The true crime genre is a highly popular and profitable one, but it’s not clear why we’re so enthralled with making and consuming these stories.
The “psychological effects of watching crime shows” is a question that has been asked by many people. Crime shows have a way of making us feel as if we are in the middle of it all.
True crime is the most popular genre on streaming services. (Photo courtesy of Getty)
Many people find that watching a real crime docuseries on Netflix is the best way to relax on a long winter evening.
With successful shows like Tiger King and Making a Murderer, the genre has long dominated major streaming platforms, and has now spread to podcasts, YouTube videos, and even TikTok.
But whence did our fascination with the macabre originate?
Here’s all you need to know about our bizarre obsession with the things nightmares are built of.
Why do we have such a fascination with genuine crime?
In a nutshell, it comes down to ‘human nature,’ and although the genre is now having a moment, our fascination with dark taboos is nothing new.
‘It is a natural part of human nature to be morbidly curious about the facts surrounding death, and the minutia of a violent or criminal death piques our interest more than any other with a heady mix of equal parts fascination and horror,’ Sally Baker, Senior Therapist and Media Commentator from Working on the Body, told Metro.co.uk.
True crime is capable of resolving real-life instances. (Photo courtesy of Getty)
‘The personal, lurid details presented in these sorts of tales pull us in and repel us at the same time.’
Our interest in real crime has piqued in recent years, with Google searches for the term ‘true crime’ continuously increasing from January 2015 until present.
Over time, our demand for genuine crime has grown (Picture: Google Trends)
Many people credit the true crime obsession to the first season of podcast Serial, which gripped listeners all over the globe with the narrative of American student Hae Min Lee’s unfortunate death in 2015.
Adnan Syed, Lee’s lover, was controversially arrested for her murder, prompting journalist Sarah Koenig to uncover what actually occurred – and maybe establish Adnan’s innocence – over the course of a series of riveting episodes.
According to Parrot Analytics, the demand for documentaries more than doubled between January 2018 and March 2021, with real crime accounting for the majority of the increase.
True crime is, however, not a new fascination in our culture.
Ben and Rosanna Fitton, the husband and wife duo behind the famous UK real crime podcast They Walk Among Us, told Metro.co.uk that the dark and frightening world of crime has always captivated them.
‘People would pay to see public executions or court cases before social media, podcasts, and documentaries,’ they claimed.
‘It serves as a reminder of our own mortality while also providing a view into activities that are well beyond the scope of most people.’
Previously, spectators had to pay to see public executions. (Photo courtesy of Getty)
True crime has piqued people’s interest since the dawn of time.
The Battle of Maldon, written in 991 AD, is one of the most renowned poems written by Vikings to describe the gory events of their conflicts.
According to JSTOR, as literary rates climbed and printing technology evolved in the 16th century, an unprecedented number of publications reported on capital offenses.
Hundreds of crime pamphlets circulated at this period, which were basically small, unbound volumes with between six and 24 pages of grisly murder descriptions.
Later, the Victorians, who were notorious for their obsession with death, were completely enthralled with Jack the Ripper.
In the late 1880s, the ghastly acts of a serial murderer on the foggy streets of London’s East End were splattered over the front pages of newspapers.
People would read pieces aloud to crowds eager to hear the newest grisly revelations.
‘Leather Apron’ was one of Jack the Ripper’s numerous aliases (Picture: Express Newspapers/Getty).
True crime documentaries, films, and podcasts may be relatively new to the market, but the literary genre’s appeal is far from new.
The true crime novel fad is ascribed to Truman Capote’s explosive non-fiction book In Cold Blood, which describes the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in a tiny rural village in Kansas.
The novel was an immediate hit in 1965, and it is now the second best-selling true crime book of all time. It has been translated into 30 different languages and has sold over a million copies.
The genre is still quite popular today.
Crime (of which true crime is a sub-genre) was the most popular book genre in the UK in 2020, according to Statista, with a staggering 33% of Brits claiming it was their favorite.
