From series like Making a Murderer and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes to podcasts like My Favourite Murder – true crime obsession has been on the rise in the last few years. I will openly put my hands up and admit it – I’m an addict. For reasons even I don’t understand, true crime fascinates me and these documentaries have become my default way to unwind. If I have friends over, I might make an embarrassing joke about my streaming suggestions – but the evidence and response I often get would suggest I’m not alone. The genre’s growth is inescapable. Almost every week there seems to be a new documentary released, a new hot topic to discuss in the office, and often not without controversy and speculation.
Some warn we risk glamorising notorious killers and erasing their victims with the coverage. Others see true crime obsession as a positive way to keep the memories of the victims alive and in some cases, use the media coverage as an indirect way to harness new leads. So is our new found obsession of true crime problematic, or are we all just more curious and connected than past generations?
Why are we obsessed with true crime?
It seems an unusual hobby, but enjoying content surrounding true crime actually ties into a lot of fairly normal curiosities and instincts.
The true crime genre gives people a glimpse into the minds of people who have committed the most deviant of acts and also, perhaps, a most fundamental human impulse – murder. We want to figure out what drove these people to this extreme act, and what makes them tick, because the thought of murder seems so detached from ourselves. We want some insight into the psychology of a killer, partly so we can learn how to protect our families and ourselves but also because we are simply fascinated by such irregular and extreme behaviour and the many paths that the perpetrator took to get to where they are.
There is also the idea that we enjoy true crime so intensely because it allows us to rationalise and explore some of our darkest fantasies without even knowing it. You can never think of yourself of being capable of killing someone – but studies have shown that everyone has the mental capacity for murder in the right circumstances.
How is true crime obsession dangerous for us?
You may not thinking that watching a lot of true crime can have an impact on you, and saying it’s dangerous seems like click-bait, right? Well, actually, studies have shown that watching and reading a lot of true crime can impact your day to day life. Your fear of crime will increase as you are saturating your life with negative events and therefore believe that crime is a bigger issue than it is. This can, in some circumstances, further lead to anxiety and mental health issues.
True crime obsession can also become dangerous when people begin to obsess over and almost idolise serial killers themselves. I would personally say this is more so in America than the UK, but you hear of people having almost “poster-boy” like obsessions with prolific criminals, and knowing the ins and outs of their crimes in unhealthy levels of detail. Again, whilst this is likely to be in the minority, it can be interpreted as unhealthy for the individual to be that interested in such details and some may even say they could be using their true crime obsession to vicariously live out experiences they wish to have.
What I dislike about true crime documentaries
As much as I love true crime, I do find myself having issues with some areas of their creation that just seem so problematic. Firstly, the focus is always on the killers and the acts they committed, often without a lot of thought or consideration for the victim and their families. Think how horrible it must be to hear someone describing (often in graphic details) how your daughter/mum/sister/brother/father was killed. I know people watch true crime largely because they are fascinated by the killer and how it is possible for someone to commit that act – but can we please spare a thought for the families and make them a bit more tasteful? How many serial killers can you know, and how many victims of those same killers?
On a similar note, there is generally speaking a disregard for the families wishes when these documentaries are made. Even recently, Making a Murderer has become a global sensation, despite Teresa Halbach’s family wanting no part on the programme. Now, I know producers and directors are thinking commercially, but if the victims family explicitly doesn’t want a TV show to be made about their daughters death, do you really think it’s right and ethical to just make it anyway? Whether or not Steven Avery murdered Teresa (which I personally don’t think he did) her family still deserves respect and to honour her memory in their own way.
But true crime does have positives
On the other hand, whilst our obsession with true crime can be problematic, it can also foster good. Due to it’s ever increasing popularity, true crime documentaries can be instrumental in solving newer cases as it sparks a (sometimes) global discussion around that case and the victim, that can eventually lead to new lines of enquiry. Rarely do you see an ongoing case in a true crime documentary that focuses on the description of the killer and their actions- in this instance, the focus is nearly always on the victim, their last movements and getting justice for them.
Psychologically, true crime can actually be quite good for you as it allows you to expose yourself to your deepest and darkest fears. Psychologists have shown that gaining knowledge about how the worst case scenario could play out can increase feelings of control, and having nightmares about true crime events is a sort of exposure therapy. Especially as a woman, researching true crime stories can force fears to the forefront. It can be said that women willingly scare themselves by consuming these stories because the exposure helps to alleviate anxieties. So reading about an abduction case might give insight into the mind of both the victim and the perpetrator. It’s an interesting theory, and one I will definitely be reading more about.
Do you think true crime is problematic, or just a fashionable craze? What are your thoughts on the genre as a whole? I;d be super interested to know your thoughts on this!