Should true crime die?


True crime, also known as the blood and guts of real people’s murders, is a popular nonfiction genre that has grown exponentially over the years. It’s made its way into each and every form of media from podcasts to the controversial hit Netflix series, Dahmer

The genre has surprisingly varied effects on its target audience, young women. Listeners either feel that learning about crimes will protect them from becoming victims, or increase their anxiety levels. This gamble between paranoia and feeling informed is unnecessary since the dopamine rush viewers get from true crime can just as easily be absorbed from ethical forms of media. “You get that same kind of feeling from a horror movie,” said Cedar Tatarek, a junior at Ida B. Wells. 

It can also be difficult to separate true crime stories from everyday fears of becoming a victim. “It makes me feel on edge and more paranoid when I watch it,” said Sara Bonn, a true crime enjoyer, and a freshman at Ida B.Wells. True crime is not for everybody and according to Vice, consistent exposure leads to chronic stress which is linked to mental health disorders like depression. When the stories become an everyday part of one’s life, “The world seems pretty depressing,” said Hazel Grimm, a junior at Ida B. Wells. 

While homicide rates are higher for men, women are more likely to be killed by their intimate partners, and those crimes tend to be featured on Dateline episodes and true crime podcasts. A survey done by YouGov showed that women are 8% more likely to consume true crime content than men. Female students agreed that they felt knowledgeable and protected by knowing the stories of victims. “Horrible things happen to people but if we pretend they don’t happen and don’t inform ourselves on how to protect ourselves in these situations then we are just as susceptible,” said Emma Drucker, a senior at Ida B. Wells.

True crime, especially when portrayed from the eyes of a murderer often turns killers into main characters who share their techniques and perspectives when they should not have access to a platform. Even the Netflix description of Dahmer romanticizes the life of a serial killer. “Across more than a decade, 17 teen boys and young men were murdered by convicted killer Jeffrey Dahmer. How did he evade arrest for so long?” (Netflix). This blurb reeks of ‘congratulations’ and the very act of devoting a series to someone who caused so much pain rewards their behavior. 

Not to mention the creators of this media genre rarely have permission from the families of victims to make graphic recreations of their loved ones’ murders. Students unanimously agreed that the relatives of victims need to approve of podcasts and other types of media before it is sent out into the world regardless of how long ago the crime was committed. “It’s okay for it to be discussed when you have permission from all the families involved whether it takes 10 years or 5 days,” said Bonn.

The director of Dahmer, Paris Barclay, claimed that the series was made with the intention of ensuring that victims were not forgotten. But he did so in a way that not only disrespected those he was supposed to be honoring but also harmed those related to the victims who had to see the murder of a family member become a pop culture sensation. 

If true crime media is disrespectful to those it’s meant to bring justice to, then why is it such a critical part of pop culture today? Private investigators get leads from media and public tips. True crime podcasts make that information even easier to access and have helped keep cold cases active. Podcasters are not trained on what constitutes evidence but they are able to share a horrifying story with thousands of people which spreads awareness. This fact combined with the undeniable existence of morbid curiosity has made true crime one of the most popular nonfiction genres.

The ultimate question is: how can it become an ethical form of media? In addition to asking permission from families, creators should provide more specific trigger warnings. It’s often assumed that those consuming true crime are unbothered by mentions of sexual violence which is far from true. This limits the ability of listeners to safely consume true crime content. “Everyone should be able to enjoy a genre,” said Tatarek. 

Video content is most ethical in the form of news or documentaries rather than the focus of a Netflix binge. True crime should be used to tell the stories of victims, not share the techniques of killers. Students agreed that the genre would be more effective in informing its audience if it focused more on preventative education and less on the gore of crimes. 

True crime may be an outlet for curiosity and sharing the stories of victims but those benefits often come at the expense of their families. There’s a long way to go before true crime is both ethical and beneficial to listeners. Until then, the next time you feel like activating your sympathetic nervous system, consider watching a thriller or horror movie.