Capote was a real crime literary pioneer (Photo courtesy of Keystone/Getty Images). )
Is genuine crime more popular among women than it is among men?
Women, particularly white women, have a reputation for being the primary consumers of real crime material.
This is true for They Walk Among Us listeners, according to Rosanna, who told Metro.co.uk that ‘approximately 70% of our listeners are female.’
According to an ABC poll done in 2018, over half of podcast listeners had listened to true crime in the preceding month, up from 30% in 2017.
Women are said to be more interested in real crime since they are often the victims of notorious serial murderers like Ted Bundy, BTK, The Yorkshire Ripper, Golden State Killer, Harold Shipman, Fred and Rose West, and Jack the Ripper, to mention a few.
Women have a reputation for being true crime junkies. (Photo courtesy of Getty)
One reason why women could be attracted to real crime novels, according to Amanda Vicary and R. Chris Fraley’s 2010 research, is because they’re interested in learning defense methods from survivors “despite the fact that they are less likely to become a victim.”
‘Despite the fact that women may like reading these books because they gain survival tactics and methods, it is probable that reading these books would exacerbate the exact dread that drove women to them in the first place,’ the research adds.
‘In other words, a vicious cycle may be at work: a woman fears being a victim of a crime, so she goes to real crime literature, consciously or subconsciously, in an attempt to acquire methods and procedures to avoid being killed.’
Murders of women have received a lot of attention in the media in the last year (Picture: Getty)
In addition, there have been a number of high-profile female killings in the recent year, including Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, Maddie Durdant-Hollamby, and PCSO Julia James, all of whom were featured in the media.
Because of the high-profile coverage, some women may feel as though danger lurks around every turn.
True crime material, according to Sally Baker, may appeal to women since the culprit is usually punished and justice is done.
‘The criminal element often faces the full weight of the law and gets their comeuppance,’ she noted, ‘while in real life it may seem considerably messier and unresolved.’
This ending provides viewers a feeling of control that they don’t get in real life.
What are the advantages of reading or watching real crime?
True crime fans will tell you that, apart from being a fun way to pass the time, the genre provides several real-life advantages.
One advantage, as previously said, is that it may raise public awareness of potentially harmful situations.
One of the most infamous serial murderers of all time, Ted Bundy, wore his arm in a sling or a false cast. He’d enlist the aid of sweet, helpful young ladies to assist him move his belongings to his vehicle.
He would hit the victims over the head with a crowbar after they were in his vehicle or leaning towards it.
Although it is important emphasizing that in the vast majority of situations, victims would be unable to foresee their perpetrator’s actions or do anything to prevent the crimes from occurring.
Ted Bundy would get unsuspecting ladies into his automobile (Picture: Bettmann Archive)
Another significant advantage is that genuine crime material may actually assist in the resolution of certain cases.
A podcast called The Murder Squad helped lead to the arrest of a guy in 2020 for a 40-year-old cold case.
‘Jessi,’ a long-time true crime lover who heeded the pair’s invitation to upload her DNA to GEDmatch in April 2019, is interviewed in a now-famous episode of the podcast by presenters Paul Holes and Billy Jensen.
GEDmatch is a law enforcement-accessible DNA database that combines DNA findings from several sources to more precisely map out a user’s family tree.
Jessi stated she gave her DNA because she was curious, not because she thought she was linked to a criminal.
Jessi received word from law enforcement in June 2019 that her DNA matched James Curtis Clanton at roughly a third-cousin level after she submitted her test results to GEDmatch.
Clanton was a suspect in the 1980 murder of Helene Pruszynski, a 21-year-old woman.
James Curtis Clanton was apprehended after listening to a true crime podcast. (Photo courtesy of CBS Denver/YouTube)
Jessi, who has never met Clanton, was then requested to provide further information about her family tree.
‘I’ve always been incredibly fascinated in true crime and DNA and all the improvements that have been made,’ she remarked on the show.
