sarian does her makeup while covering famous true crime stories.