Why is true crime still growing in popularity?
(Credit: Netflix)

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Why is true crime still growing in popularity?

Murderers are in vogue, and that’s quite a peculiar sentence to put in writing. The burgeoning wave of true crime has been notable for years now. However, when people were drawn towards the recent Netflix series DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story because of reports that people were physically nauseated by the gruesome depictions of murders that played out for real only a few decades ago, the question came to mind—should we really be making entertainment about murderers?

Well, since that question was raised, our blood-thirst has far from quenched. The popularity of the genre continues to rise and several other serial killer series are in the works. So, what is it about the zeitgeist that his driving us towards ever-darker forms of entertainment?

As it happens, the genre taps into something hardwired in human nature. As Dean Fido, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Derby Online Learning, explains: “True crime is very different from the typical shows you normally have on in the background. They are the sort of stories you need to put your phone down and actually pay attention to. It’s a big puzzle and we don’t want to be left without a vital piece of information because we were checking social media.“

Fido continues: “As humans, we are always looking for something new and novel. Whether it’s good or bad, we need something that creates an element of excitement. When we mix this desire with insight and solving a puzzle, it can give us a short, sharp shock of adrenaline, but in a relatively safe environment.” In other words, you can pair something that literally perks you up physically while you lounge around with a cuppa.

You see, our obsession with serial killers is a natural one. They are responsible for less than 1% of murders in the US each year, and Scott Bonn, a sociologist at Drew University, estimates there are less than two dozen active at any given time. Yet, our fascination with this tiny, grisly asterisk to society endures, often dwarfing far larger problems, which he puts down to a “kind of cultural hysteria”. That hysteria has reached a fever point. 

There are masses, in fact, the majority of people, who would happily accept that DAHMER and other similar series are damaging but continue to engage in them. This is observed without judgement—it’s not like most of the world’s population have a condemnable perversion. These shows are a way for many of us to unwind and escape the daily grind of modern society. Besides, the cases are well documented and important pieces of public knowledge, delving into them with a cuppa after work hardly recapitulates the crimes.

Moreover, there is also a claim that they reinforce our moral codes. Put simply, amid the complicate world today – with cancel culture and trifling everyday issues muddying the picture – the consequential, black-and-white morality of true crime helps us to sharpen our judgement when it comes to psychology. Although as crime psychologist Emma Kenny has frequently said, “Life is best spent around good people doing good things, exposing yourself to the best things in the world that you can expose yourself to… we should never be desensitized to the horror.”