"I think there’s an obsession with the dark and our darkest impulses"
August 2, 2019 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Victims, Families and America’s Thirst for True-Crime Stories "It was a Friday in June, the first day of CrimeCon, an annual true-crime festival sponsored by the TV channel Oxygen." [The Washington Post]
posted by readinghippo (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah, the amount of true-crime horror on cable TV is appalling.
posted by Windopaene at 5:33 PM on August 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ah, I think it was this article which finally clocked me to why it bugs me so much that my fellow white women are the ones I know who are into this, those Murderinos and whatnot ... badness that I haven't yet pulled apart all the way. Women do get killed way too often by the men in their lives, yes, and other people who are not white women get killed at way higher rates and don't have the cohort in the podcasting class to make their cases interesting enough for white women's consumption. I do not know why men don't get as ensconced in the fear and the justice or whatever of it.

Sorry, this topic is close to me in so many ways.
posted by lauranesson at 5:40 PM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think a part of the appeal is that the viewer get to see something they don't see very often elsewhere -- something bad happens, and people dedicate the time and effort to track down the perpetrator of the injustice and fix it. I wonder if these sorts of shows would be less popular if people were more used to the abuses of power actually being addressed in reality.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:54 PM on August 2, 2019 [13 favorites]


But the demographic that is into these shows -- white women -- actually seems like the one demographic that really does have violent crime against them taken seriously by police.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:26 PM on August 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yep, white lady here who likes true crime (ever since I pulled Helter Skelter off my mom's bookcase when I was FAR too young to read it). Never felt the desire to go to a con for it, though. (I'm usually more interested in conmen/grifters and cults, but there's a lot of overlap with murderers there.)

On one hand, this morbid fascination is nothing new. We don't have public executions anymore, but those used to be quite the show with thousands of spectators and vendors working the crowds. People would dip their handkerchiefs in the blood of beheaded French aristocrats for souvenirs. People would scour active crime scenes for bullets or scraps of bloody clothing back before crime scene integrity became a Thing. There's the 'death car exhibit' phenomena, museums displaying torture devices from the Inquisition, the Chamber of Horrors at wax museums... (Another source of my early fascination with this stuff.)

On the other hand, the t-shirts with killers pictures and names really skeeves me out. And some of the podcasts and shows feel like performative righteousness. They stress on the killers as capital-E-Evil inhuman monsters with preternatural abilities. When in fact, they are/were all just human beings who did terrible things. The Hannibal Lecter-style genius/madman killer doesn't really exist in the real world. Mostly the real killers get away with it for as long as they do though a combination of luck and apathy/inaction on the part of law enforcement. There are tons of stories where the killer could have been caught months or even years earlier, but wasn't because their victims were gay or black or sex workers or some other marginalized group that were viewed as less important by those in power. That, to me, is more frightening than some imaginary demon.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:34 PM on August 2, 2019 [14 favorites]


I have a personal to me theory that doesn't apply to everyone but in my circle every woman who is into true crime (me included) has been badly abused somehow. And we pick from this genre maybe subconsciously the themes that relate to our trauma. A friend and I just were mentioning how listening to one episode made us much more aware of coercive abuse. That it was a light bulb moment for her around an abusive ex she was with for five years. I've certainly binged my share of cults and pedophilia in order I see now was to try to understand what happened to me. I know this is just a generalization and entirely personal but I definitely have seen it be used almost to handle the anger stage. A way to see that it isn't just a you thing. Power in stories.
posted by kanata at 8:48 PM on August 2, 2019 [14 favorites]


There are tons of stories where the killer could have been caught months or even years earlier, but wasn't because their victims were gay or black or sex workers or some other marginalized group that were viewed as less important by those in power. That, to me, is more frightening than some imaginary demon.

I've heard a whole bunch of objections to The Village that were "This is supposed to be true crime. Instead most of it is talking about the history of homophobia." Well, duh. Why the do you think the police in Toronto laughed about -- and ignored -- the murders of gay men and trans people for decades, up to and including through the present day, and then want to be hailed as heroes for barely doing their jobs in 2019?

Lorimer Shenher's That Lonely Section of Hell* focuses on exactly that in the context of Robert Pickton, and most true crime podcasters, when they talk about Pickton, don't even mention Shenher's work as a detective on the case, much less his book, which pulls together all of the Vancouver Police Department's bed-shitting, bigotry, and general indifference.

* Note that the post uses Lorimer Shenher's dead name (as it was at the time), and not his current name.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:51 PM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Cruel mockery of our fellow human beings as they suffer in public is not an aberration but a foundational element of our late capitalist, pre-fascist dystopia.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:58 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


The true crime genre can serve as a gateway to the types of conversations about the criminal justice system that the average citizen - the average juror - should be having.
posted by Selena777 at 6:17 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Cruel mockery of our fellow human beings as they suffer in public is not an aberration but a foundational element of our late capitalist, pre-fascist dystopia.

See also: the rise of mainstream "torture porn" movies i.e. Saw, Hostel, etc. (Not to say that "slasher movies" haven't always been with us, but these seem to take it to a newer nihilistic extreme).

posted by gtrwolf at 11:29 AM on August 3, 2019


A lot of these stories are about women murdered by husbands or boyfriends. They would be a good fit for Big Serious Social Problem Journalism if we considered intimate partner violence a big serious social problem.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 12:51 PM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


But the demographic that is into these shows -- white women -- actually seems like the one demographic that really does have violent crime against them taken seriously by police.

I mean, sort of. They'll investigate reasonably seriously if you get murdered, sure. But try getting that level of help when you call them going "my boyfriend threatened to kill me", say.

So yeah, the resolution at the end helps a little bit, but a lot of unsolved cases get nearly as much interest as the solved ones. I think the real safe resolution is that you turn off the podcast or close the book and it wasn't actually happening to you, and you've worked out a lot of your nerves. The exposure makes it so that you spend less time thinking about whether it's going to happen to you personally, even though it hasn't actually made you safer. The overlap between this kind of fandom and anxiety disorders is super high, so I'm not even talking about this in an abstract way; I think it does work out to a sort of self-medication.

I'm not sure if I think it's a net positive or not, though, honestly. I don't think it's going anywhere, but I've tried to cut back on my personal consumption of that kind of media because I think the downsides at least presently have been outweighing the benefits.
posted by Sequence at 6:07 PM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Related: In this excerpt from her new book ‘Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers,” our columnist Sady Doyle explains how American women's obsession with the Laci Peterson murder wasn't about tabloid TV addiction, but a darker truth many of them lived themselves.
posted by rewil at 11:09 AM on August 15, 2019


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