There is no doubt about it. True crime (TC) is here to stay. The over-the-top ratings of the OJ Simpson chase live on t.v., podcasts like Serial and documentaries seen on 48 hours speak to this. It seems TC is in our DNA. And, like our DNA, it dates back in history.
How far back you ask? Some "crime leaflets" appeared around 1600 in England describing the soon-to-be executed, then grew in popularity along with literacy rates (primarily among the wealthy). This trend spread to Scotland and other parts of Europe.
Subsequently, here at home, TC was introduced to the masses by Benjamin Franklin (among others) in columns which appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette back in the 1700's. They were seen as interesting, distasteful, low class and fascinating. In the early 1900's TC was moved to the "back room" of bookstores, next to pornography, and could only be purchased by adults.
Well, that's long past. Today we tune in, read on, listen away on mass transit and comfortably discuss the latest serial murder with colleagues and neighbors. Why do we do so?
One prevailing theory put forth by social psychologists and sociologists (who study group behavior) is that this genre appeals to our innate instinct for survival. TC instructs us how to stay safe - or that's the hope anyway. Another idea put forth by criminologist Scott Bonn is that some of us crave a good adrenaline jolt (much like stepping onto an elevator with a glass bottom or sky diving). And a third possibility is that TC presents a real puzzle for us to figure out. Who did it? Will they get caught? This kind of cerebral cat-and-mouse contest is gratifying when the outcome is predicted correctly. And last, but not least, there are those that enjoy the bad guy getting his or her due (perhaps as they hum the tune Bad boys, Bad boys, what'ya gonna do when they come for you, bad boys...?)
That being said, is there a downside? Unfortunately yes. Too much of a good thing - like sunshine - is, well, too much. TC splurging can exaggerate fear, offer dangerous techniques to would-be assailants (as in copy cat crimes) increase anxiety and depression in those predisposed in that direction. So, while TC is no longer about those facing the guillotine, nor does it reside in the back shelf in the store, it seems TC will prevail being a guilty pleasure we cannot pass up. Hopefully, we will draw helpful lessons from it and know when to turn to a good comedy or dinner with friends.
Do you have another idea why it is so popular? Has TC ever bailed you out of a jam because of what you learned? Have you ever enjoyed a wide-eyed thrill of watching a true crime mystery? It's ok to come clean. You're among friends.............