The Unpopular Opinion: True Crime Docs Shouldn’t Be A Form Of Entertainment

Has our obsession with murder documentaries gone too far?

Around Christmas of 2015, all anyone could talk about was the Netflix documentary Making A Murderer. I never watched it, not on principle or from taking a particular stance but I just never got around to it and as the hype got bigger, I genuinely couldn’t see how a documentary about the murder of a 25-year-old woman could be made into something entertaining or enjoyable.

Nowadays, the true-crime genre has truly taken over with networks releasing countless docs about historical crimes and murders – not least the Netflix show about our own Sophie Toscan Du Plantier murder, the subject of the podcast West Cork.

We’re well aware that the fascination with this genre is at the very least, odd and even huge fans of the genre can acknowledge that. There are thousands of memes and TikToks making jokes and references to the fact that we all love to watch shows and documentaries about gruesome murders and evil crimes and treat it as mindless escapism.

There are podcasts and videos about our obsession with this stuff and podcasts like My Favourite Murder have become hits, with the tongue-in-cheek name really symbolising our current attitude surrounding this type of content.

People often laugh about the fact that they find these shows relaxing or the perfect tool for escapism. I can understand this to a degree, as in watching something so shocking and strange, we might feel a little better about our own lives or our current situations. We’re all interested in human behaviour and there is no stranger behaviour than the actions of murderers.

Over the years, I’ve watched some of them myself; I’ve been shocked by The Staircase and Robert Durst from The Jinx, and I’ve been intrigued by Amanda Knox being charged with the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher.

But with that said, I’ve always felt really uneasy and uncomfortable after watching these shows.

Maybe that’s the point? Maybe that’s how we’re meant to feel, but I do fear we’re becoming desensitized. One of my issues with many of the docs is just how recently many of these murders or crimes took place. Behind the ‘juicy drama’ shown with well-paired suspenseful music are real people who died in a very tragic way.

This means that there are family and friends and a community behind these stories very truly hurting and deeply affected by the incident in question. They can’t just spend an hour watching it before flicking over to Schitt’s Creek – it’s their real lives. I’m in no way trying to shame anyone who watches these shows, but I’m curious about how we’re going to feel in even 10 years time about the way we consumed gruesome murders.

In a society where trends and comments age badly, I really do feel that the true crime genre will be one of the things we feel uneasy about.

Perhaps if the documentaries were made with more care, and seen more as a lesson why people do bad things and the punishment certain vicious crimes should face, we could see them as a tool to learn about society.

But with everything these days, the main crux is entertainment and compelling viewing. This can mean that stories are told in a certain way, with information omitted or scenes recreated in a way that adds drama, shock or even humour.

When the sole purpose of these documentaries are to entertain the viewer, I can’t help but feel we fail the real life victims and people behind the stories. We know by now that truth is often stranger than fiction, but honestly, until these docs are made with more care, I’d rather stick to fiction.