Is Our Obsession With True Crime Becoming Dangerous?

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.

Mans hand pointing tv remote at tv screen with netflix logo

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.

Steven Avery mugshots

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!

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Comments

  1. Tamra says

    You make some interesting points. I actually taught a class on serial killers and psychopaths, so it was fascinating to see that so many people were interested in the class! I think we do want to understand why these people went that far and what makes them tick.

    I also agree that documentaries do need to spend more time on the victims and families. Good post!

  2. Lucy says

    I am somebody who does like true crime documentaries as I like to know how a person’s mind works, it’s weirdly fascinating in a way to see what motivates people to commit such vicious crimes, then you get mad at them and call them horrible names for doing what they did! But I do agree that watching true crime documentaries could be harmful to our mental health, I don’t watch them all too often really xx

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk

  3. Daisy says

    I think it depends how you are mentally. Like you said, these kinds of shows do tend to make people paranoid and could heighten anxiety. It can also be a good distraction! The stories behind the show may be terrible but they make you think about who could be the culprit and you get to be detective along with the police!

    Daisy xoxo | TheDeeWhoLived

  4. Kat says

    I think it’s interesting finding out how the crimes were solved etc. but I don’t really like watching true crime shows because they do freak me out quite a bit!!

  5. Carla says

    Love this – excellent point that we’re in danger of glamorousing murder. The Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers from the early 90s makes the same point so not just a fad I think. Having said that, I do love a bit of true crime. Just watched The Investigator on Netflix which was a good balance on killer and victim’s families 😊

  6. Sophie says

    I’ve never really thought about this since I don’t watch true crime. I guess I don’t watch it because I don’t want to think of the fears when I’m trying to relax in my free time. But I can totally see the benefits of it, opening our eyes to fears so we are forced to face them

    Sophie | Sophie’s Spot

  7. Lena Mistry says

    True crime can become an obsession – I think it is human nature to be fixated with the ‘unknown’ and to be fascinated by such extremities. We humans love to scare ourselves (think of all the horror films!) as entertainment…

    This is a great post – thank you for sharing your thoughts

    -lena
    http://www.lenasnotebook.co.uk

  8. Kayleigh Zara says

    I absolutely love true crime and I have for years! I find it so interesting but I think you’re completely right there aren’t many cases where the victims or families are thought about, and I particularly have an issue with how glamourised killers have become? Thanks for sharing

    Kayleigh Zara 🌿 http://www.kayleighzaraa.com

  9. John Rieber says

    Terrific article….in the US we have a cable network, oxygen, that only does crime – focused on women…there are also a huge number of podcasts doing the same…sad but fascinating as well…perhaps peering into the darkness from the safety of our computer or TV screen makes everything OK…

  10. Emily says

    This was such an interesting post! As an American, I can definitely say that true crime is big here. I just watched an episode of Dark Tourist on Netflix and they went on a Jeffrey Dahmer tour, and most of the people on the tour were women who sympathized with Dahmer! I think people are fascinated by the darkness in some people, and wonder if we as humans ALL carry that darkness inside us and if we’re capable of doing something that evil ourselves. The psychology is really interesting when it comes to serial killers, but I think we forget about the victims and their families, and instead get sucked into the horror and gore that these killers have done. The crimes become notorious, and the victims nameless and faceless. I’m a fan of true crime, but I think we should be careful with it, as there obviously are some disturbed individuals who may become copycats of those killers.

    Really interesting and thought provoking post! Thanks for the great read!

    xo Emily

    https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

  11. Kirsti says

    I am someone who enjoys true crime dramas and true crime novels, you could say i’m a bit of an addict. I’d never considered it to be dangerous before but I have to say, I am more scared and aware of crime like it says so in your post.

  12. Laura says

    It can be tricky. I like true crime stories myself. I think for sane people we like to see justice served and the clever ways that investigators catch these criminals. But for mentally unstable people it can be dangerous in helping them to idolize terrible people and learn how to get away with it. I do agree too that it can make you paranoid but maybe it has also saved some lives just by making women especially more vigilant about how they interact with people. So I think there are pros and cons to it.

  13. Jen says

    You make some good points. I am obsessed with true crime but do find I need to take a break sometimes. I have depression and anxiety and I can see it sometimes exacerbating that

  14. Ash says

    I think it’s okay to casually be interested in true crime, but as you said, people seeing these people as poster boys is worrying, especially because some deranged people out there want the attention that comes with being a serial killer.

    Ash | thisdreamsalive.wordpress.com

  15. Savannah says

    Great post! I think about this often. I usually limit my time with true crime because, though I like it, sometimes watching a lot puts me on edge. And I totally agree with the glamorization of serial killers; I think that coverage of Ted Bundy always walks this line and often crosses it, because he can be so easily described as handsome and charming and sometimes that gets in the way of his horrific, brutal, and violent crimes. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

  16. ThatAutisticFitChick says

    I think this is interesting, I read a lot of true crime novels in my teens and was fascinated by the true crime stories in magazines and the Readers Digest.
    At the same point I think it is a bit different when it’s televised although I’m not sure why? Maybe I worry about the killers being given more celebrity and the impact on victims families (especially when they aren’t consulted or their wishes get ignored).
    I think that True Crime is a phase that goes round and round in circles – I will get worried about it when it comes around in VR though

  17. Laura says

    I think this is a really interesting topic for discussion. In my opinion the reason why people are obsessed with true crime because well we are all obsessed with human nature, our morality and values. True Crime allows us to explore the dark side of human behaviour. I don’t think the obsession with true crime is a negative thing, more like an outlet for exploration and improving our understanding of what makes us HUMAN – because really in order to really really understand what we are like we need to understand both good and the bad.
    Laura / https://www.laustworld.com/

  18. Naomi says

    I love anything about serial killers because I find them fascinating – how can a person do such a horrific crime again and again? I have a couple of podcasts that I listen to regularly and I think that it’s alleviated a lot of fears that I had.
    The Ted Bundy Tapes are dangerous, even I walked away from it feeling some kind of way!

    Thanks so much for sharing this post!

    Naomi xo
    tralisty.com

  19. Jenny says

    Really interesting post! I love True Crime and I find it fascinating but I can only watch certain documentaries / YouTuber’s. Lately I’ve been finding Netflix True Crime documentaries SO tedious – I just can’t watch them! I definitely see the pros and cons. I think it depends on the individual watching too 😌

  20. Mykki says

    I like the idea of true crime documentaries and podcasts, but I think some of them treat a very delicate and touchy subject with absolutely no respect at all. I can’t listen to My Favorite Murder for precisely this reason – the way they make jokes about victims of violent crime really sickens my stomach.

    I do, however, enjoy forensics-based documentaries – getting an in-depth look at the different techniques and technologies employed to solve a crime is super fascinating!

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