Does enjoying true crime entertainment make us bad people? This is a question some may have been pondering in lieu of the recent surge in true crime entertainment. As the numbers of true crime fans rise, the demographic of female fans becomes more obvious. What could be so enthralling about hearing your worst nightmare victimizing another? The answer is more complicated than it may seem.
Spotify’s 2022 data revealed that seventy percent of true crime podcast listeners were women. Psychological theorists such as Dr. Sharon Packer, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, have suggested that women feel more strongly about these stories due to their greater capabilities of empathy compared to men, thus becoming more invested. Dr. Packer proposes that women associate true crime with a “dress rehearsal” of sorts, seeing as most of the victims are women. This, of course, is relative to the understanding of gender-based studies, and it does not work as a blanket statement as gender is not binary. The data, however, does tell us that gender identity does affect the way we react to violent crimes. Just as in every pool of fans, there are outliers who take things a bit too far. While the true crime audience is consistently spurring ethical dilemma discussions due to the nature of its entertainment source, some fans have become unhealthily involved.
The TikTok account @savor.it.all has come under fire after posting a video of her “In case I go missing” binder which included copies of her fingerprints, hair samples (which she cut from the ends of the strands and included no actual DNA), and handwriting samples, among other things. Some commenters commended the poster saying, “very good idea,” and “I WANNA DO THIS OMG.” Some wondered what would happen if the binder ended up in the wrong hands. Others pointed out the absurdity of her actions, citing manifestation. One commenter wrote, “tell me you listen to too much true crime without telling me you listen to too much true crime.” Tiktoker @frogmommy, who claimed to have a degree in criminology and forensic science, made a response video saying, “There is a special brand of white women who love true crime, and are therefore, obsessed with being the victim of true crime.” She also said this behavior was “insane,” and the binder would most likely be unhelpful in a real investigation.
Is it not my assumption that all true crime fans have an aching desire to be murdered, nor do I think even these crime-obsessed women do, either. However, milder forms of this obsessive behavior have been called out for similar reasons, one of which goes by the name, “pick-me girls,” a term for women who engage in internalized misogyny for the sake of being desired by the male gender. More extremely, hybristophilia, an attraction to somebody who has committed a crime or outrage, is often cited as the reason for the desire some women exhibit towards serial killers. The most famous example is the women who expressed attraction to Ted Bundy during his murder trials and up until his state execution. More recently has been the deliberate romanticization of killers like Ted Bundy and Dahmer, played respectively by well-known “heartthrobs” Zac Efron and Evan Peters, because they are portrayed as handsome, charismatic, and witty in biopics. Despite the ethical conundrum and the fact that most women have no desire to be brutally murdered or attacked, hearing these stories and “connecting” with the perpetrator could make them feel seen and chosen. Many serial killers and criminals scout random victims. This might leave some women wondering, what would make a killer pick me?
Regardless of the reasons women are so drawn to the genre: feeling prepared, having their fear substantiated, or a hobbyist’s interest, the ethics of the entertainment agencies’ relationship with true crime is debatable. Admittedly, I have listened to a few of these podcasts. I have watched many, if not most, of the documentaries, and I am often left feeling macabre interest. Could I defend myself in that situation? How could I prevent it? Would I see it coming? These horrific acts appeal to a sense of morbid curiosity, so it’s easy to keep consuming and studying.
Despite the recent surge, I don’t see the fascination with true crime as a new trend amongst younger generations. Our mothers and grandmothers tuned in to “Unsolved Mysteries,” “Dateline” and “20/20” weekly for years. They warned us as children the same way we warn our peers now with safety tips like, “Make only right turns if you think you’re being followed, scream ‘fire,’ not ‘help’ and tell at least one other person where you will be on a date.” Our imminent danger has always been a concern, but the retelling of these tragedies by people not related to the victims for monetary gain often feels insensitive. Several of the most popular podcasts, like “Crime Junkie,” are criticized for recklessly spreading false information about crimes and profiting off of stories many families are still grieving over.
While listeners of true crime often feel safer by listening to these stories, it’s important to consume mindfully. When searching for true crime content, it’s best to subscribe to podcasts that don’t sensationalize. Instead, look for those that rely on primary sources, speak respectfully, and donate to related charities. It’s also important that we, as consumers, understand how unspoken social contracts impact the acts of crime and its consumption. Often, predators count on the fact that women are more likely to feel obligated to assist a stranger in need for fear of being assumed rude. They may also feel safer engaging readily with a stranger since rejection can also fuel violence. The majority of crimes against women are perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim, and the social obligations women feel towards family and peers in these instances are ever further strained. As consumers, we must question our motives. While the pool of women whose obsession is fueled by internalized misogyny is small, no woman is immune to its effects outside of the true crime community.
Despite any amount of soul-searching and therapy one might receive, the expectations of female behavior in today’s society often feels like an immovable weight. Just as women must look out for themselves, they must look out for others. There are victims and survivors all around us. The implications of true crime as an entertainment medium may make these instances feel distant and escapable, even. While there is no shame in consuming true crime, it’s important to maintain your ethical responsibility and to do so with reverence.
Art by Serena Y. Cheng