Is true crime truly terrible or thrilling?

Kruthi Duraisamy, Staff Writer

“The 27 Best True Crime Shows to Binge Right Now!” “True Crime TV for Teens.” “41 best true crime documentaries on Netflix that will make you trust no one.” Headlines like these are currently dominating the entertainment industry.

True crime media and obsession do not seem like they will come to an end. 

This interest in true crime is not an unnatural thing. People tend to gravitate toward things they find incomprehensible. These documentaries exhibit exactly how murderers, rapists, and serial killers commit those acts, often intended to show people how to avoid similar circumstances. 

 I, too, will openly admit that I got lured in by the appeal of grotesque shows revolving around the brutal murder of another. I could not help but wonder how the actual victims are affected by seeing the sickening reenactments of the events that traumatized them. The victims that people so happily watch get hurt in the cruelest ways imaginable while snacking on some buttered popcorn. 

The point of this article is not to bash true crime. True crime is a genre and most projects conduct their research mindfully. True crime has its fair share of controversies, but a few examples that exceed this general problem. This article is meant to bring light to those specific films, and the adverse effects of their ignorance. 

One example is the recent TikTok-favorite: Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. This show delves into how Jeffery Dahmer became the notorious killer he is, following his life from childhood, and dramatized versions of his killings later in life. 

While the title may fool some, this documentary gives no regard to the actual victims of Jeffrey Dahmer and rather chose to not talk to any families affected while creating a film that is directly about them. Some of these family members spoke out about this injustice on various social media, calling out this documentary for their failure to communicate with them. 

This problem exceeds the simpler one of being disrespectful – not talking to the victim’s families can lead to inaccurate depictions of the events and cause shock over having to watch the death of their family member on TV with no knowledge of it beforehand. Lack of communication also causes a degradation in the quality of the documentary, as the families can bring new knowledge and behind-the-scenes information that was previously unknown. 

True crime series also often humanize criminals by exhibiting Hollywood-ified recounts of their lives by detracting attention from the victims and focusing on the childhoods of the killer.

Rebuts of the previous statement may claim that the lives are shown to theorize what may have caused killers to become the monsters they are known as. But why does this come at the cost of victims? 

Why can’t the lives of victims be shown in the same detail as their assailants? Wouldn’t the recount of victims’ lives make the story that much more thrilling since it would exhibit how these events can happen to anyone? Where is the line drawn for a show being educational or becoming entertainment that profits from others unincluded from the creation of it?

True crime documentaries should, foremost, take into consideration the victims and get direct support from all those affected. If it doesn’t, the show is an unethical production profiting from trauma the directors will never understand. 

If your favorite true crime show passes all of these tests, then resume it, and happy watching!