‘However, with all that transpired with the Golden State Killer, I was completely focused on how I might help.’
Clanton was sentenced to life in prison for Helene’s murder.
In other situations, the true crime podcast’s potency has been obvious, but whether it has had a beneficial or bad influence on judicial processes is debatable.
Following the release of the Serial podcast in 2019, the Maryland court of special appeals determined that the major subject, Adnan Syed, had had deficient legal representation during his first trial.
Syed’s initial trial counsel, Cristina Gutierrez, was found to have neglected to check Asia McClain’s alibi, a school classmate of Syed’s who claimed to have seen him at a public library at the time he was accused of killing Lee — a point that was persuasively presented in the podcast.
C Justin Brown, Syed’s current attorney, said the podcast ‘was incredibly useful’ in gaining support for his client.
However, owing to the ‘strong’ evidence against him, the decision to offer Syed a retrial was overturned, and he will not be prosecuted again for Lee’s murder.
The podcast, according to Syed’s lawyer, was “very useful” in rallying support for his client. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service) )
Serial, on the other hand, has drawn some criticism, mostly because it concentrates on Syed rather than Lee herself.
Since the show’s launch, Lee’s family has blasted it as an incorrect depiction of real-life events.
Lee’s family made a statement during Syed’s retrial hearing, claiming the hearing’reopened wounds that few can understand.’
One of the most significant advantages of real crime, according to Rosanna and Ben, is bringing attention to miscarriages of justice or unresolved cases.
They allude to the unsolved murder of Shelley Morgan, 33, who was murdered shortly after dropping her two children off at school in 1984.
‘Shelley’s 35mm Olympus OM20 camera with serial number 1032853 went gone from the scene and is still being sought as a critical piece of evidence today,’ Rosanna and Ben claimed.
They’re hopeful that bringing attention to this crucial piece of missing evidence will help raise awareness, and that someone with information about the camera’s location would come forward to assist in the investigation.
Can genuine crime be harmful to your health?
Though real crime seems to be a harmless sort of entertainment, too much of it might be harmful to your mental health.
Although it’s important to be watchful and informed of possible dangers, Sally Baker advises that excessive exposure to the worst aspects of human depravity may cause anxiety symptoms.
Hardcore real crime lovers are prone to being unduly suspicious of others, fearing that they are plotting to harm them.
True crime is sensationalist, and it might lead you to believe that serial murderers lurk around every corner while, in fact, the incidents shown in true crime documentaries are absolutely unusual.
What exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is the primary symptom of a number of diseases, according to the NHS, including:
- Anxiety disorder
- Agoraphobia and claustrophobia are examples of phobias.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a kind of anxiety illness that occurs (PTSD)
- Anxiety about social situations (social phobia)
The most prevalent is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a long-term illness that leads you to be nervous about a variety of events and difficulties rather than a single incident. GAD affects around 5% of the population in the United Kingdom.
GAD symptoms include:
- Feeling anxious or restless?
- Are you having difficulty focusing or sleeping?
- Heart palpitations or dizziness
If anxiety is interfering with everyday living or creating suffering, people should seek professional help from a doctor.
GAD is treated with a combination of psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and prescription medication.
The NHS also recommends a number of self-help options, including:
- Attending a self-help seminar
- Regular exercise is essential.
- Smoking cessation
- Limiting the quantity of alcohol and caffeine you consume
- Using one of the NHS Applications Library’s mental health apps and tools
Second, Sally said that viewers might grow hooked to the genre, and that desensitization may cause people to seek out more and more terrible tales to satisfy their appetite for the macabre.
She related it to pornography addiction, adding that “obsessive usage of pornography typically leads to desensitized reactions, requiring progressively intense pornography.”
‘If the behavior is obsessive, individuals may need more graphic information to keep their attention or experience the release of endorphin hormones.’
The quest for more profane information may expose you to potentially hazardous stuff.
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