Opinion: Some television shows and audio podcasts romanticize the horror of real crimes

The true crime genre has long been a staple of prime-time television, luring viewers into killing time and productivity for an hour of entertainment and intrigue. 

From as early as the era of Greek tragedy, stories focusing on humanity’s “dark side” have never failed to captivate audiences.

“These are things that we know happen, but that most of us will thankfully never come into contact with,” Wired Magazine Senior Editor Victoria Turk said on her website. “The inherent whodunnit or the ‘are they innocent, are they guilty?’ element … keeps the drama high, and it’s certainly true that ‘Making a Murderer’ and shows like it often play off this tension, letting it inform the narrative and create end-of-episode cliffhangers that keep (viewers) coming back.”

Unlike fictional crime stories, episodic chronicles of true crime like “Making a Murderer” allow viewers to investigate the different sides of criminal intent through real-life accounts that are just as riveting as they are unsettling.

“The lingering question mark serves as a prompt for viewers to get involved and do their own research to come to their own conclusions,” Michael Arntfield, former police detective turned criminology professor, said on NBC News.

In turn, according to Arntfield, viewers often become more than just spectators; they become participants in the case, viewing themselves as constituents in the investigative process.

While it’s still an open-ended and inconclusive debate whether these shows actually influence crime rates, what they are doing is imposing a distorted perception of the world.

“Making a Murderer,” a Netflix original series, is the most popular true-crime show available for streaming. (Google Images)

According to a survey conducted by faculty and doctoral students at Purdue University, many loyal viewers of true-crime shows have consistently misperceived important facts about crime and overestimated the frequency of crime in the real world.

“This kind of television viewing can lead to ‘mean world syndrome,’ where people start to think about the world as a scary place,” Glenn Sparks, professor of communication at Purdue University, said on govtech.com. “Some people develop a fear of victimization, and this feeling can affect their feelings of comfort and security.”

There’s no denying that most of these shows go heavy on the violence, often delivering scenes that are horrendously gruesome. However, many of these scenes are unhealthily romanticized reenactments of the actual accounts.

Critics claim as more true-crime series emerge, their producers focus more and more narrowly on violence and utilize it as a tactic to stand out among their competition, turning what’s meant to be “entertaining” into a source
of paranoia.

“Many production companies behind new shows seem to think the only way they’ll grab attention is if they double down on the slasher movie violence,” writer, editor and crime commentator Steve Huff said, according to Real Clear. “I’ve seen some truly gruesome depictions of violence and even sexual assault on some shows. It always occurs to me that for some, they can be truly traumatic.”

While crimes of the caliber presented in these shows do occur in the real world, there is not adequate evidence to denote that these crimes are as frequent or prevalent as they appear on TV.

When watching these shows, it’s wise to remember that reality shows, even true-crime dramas, are not entirely
unadulterated reality.

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