By The Editorial Board
You are walking across campus on a busy day. Hordes of students are gathered all around, headphones in to keep the world out.
But if you shared a pair of headphones with one of your classmates, you might be in for a surprise — according to a poll of 1,000 U.S. adults by YouGovAmerica, half of Americans watch true crime documentaries.
In light of recent harrowing events, the true crime genre has never been more popular. One of the most streamed podcasts of this kind is “Crime Junkie,” which boasts a 4.8 star rating on Spotify with 63 thousand reviews. Even more popular is the podcast “Morbid,” which has a 4.7 star rating out of 80 thousand reviews on Spotify.
What is driving tens of thousands of listeners to dive deep into morbid curiosity, and at what cost?
At its worst, true crime can be insensitive, even exploitative. Netflix’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” upset the families of Dahmer’s victims, as they said the series benefitted from their tragedy, and the creators failed to reach out to the families prior to its release.
When it comes to the true crime genre, this is a common grievance. Many believe this area of the industry capitalizes on victims’ trauma and often, their deaths. TV producers, actors, streaming services and more make money off of the worst things imaginable.
Others argue that continued consumption of true crime media can be bad for your mental health, as it desensitizes the viewer to graphic imagery, and can even worm its way into the viewer’s subconscious.
Morbid curiosity often turns sour and degrades into something cheaper — being entertained by stories of death and evil.
Truthfully, true crime should make its viewer deeply sad. But, the casual way in which it’s consumed makes it less likely you turn the show off thinking of the humanity and life of those who have had something precious stolen from them, but rather what you’ll eat for your next meal. Or maybe that you need to shower or check your texts.
True crime brings together the morbid and the mundane in an unhealthy way.
However, the genre is not without its benefits. Some say listening to these stories can equip the listener with useful tools to ensure their safety, God forbid they find themselves in danger.
One case in particular bears striking witness to this argument. In 1984, then 17-year-old Lisa McVey was kidnapped by Bobby Joe Long, who killed at least 10 women in Tampa, Fla.
Reclining back in her car seat, she was able to peek under her blindfold in order to identify the make and model of her kidnapper’s vehicle. Then, she memorized the number of steps into his apartment. Once inside, she left hair and other DNA behind and complied with her captor’s demands.
On his way to set her free, Long first stopped at an ATM. McVey remembered the jingle his PIN number made, which she would later recall to police.
Due to McVey’s quick thinking, she is Long’s only known survivor and later served as Chief Deputy of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa.
Her story, and those of many others, can shine some hope in the bleakest moments. It’s important to remember when consuming true crime media, as with anything else, that moderation is key, as well as thinking critically about what you’re consuming.
Learn from the heartbreaking stories of victims. Don’t romanticize or sensationalize their murders, and allow these stories to deepen your empathy for others.