Page Title Why the interest in true crime????

Till Death We Did Part


3 Why the interest in true crime????

  • by Jan Canty
  • 10-04-2018
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5.00 of 1 votes

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.............


  • Gail

    02-03-2019 20:15

    A well written TC hopefully weaves all the above elements with great story telling. It's an art you utilize very well yourself Jan; the photos and other scene setting devices you're using in your own story elevate the tale.
    There's also the fact that an infamous case is going to produce new, cultural anti-heroes, guys like Ted Bundy and Scott Peterson were besieged with female fans, Bundy even fathering a child from behind bars.
    It's a lot of things, different for everyone, but I think it boils down to telling a great story.
  • Lisa

    11-16-2018 20:46

    True crime has always seemed part survival manual and part frisson of "glad it wasn't me".
    I was a teen during the Bundy era, and though I didn't live within his hunting grounds, one couldn't escape the message that young women were potential prey--message underscored when a young woman two years ahead of me in school was murdered on her way to work and dumped in a brushy area we'd all rambled through as children.

    It wasn't true crime per se that once got me out of a jam, but an interview with performer Diamanda Galas. In it she recounted fending off a rape by telling her assailant (in a bored tone), "Look--I'm really beat. Could we do this another time?" and he actually went away.
    Years later I found myself similarly accosted and after trying several tactics that didn't work, I said, as he was looking around for a place to throw me down, "Look--I just got off work and I'm tired. I just want to go home and eat supper" making sure to include the "bored" tone of voice. He said, "Okay," let me go and ran off.

    I have learned and squirreled-away the tactic that if one is forced into a car (not terribly likely these days) to do one's best to eff-up the driver or grab the wheel, aim to wreck the car. If you're probably going to die horribly anyway, take your chances with traffic or a handy tree. Cut your losses instead of hoping for the best.
  • Bob Majkowski

    11-07-2018 18:43

    True crime books have been my favorite to read since the first time I read Helter Skelter. Not totally sure why but I certainly enjoy when the pieces fall together to get the bad guy arrested. I sometimes feel embarrassed to have such an interest in crime (reading, not committing) but so be it. With cable television, I certainly enjoy watching Forensic Files, where a crime is outlined and then all the forensic evidence is pieced together and the culprit is caught. (All within a half-hour show.) I was an avid reader of the Detroit News when I lived in Michigan and remember being captivated by the Canty story and seeing the murderers caught and brought to justice. The book Masquerade renewed my interest in the case and reading Jan Canty's Facebook page filled in a lot more blanks. So looking forward to your book, Jan.