From Docuseries to Blockbuster Films — Experts Discuss Why Our Culture Is Obsessed With True Crime (EXCLUSIVE)

Chrissy Bobic - Author

Aug. 2 2021, Published 4:47 p.m. ET

Jeffrey Dahmer
Source: Getty Images

There is an ongoing and unwavering attraction to true crime stories of every kind. There are TV shows and movies inspired by real-life serial killers or gruesome crimes. Then there are podcasts that pop up all of the time to inform us about and investigate infamous killers and their crimes.

But why do people seem to love true crime so much?

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It's not about loving serial killers or criminals for who they are. And it isn't about admiring these figures who become known for something terrible. Instead, for many, possible reasons for this attraction to true crime range from the fun of being an armchair detective to having gone through trauma themselves and getting some relief or comfort in these stories.

Distractify spoke with a mental health expert and a few true crime podcast hosts about why they think the general public is fascinated with true crime.

Charles Manson
Source: Getty Images
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There are varying reasons people are so eager to consume true crime stories. It's possible that some of us who are interested in true crime are simply attracted to the horror genre and see true crime as the real-life version of that.

But there are other possible reasons too.

So, why do people love true crime so much?

Like true crime itself, the reasons people are so drawn to it are a bit complicated. Distractify spoke with licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist F. Diane Barth about her views on the topic.

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"Some of the [reasons] people told me when I interviewed them [were]: They like the idea of solving crimes, they identify with the survivors, they want to understand the workings of a criminal's mind, and they like the sense of having something bad resolved in some positive way," Diane shared.

She also explained that sometimes, individuals may find inspiration in seeing survivors work through trauma in true crime cases. This helps convince them they can wade through their own.

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Melissa Stetten and Ali Segel of the Web Crawlers podcast also shared their ideas about the growing true crime obsession exclusively with Distractify.

"Evil is fascinating," Melissa said. "It's fun to figure out what drives people to do insane things. What was the path they took, and what life events made them criminals? Also, we're inundated with crime on the news because it's always more interesting. We're constantly being told terrible things are happening all around us."

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Ali pointed out that you might feel more in tune with true crime cases if you have gone through some kind of trauma yourself.

"If you're born in chaos, or have had several traumatic experiences, you might find comfort [in] true crime or horror," she said. "It's what you know and are used to. Watching a romcom becomes stressful if that doesn't feel safe or familiar to you."

Some might like true crime because the cases prove other people have it worse than them.

In a July 2021 interview with Distractify, iHeartRadio's Murder in Illinois podcast host, Lauren Bright Pacheco, shared her own thoughts and ideas about why people love true crime so much. As someone who has worked in the media as a reporter, writer, and news radio host, she explained the true crime fascination as "misery rubber-necking."

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Richard Ramirez
Source: Getty Images

Lauren also suggested that some might find true crime cases almost “comforting” to learn about. She said that to know there are “other people [who] have it much worse, or [are] experiencing much more horror and trauma than we are” could help some people feel better about their own circumstances.

Even if that feeling is subconscious.

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An interest in true crime could come from the satisfaction of being an armchair detective.

We all know of armchair detectives in our own lives. They're the kind of people who feel like they can solve the Law & Order episode well before the red herring is revealed.

Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala of the true crime podcast Redhanded spoke with Distractify about such people. They shared their thoughts on the dangers of being would-be detectives for that sense of satisfaction.

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"When we look at cases like that of Elisa Lam ... the damage done by internet sleuths in that scenario was horrifying," Suruthi shared.

For the uninformed, the Elisa Lam story is that of a young woman whose mysterious disappearance ended with her body found in a hotel's rooftop water tank. There are lots of wild theories about what happened to her, but no one knows what happened for sure.

Suruthi added, "I think the key point is people being curious and wanting to dig into a case is no bad thing — but we as normal people must realize the difference between true investigative work and simple internet theorizing."

She also admitted how sometimes true crime fans with big egos can be a positive thing. Suruthi pointed out the outcome of the case highlighted in the docuseries Don't F--k With Cats. A group of internet sleuths came together to solve a crime that had stumped authorities.

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Deanna Thompson in 'Don't F**k With Cats'
Source: Netflix

Redhanded's Hannah said their podcast's listeners tend to actually enjoy listening to episodes about solved cases rather than the alternative. But there are some who like to try and figure things out themselves.

"There definitely is an attraction to going over the clues, evaluating the stories, and deciding who to believe like a true duvet detective," she told Distractify. "As long as it stays under the duvet and out of people's real lives, I think it's harmless."

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