The Negative Effects of True Crime


Photo by Kat Wilcox via Pexels

Liliana Liedke, Staff Writer

Crime. It fascinates us. Whether it’s heist movies like Ocean’s 11, murder mysteries like Knives Out, or crime shows like The Blacklist, crime fiction is one of the most popular genres in the world. Crime sets adrenaline pumping through us. 

One very popular subcategory of the crime genre is true crime. True crime has always been a hit with the public. From the 1600s and Aqua Tofana’s reign of silent murders, all the way to the 1888’s Jack the Ripper, morbid history has garnered a certain interest. Humanity is curious about its dark side. We like learning about things that scare us. Novels and TV shows have been written about these crimes, but where do we draw the line between representation and glorification?  

 One of the biggest issues with true crime is how the criminals are made the main character. The problem is not with true crime in the media, it is when we start portraying the murderers and serial killers in true crime stories as misunderstood anti-heroes who just needed a hug. Of course, if someone is murdered, you are likely to hear about it, but the way you perceive the crime depends on how the information is presented to you. If you are presented with ‘justification’, such as a tragic childhood like John Wayne Gacy had, a man who killed over 33 young men, or feeling left out like Jeffrey Dahmer did, the murderer of 17 victims, you may be more inclined to feel more empathetic towards the reasoning behind their actions. But you and I are faced with some of those same problems everyday, and we aren’t going around killing people. The last thing we should be doing is glorifying murderers.  

 This problem of justifying the criminal exists in crimes in fiction as well, but not as commonly. One major difference in the portrayal of crime in fiction versus true crime is where the focus is. Fictional crime, even if based off of a real event, tends to be more victim-conscious. The focus isn’t on the perpetrator, it’s on the investigators or the victims. If someone does a terrible deed and is rewarded with a place in history, then the consequences of committing a crime (i.e. jail) are far outweighed by the place in history you are granted. In fact, the recently released on Netflix Dahmer- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was the tenth adaptation of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life. His name is commonplace, yet how many people can name a single one of his victims?  

 In order to take these criminals off of the platform we have built for them, we have to first recognize that they are real. We have to recognize that these criminals did very real things, with very real consequences to real people. People were hurt and died. Families were left grieving the loss of the ones close to them. The families of the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer never consented to the invasive nature of the Dahmer series. Just because that information is open to the public doesn’t mean we should exploit the pain of others for entertainment.

 True crime is often insensitive. It seems to distance itself from reality. People begin to sympathize with, and sometimes even admire the murderer. Sometimes it’s because of the actor who plays the character. And while we should recognize the excellent performance of a talented actor, that does not mean we should attribute those same characteristics of the actual actor to the person they are portraying. Serial killers are not celebrities; they are very real people who have hurt others. They don’t deserve to be put on a pedestal. 

    In the hit TV show Psych, and the episode “Autopsy Turvy”, the character Whip Chatterley states that “With one terrible act, someone can become immortalized forever.” We are the ones who decide if this statement is true. True crime is dangerous when it glorifies the crime/criminal.  There’s a thin line between appreciating entertainment like the game Clue, which centers around murder, or the show Criminal Minds, but there is a point where education stops and the thirst for violence begins. I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch crime dramas on TV or  stop reading mysteries, but I’m just asking you to be mindful of how and why you consume media. If true crime is to be made, share the stories of the heroes, the people who stood up against evil, or the victims, whose lives were cut short and are now simply numbered by in which order they were killed. Remember the humanity of those behind the big names.