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The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

The Student News Site of Rock Bridge High School

Bearing News

Americans’ obsessive indulgence in true crime media desensitizes the tragedy of real world events


“Squid Game,” a dystopian Korean drama on Netflix fixated on individuals fighting to the death over a sum of $38 million, is filled with emotion, violence and crime—it is also set to be the most viewed TV show on Netflix, with 111 million users watching at least two minutes of the show in the first 28 days of its release. “Bridgerton,” a starkly different show following the life of the elite Bridgerton family in Regency-era London, was the most-streamed show prior to “Squid Game” with 29 million fewer viewers tuning in. “Squid Game” is the first Korean show to hit number one on Netflix U.S. in the streaming platform’s history, and it reinforces the sinister, growing American appeal in consumption of crime media, particularly true crime. This thriving genre has become a guilty pleasure to many Americans and unjustifiably glorifies infamous individuals and events that cause the unimaginable pain we find strangely fascinating. 

The presumed starting point of America’s allure to true crime dates back to the Puritan execution sermons detailing the appalling acts of executed persons of the 17th and 18th centuries, the time of Jack the Ripper and the publishing of “The Studies of Murder” by Edmund Pearson in 1924. The publication of the non-fiction book “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote in 1966, detailing the impact and event of the 1959 murder of a family from a small community in rural Kansas, officially established true crime fascination in the U.S. In 1974, Charles Bugliosi, the prosecutor for the Manson murders case, set the precedent for books on criminal trials with “Helter Skelter.” It also opened the doors to more personal true crime novels written by former police chiefs, attorneys, detectives and ordinary people who experienced bizarre situations, like Anna Rule’s account on the murders of Ted Bundy from the exceptional perspective of a coworker and friend. 

Other forms of media, like podcasts, have become hot-spots for new true crime briefings. “Over My Dead Body” and “Crime Junkie” are first and second respectively on the top 100 Apple Podcasts 2021 charts, and “Morbid: A True Crime Podcast,” “Dateline NBC” and “Murdaugh Murders Podcast” also make the cut for top ten, with the next four on the list being true crime podcasts as well. 

The reason why American shows, in particular, have seen such success in the true crime genre remains largely unclear. Possible explanations could be simple, morbid curiosity, or the fact that this media recognizes the fears and troubles of Americans and creates a sort of psychological protective barrier by forming a false sense of knowledge on how a criminal’s mind works. Even though telling true crime stories can negatively impact survivors of violent crimes and desensitize viewers to actual gruesome events, they can also become a form of escapism. Sensationalizing these stories can spur a sense of powerlessness and disorient our perception of safety through the violation of our loved ones and community. The guilt of living more preferable lives may also seem to be alleviated through the consumption of true crime media because it can give a voice to the survivors of an unfortunate event and a chance for their experiences to be heard or normalized. “Happiness Guilt,” defined by Refinery29 as the guilt of having something good or nothing bad happen to oneself while something bad happened to another, is exemplified within white-dominated societies like the U.S. with similar effects as white privilege, inadvertently intensifying the popularity of guilt-reducing media like true crime. 

Having one’s experiences validated is a well-known therapeutic technique used to initiate the healing process for somebody going through trauma, but indulging oneself too much in a distressing topic can overstimulate a person. If a viewer becomes triggered by something they see in a show, they may not have a support system to help navigate them through their feelings and uneasiness. Overconsumption of true crime media can make one more vigilant, but it can also make a person feel scared, wary, unsafe and anxious to the point that they are rechecking locks on doors and damaging their social life by being too fearful to go outside of their own home.  

Furthermore, women are statistically more likely to be drawn to the true crime genre. 85% of the 700,000 “Wine and Crime” downloaders identify as female according to the Rolling Stone. Beyond morbid curiosity, according to the same Rolling Stones article, Kenyon Laing, one of the three hosts of the podcast, believes that hearing scary stories makes crime related scenarios paradoxically less scary to women and serves a practical purpose. Women are also more likely to read true crime books where the victim is female. In the article, Amanda Vicary, a social psychologist at Illinois Wesleyan University, said this is because subconsciously, women are reading to learn how to prevent or survive a crime as they are more likely to become victims of one. Thus, listening to true crime podcasts or reading books on serial killers can serve as a type of “inoculation” and comfort against fear for women. 

Disturbingly, since 2005, the number of female violent crime victims in the U.S. has increased while the number of male victims decreased. As of recently, one out of six American women are the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and 90% of all adult rape victims are female. The significantly greater risk of sexual violence toward women in America may explain their heightened levels of interest in true crime, but the unusual attraction towards true crime is still widely unique to the U.S.

In America, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers have become household names through movies, TV shows and glamorized televised court hearings. Shows like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “Criminal Minds” and “Tiger King” have left their mark on pop culture throughout the years and have paved the path for elevated crime and gore indulgence. The psychological issues, desensitization of grisly events and humanization of serial murder that come with extensive true crime coverage reveal the rationale behind true crime addiction in the U.S. True crime can create a community for individuals and provide a sense of security for women in a society not styled for their benefit, along with the opportunity to experience one’s fears without needing to acknowledge them in a socially acceptable setting. Even if it relieves the guilt of privilege for some, the unacceptable obsession over gore, crime and death in America humors traumatic experiences and prevents the consumer from sharing their own. Similarly this genre should not be glorified based upon assumed effect on the psychological protective barrier and vicarious fulfillment of subconscious fears, rather we should strive to create a more inclusive community for mental health awareness. However, based on the popularity of “Squid Game”, it does not seem that the trend will slow down or the obsession will subside any time soon.

Do you watch any true crime shows? Let us know in the comments below. 

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About the Contributor
Shubha Gautam
Shubha Gautam, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Senior Shubha Gautam is the co-editor-in-chief for Southpaw. She is also president of Mu Alpha Theta and co-president of Ethics Bowl. In her free time, Shubha likes to read short stories, bird band and watch new TV shows.

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