Why Are We So Obsessed With True Crime?

STELLAR deep dives into our compulsion with the creepy

It’s hard to browse Netflix these days and not be confronted with a whole host of true crime stories. Equal parts chilling and entertaining, with each new series released, comes an even more bizarre tale, and an even bigger audience appetite to feed. We gladly take on the role of the righteous detective, and roll our eyes at the clueless participants who ‘should have seen it coming’, but why are we so taken in with it all? And more importantly, why have we spent the last 2 months obsessing over a bleached mullet-sporting polygamous redneck who plays with big cats and pretends to sing country music for a living?

The answers to that are both simple and complicated. It seems that this fascination is something embedded in our DNA, and hasn’t just cropped up with us streaming-service babies. In the 1400s Europeans devoured ‘murder pamphlets’, which can be described as cheap tabloid-style pages that relayed stories of crime. Things have since evolved from pamphlets to Ted Bundy’s confession tapes, and the popularity of true-crime stories, in all forms continues to grow. From our love of narrative to our drive to survive, psychologist and author Dr.Meg Arroll says that there are multiple reasons why we’re turning to the macabre for our source of entertainment. 

We Can Experience Danger From The Safety Of Our Sofas 

Some of us may be thrill-seekers and have no problem jumping on the highest and scariest roller coaster in the theme park, but few of us have an actual death wish. Watching a true-crime documentary at home gets the heart racing, but we can go to sleep that night safe in the knowledge that we’re out of harm’s way. “True crime documentaries offer us the experience of threat at a very safe distance.” Dr. Meg says. So many of us won’t watch the news because it’s too terrifying, but we’ll happily sit down and binge an entire true-crime series in one sitting. Why? Because hearing about a serial killer who went on a murder rampage in 1960s America is so far removed from our daily lives that we can probably consider ourselves safe. 

It Teaches Us How To Survive 

The evolutionary urge to gorge on true crime is particularly pronounced in women, “More women consume true crime than men, even though women are far more likely to be the victim of violent crime.” This boils down to a number of reasons Dr. Meg explains, “Some commentators perceive this as a form of internalised misogyny, whereas others believe that watching and discussing these types of programmes allows women to talk about their own experiences of trauma.” While we don’t enjoy seeing other women subjected to abuse and torture, we do feel it necessary to watch and learn necessary survival or escape techniques. “Seeing what’s happened to other women may be empowering as it leads to precautionary behaviour.

Watching true crime can give viewers a subconscious safety map for real-life situations – or perhaps more accurately, this type of viewing can make us believe we would be more prepared for an assault.” Whether or not watching series after series of Law And Order SVU will actually turn us into ninjas who can escape any tricky situation is up for debate, but we can convince ourselves otherwise in the meantime. 

It Feeds Our Love Of Narrative 

There’s been a particular increase in public interest in true crime stories since the streaming service Netflix has begun presenting them to us, but there’s a good reason for this. Cult classic Netflix series like Making A Murderer and Tiger King have cemented and grown the streaming service’s adoring audience, and Dr. Meg tells us that this all comes down to the way in which the stories are told to us. “Tiger King was edited well in the sense that there are numerous twists and turns, which gives us so much to talk about,” she says. “True crime is akin to gossip, whether, about real people we know, characters in a soap or these new characters in docu-series, and gossiping is known to increase interactions with others and strengthen special bonds.” So to put it simply, the clever editing of the stories that are relayed to us gives us something exciting to talk about when our everyday lives are far from thrilling. 

 

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It’s not just visual 

But our obsession with true crime doesn’t stop at a Netflix binge every now and again. True Crime has seeped its way into almost all aspects of media. From the gory to the perplexing, podcasts, books, and YouTube videos have now taken the frontier of the genre, allowing enthusiasts to interact with stories like never before. Cassie Delaney, co-host of The Creep Dive podcast says that her own interest in the weird and wonderful led her down a path she never expected. “I guess what draws me in is just a very strong sense of curiosity and a keen interest in understanding human behaviour. I’m drawn to true crime documentaries and podcasts because despite the often dark content, at the core of it, they are stories about good versus evil. We want to see good triumph and I guess absorbing true crime content fulfills that desire” she tells STELLAR.

The Creep Dive podcast explores stories of the darker side of humanity, shedding light on many of the untold tales of the scandalous, supernatural and downright creepy. “I think we’ve hit on something special with The Creep Dive,” Cassie says. “Jen, Sophie, and I are genuinely friends and I think you can sense that as a listener, we work well together and share a really intense interest in the weird and often macabre.” Clear to see is the fact that Cassie and her co-hosts Sophie and Jen are not alone in their interests.

The podcast has built up a cult following since it began, who tune in to creep dive alongside the women each episode, “Our listeners are brilliant, and we’ve really established a community of people that have bonded over comedy and true crime” Cassie says. The popularity of these podcasts and deep dive videos can be attuned to the voyeuristic tendencies in us. Hearing details of the gruesome and peculiar told by people who are just like you and me make for the chronicle to become all the more compelling. It brings a sense of both intimacy and community to the tale.

 

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Dr. Meg does warn however, that consuming too much true crime purely for psychological thrill, whether it be via TV, podcast, or other, can be detrimental. “Too much consumption of true crime is likely to heighten our fear of actual crime, particularly in those with underlying anxiety,” she says. The often glamorised presentation of certain crimes through media can lead to blurring the boundaries between wrong and right. We all know that murder, taken out of the context of entertainment is morally one of the worst things a human can do, but placed in the context of entertainment, the act can take on a different meaning.

In the last year we’ve seen the Charles Manson family play out on the big screen in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and we obsessed over the hunky Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil And Vile, and these portrayals of heinous crimes run the risk of romanticising unlawful acts, desensitising us and even normalising violence. Luckily the vast majority of us are highly empathetic, so understanding the difference between right and wrong isn’t something we need to worry about. 

Watching, consuming, and ultimately enjoying true crime is a tradition that links us to our predecessors. Hearing or watching a shocking story play out before us may make the hairs on our arms stand up, but it also defines us as humans, it makes us feel empathy, teaches us how to survive, and allows us to differentiate between what we know is good and bad. So stream that new series, tune into that new podcast episode and remain safe in the knowledge that your urge to immerse yourself in a world full of wrongness is just your own weird way of setting the world right.

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