crime

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

For months, I remember coming home from elementary school and excitedly turning on the television each night to hear the same opening words, “Bombshell in the courtroom.” Nancy Grace was covering the 2011 trial of Casey Anthony, and I (like the rest of America) sat glued to the television screen eating up every detail.

While my love for true crime may have sprouted at the young, ripe age of 8, many others find themselves drawn to the genre at some point. True crime has engrossed millions of people around the globe in a seemingly recent trend. Evidenced by the popularity of shows such as "Making a Murder," "The Ted Bundy Tapes" and "Forensic Files." However, true crime has enamored people since the 16th century.

But why are we so drawn to these stories of real-life crime? On the most basic level, it taps into our innate interest of the disturbing and dark. But looking deeper, there are several other reasons we may be fascinated with true crime. 

Women constitute a large percentage of those interested in true crime. As a woman, I think this is likely because women, knowingly or not, watch true crime as a preventative measure. We listen to case after case, learning the techniques of killers and what to look out for so one day we won’t become a victim. Another reason is that often, women can relate to the victims.

According to Dr. Howard Forman, forensic psychiatrist, women have a greater ability to empathize than men.

“That may lead to true crime being more interesting to women than men, simply because if you empathize more with the victim, it may be more relevant to you and more gripping,” said Forman.

The main argument against true crime as a genre of entertainment is that it glorifies the perpetrators while disrespecting their victims. I will not deny that true crime has led to the celebrity status of some killers. Serial murderers Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer have all become household names. But knowing their name and glorifying them is two different things. All of these men committed abnormally horrendous crimes that shocked the country thus leading to their name-recognition.

The problem isn’t learning who these men are and the crimes they committed, it's when this knowledge turns into glorification. A prime example of this is recent films released regarding Bundy. The Netflix documentary series, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” is factual. It gave viewers a look inside the mind of this killer while still showing the real-life effect Bundy’s actions had on his victims and others.

However, a film like “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron, is an example of glorifying the killer. This film is a dramatized version of events that idolize Bundy. The film is essentially a courtroom drama, redirecting the focus from Bundy’s victims and horrendous acts, to his own personal struggle of being on trial.

While I can’t disagree that some forms of true crime entertainment fail to recognize the victims, this is not always the case. The television show “I Survived” solely focuses on the victim's stories of deadly circumstances. They give their first-person accounts of surviving near-death experiences and how they caused so much pain and trauma as a result.

While it is ideal to respect victims, the net result of true crime content is of greater significance. While it mainly serves as a form of entertainment, it has also lead to a renewed interest in cold cases. In one case, a true crime podcast in Australia led to the arrest of a man for the disappearance of his wife in what was previously a cold case. Similarly, the true crime podcast, “Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad” hosted by a retired cold case investigator and a journalist, dives into cold cases and attempts to solve them. They even invite the audience to submit tips and theories in order to help solve the case. These two examples illustrate the great thing about true crime entertainment: its ability to solve crimes, which ultimately provides closure for the victims and/or their families.

Cassidy Hopson is a UF journalism junior. Her column appears on Thursdays.