When I was a kid, we could always find my grandmother in her chair in the living room reading true crime novels or watching Nancy Grace. So as I got older and gravitated towards television shows, novels, and podcasts that were true crime in nature, I just thought my family might have a true crime gene and it was passed down to me.
The First 48, Breaking Bad, Lockup Extended Stay, Dateline, Making a Murderer, and Blue Bloods are what I binge watch. The Goldfinch, Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, and The Corman Strike Novels by Robert Galbraith (A.K.A. J.K. Rowling) are what I read. And I consume true crime podcasts like “S-Town”, “Someone Knows Something”, “Convicted”, and “Up and Vanished” like it’s my job.
Over happy hours and girls trips I have discovered that many of my girlfriends also like true crime shows as well and there is surely a large market for them since there are so many sources of entertainment dedicated to the genre. However, I still can’t help but wonder why I am so fascinated with true crime, so I did some research.
Here is what I found:
- Dr. Sharon Packer, a psychiatrist in private practice and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai theorizes that we get a sense of pleasure from believing that bad fortune fell on someone else and not us. She says this feeling is not sadistic, but a natural relief that comes with knowing someone else got the short end of the stick and it wasn’t you. She also says that we get a sense of relief from knowing it was someone else and not you that lost control and committed a heinous act.
I would like to think this is NOT a reason I watch crime shows; however, in a very pure sense this could be happening at an unconscious level. The last time Mark and I played checkers I was secretly very happy that it was him and not I that was making mistakes.
- Scott Bonn is a criminology professor at Drew University. He concludes that our obsession is two-fold. First, he says society has a fascination with “violence and calamity” and that our obsession with crime shows is an extension of that. Second, because witnessing a natural disaster, crime, car accident, etc. triggers adrenaline in our brains, we gravitate towards shows to deliver that adrenaline fix.
I tend to like both of Professor Bonn’s theories a bit better than Dr. Packer’s because it makes me seem like less of a psycho and more of a thrill seeker.
- The crime mystery writer Walter Mosley thinks we watch crime shows because we are seeking out forgiveness and someone to blame. He believes that people are worried about violence and crime in today’s global society and we have a role in contributing to all of the chaos. Through true crime entertainment we can reconcile our responsibility by assigning blame and forgiveness to those in the show, book, podcast, etc.
I like Mr. Mosley’s idea on why we watch crime shows because it makes me feel like a concerned global citizen.
I didn’t find any facts to support my own theory about a true crime gene, but what I did find reassured me that I am not obsessed with true crime because I am one step away from being a murderer. So, the next time you plop down on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn to watch someone slay (not like Beyonce), rest in peace knowing there are explanations out there for why we love true crime.