Scroll through a list of the top podcasts or your Netflix suggestions, and you’re bound to stumble upon something touted as “true crime.” This genre of taking real crime stories and spinning them into an hour-long episode has become somewhat of a sensational trend in current society. The bone-chilling storytelling of podcasts such as “My Favorite Murder” or shows like Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” are capitalizing and thriving on the format of taking cold cases and transforming them into subscriber-gaining, binge-worthy entertainment. The rise in true crime entertainment is often credited to the fact that technology has put these previously secret cases in the hands of regular people. Anyone with an internet connection can research a haunting case from decades ago and come up with their own theories and conspiracies. In essence, true crime entertainment is likely so popular because it’s so accessible. If you hear a particularly outrageous story on your favorite podcast, chances are a quick Google search will pull up pages of dozens of other people talking about the same thing (each offering their own gruesome twist).
A limitless amount of material, and hundreds of individuals just waiting to share their own twist, seems like a pretty fail-proof formula for profitable, long-form entertainment. Hundreds, maybe thousands of hair-raising, unsolved cases are just waiting to be picked apart, analyzed and pieced back together by any criminal psychologist (wannabe or certified, that’s up to you). There might be a goldmine of material, but does that necessarily mean it should be used?
When there is a dividing screen or earbuds acting as a buffer, it becomes far too easy to forget that the people being talked about in true crime entertainment are real individuals. It wouldn’t be true crime if it wasn’t… well true, but the content is designed in such a way that audiences can remove themselves so far from the reality of the story that it seems fake and, essentially, erasure of someone’s actual life. It can be argued that true crime entertainment is, at its core, journalism. These episodes and documentaries are simply telling the facts, reporting an event that happened and doing it in a way that is accessible for a laymen audience. It’s meant to be fascinating. Society is obsessed with true crime because they want to learn, not because they want to become serial killers. But the fact still remains, that at the end of every episode, society can continue on with their daily life—very much unlike the family and loved ones of the murdered person they just learned about.
True crime entertainment isn’t all evil. In their takeover of the entertainment pool, the podcasts and TV documentaries have likely inspired countless young people to pursue careers in criminal justice or psychology, no doubt sending bright-minded individuals to hopefully better society. But for the remaining audiences, true crime entertainment has likely desensitized a large portion of the public. When horrendous crimes are made accessible, it softens how individuals view those acts. Murder seems commonplace and kidnappings are an everyday occurrence. As a society, the question needs to be asked, Is the ad revenue of true crime truly worth more than fostering the idea that crime is more entertainment than harm?
Whether one sees a problem or not, audience awareness can make the true crime industry more about education and less about subscriber count. Internalizing these stories while remembering the real lives that were affected changes the episodes from binge-worthy to critical analyses of modern society. Smashing that subscribe button or selecting “play next episode” shouldn’t be an act of guilt, it should be one that comes with the knowledge that someone hung a dollar sign over another’s head.
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