We all have that one friend that knows just a little too much about serial killers and murderers. The nitty gritty details.Someone that would randomly share a fact about Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, a grotesque fact about forensic science, or show an intense understanding of criminal trial proceedings.
That friend is a true crime fan. And yes, there are more out there.
True Crime has become increasingly popular as streaming networks such as Netflix and Hulu have released some of the most chilling and captivating documentaries and dramatizations of famous serial killers like Ted Bundy and Dahmer and the horrific backstories led them on the dark path to infamy.
But why crime of all things? Aren’t there better things to entertain oneself with?
Sure, there are other things.
Here’s why true crime fans love this gruesome genre and other facts about the community:
The narrator’s voice is calming.
I’ve been guilty of falling asleep to a documentary or two. What can I say? Peter Thomas’s voice is super calming. Forensic Files and Dateline have been the reason I fall asleep on the couch most afternoons…and nights.
Much like guided meditation, true crime documentaries serve as nighttime stories for many viewers.
The allure of mystery.
Most true crime fans also happen to be mystery-thriller readers or participants in mystery dinner parties. Those of us who grew up reading the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys series has come to find the allure of mystery in real life. And this is normal. Humans are naturally curious. True crime combines real-life mystery and allows the audience to explore the human psyche.
“It feeds our natural desire to solve puzzles and mysteries.”Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen, University of Law
Watching True Crime documentaries can be educational.
Having watched nearly every episode of Forensic Files and other True Crime docuseries, I can definitely attest that I’ve learned more about science and the law than I have anywhere else, aside from my own reading.
Despite the graphic details of the crime, true crime documentaries give us an insight into our societal issues. How we deal with crime is a reflection of our attitudes toward humanity.
True crime gives an insight into our culture and norms as well as our anxieties and values. Researcher and author Coltan Scrivner states the popularity of true crime, the success of horror films and the quantity of violence in the news suggests that “morbid curiosity is a common psychological trait”. It feeds our natural desire to solve puzzles and mysteries.Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen
The Storytelling Is Captivating
Each documentary has a story. It’s easy to get sucked into a good story. . Even when I am working on a project I will throw on a murder documentary to just have the talking in the background. It’s a story I can pay attention to periodically. It’s an ADHD habit of mine, but I know I am not the only one that will mindlessly binge-watch murder documentaries.
Victims of Crimes Feel Heard
If you or your family has been a victim of a crime, you can understand and empathize with many families that have appeared and retold their stories of loss and chaos. Coming from a family that has seen its fair share of loss at the hands of evil, I feel comforted knowing that there are others that are still haunted by the loss. That there are others who have met and faced true evil.
People Enjoy Being Scared
It’s the same reason we go to haunted houses, watch scary movies, or reread Stephen King’s It.
We like to be scared – in a controlled setting. True Crime gives us a dose of reality with that same feeling of being scared.
“BYU psychology professor, Dr. Brock Kirwan, said that people may be drawn to true crime podcasts because it is a way of putting themselves in danger without actually being in danger” (Hale, 2022). It’s the same reason we like to mentally put ourselves in dangerous situations, and daydream about being a secret agent, or the one person who saves the day.
It Empowers Women
According to Hale, since 2019 the number of female listeners of true crime podcasts had grown by 16%. Studies find that women are more afraid of being a victim of a crime than men are.
“BYU communications professor Kevin John said that part of the reason women might be more drawn to true crime than men is that women experience a different level of fear in their daily life than men do” (Hale, BYU).
Seeing as most documentaries these days feature crimes against women and children, it’s understandable that women are afraid. These documentaries show how it can get bad really fast.
Coming from a family in which two women were brutally taken from us, I can’t help but think that I am meant to study true crime. To protect me and to educate other women about the dangers that lurk in the modern world.
There are times when I feel like my loved ones are watching over me when I thought I’ve heard their voice say ‘run’. And I listen.
It’s normal…until it isn’t
As humans, it’s only in our nature to want to understand what makes a human being do evil things to another. It’s the same reason we are captivated by stories of passionate villains because in some way we want to understand how bad things have to get – what makes a person ‘evil’? Humans have the unconscious need to categorize themselves and others as ‘good’ and ‘bad’, so they know where they stand in line as individuals.
A lot of viewers watch these documentaries thinking ‘Well at least that’s not me’. Victim or perpetrator. Yes, in some ways, viewers of true crime documentaries watch with vindication knowing that that will not be them on the screen.
Can watching True Crime be harmful? Absolutely. Too much of anything can be harmful. We live in an overstimulated society where we are constantly updated on what’s happening. I don’t think I’ve watched the actual news since the last election. And while this information is practical and useful, put in the wrong hands it can be suggestive to lead to the propenence of crime. Like Israel Keyes, who took notes from books like Mindhunter and other criminal psychology texts to help him avoid capture by law enforcement.
Being interested in true crime is not weird nor unnatural. But too much of anything can be unhealthy. True crime fans are exploring the ultimate question: Where does evil come from? And how can we prevent it? The True crime genre is informative and entertaining and it gives a voice to victims of crime and their families.
Hale, Tenley. “Study Shows Women Are More Likely to Listen to True Crime Podcasts than Men.” The Daily Universe, 24 Sept. 2022, https://universe.byu.edu/2022/09/24/why-women-are-more-likely-to-listen-to-true-crime-podcasts/#:~:text=A%20study%20published%20in%20Social,the%20victims%20are%20often%20female.
Princing , McKenna. “Why Do I Love True Crime?” Right as Rain by UW Medicine, UW Medicine, 30 June 2021, https://rightasrain.uwmedicine.org/life/leisure/true-crime.
Schmidt-Petersen , Jennifer. “Why Are We so Obsessed with True Crime?” ULaw, University of Law, 16 Feb. 2022, https://www.law.ac.uk/resources/blog/why-we-love-true-crime/#:~:text=True%20crime%20gives%20an%20insight,is%20a%20common%20psychological%20trait%E2%80%9D.
Spanner, Holly. “Why Are We so Obsessed with True Crime?” BBC Science Focus Magazine, BBC Science Focus Magazine, 24 Nov. 2022, https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/why-are-we-so-obsessed-with-true-crime/.