The true crime genre has risen dramatically in popularity, but is it harmful or healthy?

Gabrielle Rossignol (she/her) // Contributor
Talia Rouck // Illustrator

As we try to escape the winter blues, and avoid the onset of midterms, exams and final papers, many of us will find ourselves curled up on the couch looking to indulge in some true crime stories – whether it be in the form of a TV series, documentary, or podcast. It’s perfectly natural for humans to be curious about crime and what drives criminals to act the way they do. 

Things become problematic when this curiosity transforms into obsession and glorification. It’s not okay to idolize serial killers or other criminals because of how fantastically horrific their crimes were, or because of how “hot” they were. A line needs to be drawn when it comes to buying serial killer memorabilia, or dressing like infamous killers for Halloween. This type of engagement with true crime traumatizes everyone involved. It also can hurt the general public by sending a message that these kinds of criminal behavior are not only tolerated, but idolized. 

The true crime genre is not new, but it has definitely seen a rise in popularity in recent years. In 2021, true crime made it into Netflix’s top three most popular TV genres – which just goes to show how strong of a hold true crime dramatizations and documentaries have on our fellow binge watchers. 

It was announced on November 8, 2022, that Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has been renewed for another two seasons, where it will focus on other infamous killers as an anthology series. The show broke Netflix records with over 900 million view hours, and is predicted to reach one billion. It has turned out to be one of the most popular english-language shows on the streaming site, but the fact remains that murderers are being commercialized and their stories are being transformed into entertainment for bloodthirsty audiences. Not to mention that, according to several relatives of Dahmer’s victims, Netflix hasn’t donated any money made from the series to the living relatives or survivors, nor did they notify them that the series was being made

These dramatizations omit many important factual details, use the attractive faces of the hired actors to overshadow how terrible the killers really are, and retraumatize those impacted in real life. It’s hard to get on board with dramatizations of true crime because they are being pumped out by production companies to entertain audiences, and most often do not honour the truth. 

Dramatizations give audiences the opportunity to become infatuated with the idea of a serial killer, which is just nauseating. If killers and very real criminals are going to be represented in television or other forms of media, we shouldn’t have the opportunity to “fall in love” with them or what they represent. 

Recently, I have forced myself to reassess my interest in true crime. When I caught myself listening to true crime podcasts in the shower, while I ate my breakfast, and before I went to bed, I realized that something was wrong. I became so desensitized to the horrific stories I was listening to, that I wasn’t even hearing them anymore. I have an interest in criminology and the psychology of criminals, but recently, I haven’t been listening to these podcasts out of curiosity. I stopped doing so because I realized I have inadvertently been disrespecting the real people and stories I have been engaging with. I’m sure there are readers who can relate to this dilemma, and if you can, it’s probably time to change things. 

If you find that you, like myself, want to better understand real crimes and the criminals behind them, there are healthier forms of true crime stories to consume. In terms of content, podcasts such as Crime Junkie and Serial are productions made with facts and done in a respectful manner. They don’t glorify or sensationalize the crimes they are reporting. 

It’s important to remember why you want to engage with true crime stories. If you simply want to be entertained, it’s probably a good idea to look for fictional crime stories. Or, if you’re curious about real-life crimes and criminals and all the facts, you can hop on the internet and do some research. This way you get unfiltered information that tells the whole story, as long as you are looking at reputable sources. 

Everyone should feel free to have curiosity when it comes to true crime, because we can learn why someone commits the crimes they do, the social determinants involved, and the impacts that criminal activity has on society. However, it’s important to remember that the stories we hear are not just stories – they’re based on real people’s lives and pain.  We can’t afford to grow compassionless and desensitized to the horrors we consume. 

To glorify killers and criminals is to disrespect every person impacted by their harmful actions. So the next time you find yourself binging a crime series based on real-life events because you’re bored, or thinking that the actor portraying a serial killer is “hot”, maybe ask yourself if there’s a better way for you to scratch your true crime itch. 

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