An Examination of America’s Obsession with True Crime

True Crime is a nonfiction genre where a crime and all of its details are examined completely. Some recent and very popular True Crime shows include Murdaugh Murders: A Southern Scandal and Dahmer–Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story on Netflix. While seemingly everywhere today, the True Crime genre became popular in 1966 through Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood. True Crime often gives viewers a “bird’s eye view” of a crime, oftentimes focusing on the killer’s perspective. This has captivated most Americans but has been controversial in its popularity.

It is important to examine which Americans love True Crime so much and why. True Crime’s biggest audience is women; a 2021 study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that women consumed more true crime stories than men. It also found that women are most drawn to stories with insight into the killer’s mind, motives, how victims escaped, and stories with female victims. Science Focus adds that this “fits with the evolutionary idea – that people are instinctively drawn towards stories where they can identify with the victim and read about tips and strategies for defeating the ‘baddies.’” WUWM quotes a clinical professor of Psychology and director of the UW-Milwaukee Psychology Clinic on this, where she explains, “Women are often victims of crime. I think it helps women feel a sense of control if they can learn how to not enter dangerous situations or things like that.” In this sense, true crime stories have a positive effect. They give women, who feel they are at risk of being a victim, a sense of control. By watching these other stories, they can gain an understanding of how to help themselves if they are at risk.


True crime can create high paranoia and anxiety in the watchers. In the New York Times, author Emma Berquist argued that the genre makes women, who are the majority of the audience, “inappropriately paranoid. “Being in that state of sort of hyper-awareness…I don’t think it’s healthy.” This media genre highlights the scariest, most gruesome scenarios, which can create a lot of darkness and fear in individuals. Berquist also cites that true crime has been steadily decreasing for decades, the exception being the COVID-19 pandemic. Over consuming true crime can cause huge anxiety in individuals, even when it is very statistically unlikely. This media can cause the illusion that we are more at risk of becoming a victim than is true.


True crime becomes a problem when its story is told insensitively. Dahmer–Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was viewed as exploitative to the victims. This movie provided a limited perspective, neglecting many of the victims of his murder and cannibalism. Many felt that the use of the victims’ murders were then solely for profit, and the show seemed uninterested in offering a diversified or empathetic viewpoint. Insider featured a conversation with Rita Isbell, the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, Errol Lindsey. Isbell stated, “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it.” She feels that this show seems motivated by greed, adding, “Netflix trying to get paid. I could even understand it if they gave some of the money to the victims’ children. If the show benefited them in some way, it wouldn’t feel so harsh and careless. It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy. That’s just greed.” Although this is just one show and one example of true crime, it shows a very possible outcome of true crime media. This genre gains traction, viewers, and profit from exploring real murders. It is important that the producers of these shows approach this with empathy and that they aren’t reducing victims to collateral and statistics. Victim’s perspectives and lives deserve to be shown and respected. Along these same lines, because many true crime docuseries frame the murderer as the main character, they often create situations where the audience is rooting for them and their success. By highlighting their narrative, they wrongly seem like the protagonist instead of the antagonist in a skewed way.

Although there are many harms of consuming and creating true crime, it is perfectly normal to love and watch it–most Americans do. The creators make it captivating and interesting, and it spikes our curiosity. It is when these true crime shows are made insensitively that there is a big issue. If you love this genre, make sure to watch shows with diverse and empathetic viewpoints.