The true crime craze is here to stay
Before Netflix came along with their true crime documentaries, I had an unhealthy obsession with Forensic Files. Everything about it drew me in: the detective work, the unassuming clues, the science that dictates every step and—obviously—the crimes committed. But while Forensic Files first made me fall in love with the genre, I must admit it was a love I sometimes forgot about, reminded only by films like Zodiac and Monster.
But leave it to Netflix to revive our collective love for true crime, churning out content after content that piques our curiosity and makes us question humanity. In no particular order, a few favorites have been: The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez, Making A Murderer, Unsolved Mysteries, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, The Keeper and The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
So what is about true crime that makes us sit on our couches or lie down on our beds and watch in fascination? Why have Ted Bundy, The Ripper and The Green River Killer become mainstays in pop culture?
Because we love looking at a train wreck
“Serial killers tantalize people much like traffic accidents, train wrecks or natural disasters,” writes Scott Bonn, professor of criminology at Drew University and author of Why We Love Serial Killers. “The actions of a serial killer may be horrible to behold, but much of the public simply cannot look away due to the spectacle.”
TL;DR, it’s very much similar to how traffic starts to crawl beside a car crash. When we see something different, dangerous or out-of-the-norm, we cannot help but become fascinated.
We want to fix things
Girls get a lot of flak for “wanting to fix a guy,” but it’s an impulse that we all—female or not—have. Humans, simply because they’re humans, like solving puzzles and mysteries. And as Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University, explains, “most true crimes on TV and in books are offered as a puzzle that people want to solve.”
It helps, too, that most true crime content actually provides solutions.
The drama pulls us in
Whether we’re watching a lover get even, a mother losing her child or a serial killer unleashing their traumatic pasts on anyone they see, the drama of crime documentaries pulls us in. Such is the case for Inventing Anna, where the world watched Anna Delvey build relationships and crush anyone that trusted her, or when we saw women try to get their justice against The Tinder Swindler.
No matter who the subject is, there is always drama. There is a backstory to every serial killer, a motive for every crime—and a sob story always follows. There is an up and down rollercoaster that every true crime viewer goes through, and loves being on.
True crime helps us feel prepared
For some strange reason, even if our chances of getting murdered are slim (I hope), we like putting ourselves in the victim’s position and planning a possible way out. How many times have we said, “Grab the knife,” “Jump out of the window!” or some other iteration that would have saved them from the situation—when it’s really just us we’re saving in our heads.
It’s good storytelling
But, truly, like with any other genre, it all boils down to a good story told in an entertaining way. After all, not every true crime movie or series or documentary is a hit. Just look at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
True crime obsessed or not, very few of us can help but be intrigued by the genre. There are so many things about it that pull us in and keeps us hooked. Word of advice though: If the obsession extends beyond the screen, it’s time to watch a rom-com.
Art Macky Arquilla