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The Negative Side of The True Crime World

by Isabelle Zarrin

The popularity of the true crime genre has significantly risen in recent years, with a booming fan base and an endless supply of content rising to meet seemingly insatiable demand. Americans are hooked, routinely tuning into their favorite true crime shows or podcasts to hear detailed descriptions of brutal cases - a recent YouGov poll found that half of Americans enjoy true crime media and one third watch or listen to it at least once a week. Many see this world as a source of entertainment, mystery, and, in some instances, even comfort. However, it is too often forgotten that the stories told in this genre are about real people. Their experiences are exploited, disrespected, and over-consumed. All of these factors add up to create one of the most toxic, obsessive online communities to date, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

It’s likely that the primary reason true crime is so popular is its entertainment factor. When watching these stories unfold in shows like the popular Netflix series Dahmer, viewers can feel a sense of suspense when waiting for the next unexpected moment to occur. True crime stories are often told and reproduced in a way which fictionalizes and romanticizes them; consumers forget that the victims are real people who were actually affected by the situation. Those associated with criminal events are presented such that they become characters in our minds, which makes it easier for fans to take their interest too far and glamorize the crimes that occurred. The stories also are commonly told from the perspective of the criminal, leading the audience to sometimes even sympathize with them while minimizing the realities of the lives they’ve destroyed. This habit creates a disgusting lack of empathy for the victims involved. True crime stories should be about bringing awareness to the losses of the victims, but more often than not they have become another way to publicize and potentially glorify the criminals.

Another side effect of the morbid descriptions of crime which are so normalized in this community is that consumers are becoming desensitized. When curiosity takes hold, atrocious anecdotes captivate individuals to a degree that can become extremely unhealthy. In the article “The Problem with Crime-Centric Entertainment,” author Kash Jain states that desensitization “...may lead us to fail to fully process a terrible crime and the person or persons that it may impact.” This directly demonstrates that overconsumption leads to a loss of feeling towards the well-being of victims. Such normalization is further fueled by easy-access entertainment such as podcasts, makeup tutorials, and other disturbing formats of true crime storytelling, often accompanied by insensitive jokes. Stories being casually told to an audience using these tactics makes for a seemingly more “digestible” approach. However, in the long run, becoming desensitized to gruesome real-life events, particularly those caused by psychopathic individuals who blatantly and inherently lack conscience and empathy, can be dangerous. Developing a lack of sensitivity can put ourselves and those around us in alarming positions, therefore it is crucial to stop indulging in potentially damaging subjects.

In addition to glamorization and desensitization, it is equally important to note that the large majority of true crime fans are women. The Daily Free Press writes that this is likely because “...women are often the target of brutal crimes and thus share a morbid fascination with these crimes as they fear these incidents may happen to them.” Because women are common targets of brutality, true crime stories provide a false safety blanket. The illusion of comfort is created as these women feel a sense of second-hand relief - they are all the safer since these casualties aren’t involving them.

This same article also addresses the deeply rooted racism in the patriarchal criminal justice system. A recent case involving a young white woman named Gaby Petito had national news outlets calling her “America’s daughter,” and, as the The Daily Free Press further noted, “While this case is horrific, why does it deserve so much more coverage and awareness than the thousands of missing indigenous women?...This is not to say that white women…should be ignored. But rather, that attention must also be paid to the missing person reports and deaths of women of color.” This is an outlook that is too rarely acknowledged, as the stories of white women are prioritized over those of women of color both in the world of true crime and in coverage of real life missing persons cases. These clear biases result in women of color being ignored or

invalidated by the general public; their experiences should instead be given the same attention as the stories of white women. With a predominantly female consumer demographic, it is especially important that underrepresented women see people like them being respected, honored, and recognized when tragedy strikes.

Finally, the presence of true crime references in other forms of popular culture is very apparent, demonstrating its widespread popularity. The 2013 pop hit “Dark Horse” by singer-songwriter Katy Perry mentions well-known American serial killer Jeffery Dahmer. Perry sings, “She's a beast, I call her Karma, she eat your heart out like Jeffrey Dahmer,” bringing up Dahmer’s cannibalistic behaviors. Similarly, three years prior to Perry’s song, pop artist Kesha released “Cannibal.” The title is a dead giveaway of the lyrics to come – “Be too sweet and you'll be a goner, yeah, I'll pull a Jeffrey Dahmer.” With a topic that evidently should be handled gently, it’s disappointing to see it dealt with in such ignorant, pitiless, and disrespectful ways.

Ultimately, the negatives that come along with being in the true crime world heavily outweigh any positives. This content is sensitive, and it should be handled as such. If consumed in moderation, stories told with a respectful approach are acceptable as it is only natural for curiosity to take hold. Being interested in the unknown is common – think of a car crash, it’s awful, but it can be hard to look away. But this type of media can easily become overwhelming, which is why it’s important for individuals to prioritize their mental health and steer clear of possible triggers - even if this means ending personal consumption entirely. The true crime world is one that will likely never leave us, so, as it continues to infiltrate popular culture, it's vital not to harm the well-being of others and ourselves.


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