The recent years have been characterized by a surprising increase in the public’s interest in shows about famous crime cases and serial killers. The demand is met with an adequate supply, and every day the number of true crime shows, podcasts, and movies is growing. The Serial Podcast, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, HBO’s The Jinx, 24-hour crime channels, YouTube amateur shows are several examples of the growing business. This paper discusses the people’s obsession with true crime and explains its current popularity by some fundamental human needs and specific current conditions.
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One of the reasons why the depiction of crimes has gained such popularity is the human interest factor, where learning about crime meets individuals’ need for knowledge. This thesis is supported by David Green, a teaching fellow at the University of Law. He states that since crime can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or social status, it attracts people as a potential sphere to learn about (qtd. in Soen). Moreover, true crime shows provide a glimpse into the criminal justice system that most people typically do not get acquainted with throughout their lives. Therefore, true crime as a genre is considered equal to other niche categories that attract consumers, such as anime, romantic comedies, or horror movies.
However, it seems that a mere thirst for knowledge or personal preferences are not enough to explain the ever-growing demand that makes production companies provide viewers, listeners, and readers with more content. Thus, the possible answer might lie in more complicated human psychology issues and go beyond rational interest. The obsession with true crime might be explained by people’s fascination with associated topics: murder, violence, rage, and other processes that happen when crimes occur. Psychologist Emma Kenny says that people “have a natural tendency to be voyeurs and be attracted to darker things” (qtd. in Cooper). Therefore, consuming true crime shows and movies might open up a safe way to discover more about morbid and usually tabooed themes. Moreover, some specialists have compared learning more about the crime with looking at oneself in the mirror and exploring the darkest corners of personality without trying them out in real life (“America is Obsessed”). This way, true crime becomes a barrier that limits this exploration and serves as a restraining factor.
This idea is very close to another phenomenon that people have noticed in them for a long time. Watching a true-crime show or listening to a true-crime podcast in this context is similar to looking at a car accident scene or a dead animal. It can be perceived as a demonstration of the primary instinct “to be safe from it” (“America is Obsessed”). It is also connected to the primordial belief of magical consciousness that evil would keep the evil away.
Furthermore, watching true crime, reading about serial killers, and trying to grasp the ideas behind murders and mysteries is a part of the fascination and longing for strong emotions. Thus, fear, being the most prominent of them all, makes true crime so popular. As one might argue, the same reasoning also makes people get inspired by criminals and even become their romantic partners. Another possible explanation is that strong emotions engage the audience and make true crime stories highly captivating. Providing viewers and listeners with dense emotions in controlled environments has been a leading principle for different kinds of art and entertainment. However, the authentic character of the depicted events, real-life footage, interviews with real people, police officers, and victims’ relatives make true crime stories even more compelling. In this way, information about serial killers, violent offenders, and rapists becomes modern folktales and replaces traditional plots offering public members the current versions of “evil vs. good” narratives.
Although all these reasons explain the true-crime obsession, they do not fully answer why true crime has achieved its prime and unprecedented popularity nowadays. On the one hand, true crime satisfies the ever-existing need for stories with good endings and appeals to people’s basic instincts. On the other hand, this surge in the interest in true crime can be explained by the modern day’s peculiarities.
First, the emergence of streaming services and podcast format required the appearance of plots that would be perfectly suited for the series format. Second, in the modern times of fake news and overflow of information, as mentioned by Horeck, “true crime plays on the desire for truth that bubbles beneath the post-truth surface” (10). Finally, true crime also provides viewers with an illusion of justice by demonstrating the “apparent ability to step in where the law failed, to effect meaningful and measurable social change” (Horeck 20). Thus, true crime has become an ideal genre to appeal to modern people’s various needs: starting from the fundamental human instincts and ending with the twenty-first-century society’s demands.
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“America Is Obsessed with Serial Killers.” YouTube, uploaded by The Atlantic, 2019, Web.
Cooper, Kelly-Leigh. “Is Our Growing Obsession with True Crime a Problem?” BBC, 2019, Web.
Horeck, Tanya. Justice on Demand. True Crime in the Digital Streaming Era. Wayne State UP, 2019.
Soen, Hayley. “Experts Explain Our ‘Morbid Fascination’ with True Crime and Serial Killers.” The Tab, 2020, Web.