True Crime: A Crime In Itself?

The negative effects of this popular genre

Natalie Hill, Staff Writer

It’s Friday night, and you want something relaxing to watch while you wind down. Naturally, you turn on your favorite docuseries: a true crime series about murder and cannibalism. Cozy, right?

The recent release of Netflix’s newest true crime series, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”, has sparked debate over whether or not it’s appropriate to turn violent crime into entertainment.

 Personally, I find that the morality of these types of shows are highly dependent on the light that the crimes are portrayed in, but that the cons generally outweigh the pros. Not only is media of the true crime genre often excessively violent, but it brings up traumatizing memories for those who were close to the victims, often without their consultation. 

Additionally, shows about cases that were never closed may be produced in a way that leads viewers to assume the guilt or innocence of an individual.

Recreational viewing of graphic violence, which is often depicted in true crime media, has been shown to desensitize viewers to violence and create a lack of empathy. 

In a study conducted by UAB professor of psychology Sylvie Mrug, those who were exposed to moderate levels of violence in TV experienced low emotional reaction to graphic images, while those exposed to high levels experienced a quick increase in blood pressure followed by a swift decrease.

These findings are particularly concerning when paired with the statistic that the average 18 year old witnesses roughly 6,000 violent acts on TV each year, according to a 2009 study from the Center for Research Excellence.

Mass consumption of violent media, such as true crime, could have negative and even dangerous ramifications for society as it may create a world full of people who are apathetic when it comes to violence. A variety of studies have shown that desensitization may manifest itself in aggressive or antisocial behavior.

Another issue that true crime presents is its subjectivity. Often, when covering a case that was never resolved, the producers of a true crime show have their own opinions on who may be guilty, and let that influence how they portray the real people that the show is about.

Additionally, the victims and their families aren’t able to deny coverage as public footage can be used without their permission.

Often, the crimes are picked apart and dramatized for the sake of views, without considering the feelings of those involved. This tends to prolong suffering and bring back traumatic memories. 

Rita Isbell, whose brother was one of Dhamer’s victims, recently spoke out against the new show. “It’s sad that they’re just making money of this tragedy,” Isbell said. “That’s just greed.”

To be clear, I’m not claiming that true crime is the root of all evil. If a series or podcast can present the facts of a case in a way that is respectful to the victims and their families, then they should feel free. 

It’s when the crimes are portrayed disrespectfully or extremely graphically that a problem arises.

Many argue that gore and violence are necessary for entertainment value. However, exploiting the suffering of real people to garner views borders on immoral. 

Good television doesn’t need to rely on shock or excessive violence to capture an audience; it can do that with its plot and acting.

Additionally, statistics show that many fans of true crime (61% of Americans who participated in a poll from YouGov) believe it makes the audience more empathetic towards victims. However, as mentioned earlier, multiple scientific studies directly oppose this claim. If people were truly becoming more empathetic, they would stop sensationalizing horrific crimes and forcing those involved to relive traumatic experiences time after time.

In general, I believe that there are better things to watch than true crime. Not only can it have negative psychological effects, but it uses the suffering of real people to achieve high ratings, something that should not be normalized in the entertainment industry.