“NCIS,” “Making a Murderer,” “Criminal Minds” and anything on the Investigation Discovery network are true crime shows. This genre has captured the hearts of myself and many other Americans, but why?
One reason could be that it is like a bad car wreck. Viewers want to look away, but they’re also fascinated by it.
According to Time, people get a boost of adrenaline when they witness something horrible, and this adrenaline response can be addictive.
These types of shows also allow people to be scared, but in a controlled and safe environment where the threat isn’t real. It is also exciting to guess who the killer is and to create games around solving crimes.
Some people even find these murderers attractive, especially when they are portrayed in TV shows and movies by seemingly attractive people. For example, Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in the 2019 Netflix film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Efron’s star power and sex appeal helped highlight Bundy’s attractive and likeable guy characteristics
Forensic psychologist Dr. Katherine Ramsland states that those who commit violent crimes often don’t even need to be attractive in order to have a following, they just must be “bold and confident.” Dr. Ramsland explains that in these followers’ minds is the notion that “he might kill other women but he’d be good to me.”
It is also important to note that these true crime shows often portray middle-class white women as the victims. This is problematic because it leaves out those in society who are much more likely to be victims of violent crimes – including LGBTQ+ people and those who are not white.
Additionally, the statistics of those who enjoy true-crime show that 70 percent of Amazon’s true crime readers are women. Men statistically are more likely to be a part of violent crimes, as the attacker or victim, whereas women are much more likely to only be the victim.
In an interview with The Guardian, Rachel Monroe, author of the true-crime book “Savage Appetite,” says that this “white, dead woman” story is so popular because it appeals to those who are in the privileged position to experience this threatening situation in a way where they can choose when to watch the show or not.
In contrast, in a CBS interview the hosts of the true crime podcast “Wine and Crime” explain that true crime can be used as a positive escape from reality. Some women find comfort in listening to true crime podcasts because it allows them to share their anxieties with others who also have their own struggles.
Now for the ethics of true-crime. It seems difficult for true crime to ever be completely ethical, as the genre does sensationalize violent crime and the perpetrators. However, focusing on the victims instead of how a murderer meticulously tortures and kills them could be the most ethical approach to consuming true crime media. This more ethical approach is unlikely to attract many followers to the true crime genre, though.