Issue 262 Editorial: Call for Community and Humanity
I am an avid podcast listener — I apply my mascara each morning to the sounds of The Daily and eat my breakfast with You’re Wrong About’s Sarah Marshall voice reverberating through my earbuds. I adore the way they simultaneously feel like socialising and relaxing — all the benefits of human accompaniment without so much as needing to nod along. Chances are, if you’ve spotted me on Market Street and shouted after me, I’ve been too preoccupied by the story of Koko the gorilla to hear your voice.
Unlike most podcast listeners, however, I consciously and deliberately avoid true crime.
True crime is a literary, film, and, perhaps most commonly, podcast genre. It takes the gory details of real crimes, typically murders, and twists them into a narrative format. From the recent release of Ryan Murphy’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story to the slew of podcast episodes that came out about the murder of Gabby Petito.
Counter to simply filling through police reports on homicides, true crime features a rise-and-fall plot structure and a cast of morally black-and-white characters. These characters, however, are modelled off real people.
I do not mean to sound as if I am somehow above true crime. A pre-teen Sophia, who (much to my parents’ concern) had a Criminal Minds obsession, would have devoured all of My Favorite Murder podcast. I am not about to pretend I do not completely understand the appeal.
No matter how depravedly delectable, however, I would like to state my case against the genre, or rather, my case for its careful consumption. My gripe with true crime is the way it distorts our worldview in two seemingly contradictory ways — by numbing and by petrifying us.
We are numbed to the very real tragedies of very real victims. The goriness, violence, and immense sadness of the crimes are transubstantiated into consumable little soundbites. Padded by a HelloFresh advert for our opening hors d'oeuvre and a Deliveroo promo as the post-roll pudding, tragedy becomes digestible.
Families of victims have also spoken about the ways their deceased loved ones are flattened by the genre. Favouring a complex portrayal of the perpetrator, victims become nothing but the tragedy that marked the end of their full, meaningful lives.
My latter gripe is the petrification true crime brings upon us, a petrification which, realistically, is not warranted. Homicide rates in Europe and North America have been steadily declining since 1994. All accounts seem to show that the world is becoming safer, not more dangerous.
True crime inspires fears of our community within us, fears which are often racialised, classist, and groundless. Media which inspires us to run from the kind, well-meaning neighbour who offers to help carry our groceries inside perpetuates the selfish individualism we should seek to expel from society.
The phenomena of true crime is inspiring us to depersonalise these victim’s stories. We begin to see victims as nothing more than unfortunate characters to pity during our walks West Sands. Further, the immensity through which this genre is consumed by its pundits make these crimes seem far more commonplace.
While true crime has become a form of entertainment for many, it is important we remember that they tell the real tragedies of many. Further, we mustn't let our overconsumption of the genre allow us to believe all strangers are evil creatures who would jump at the chance to force us to an early grave. We could all benefit from looking towards humanity in others. This entails careful consumption of true crime, understanding the ways the genre profits off the stories of victims. But it also means recognising that the stranger in the supermarket is probably not out to kill you.