From Ted Bundy movies to Richard Ramirez fan accounts, our obsession with killers has become a lifestyle
I had just binged the TV show Lost on Netflix when I inevitably came across that feeling of emptiness you get after finishing a show you were so immersed in. I had thought at the time no other TV show could captivate me as that one had, until I gave Criminal Minds a chance. Although this show does not focus on “true crime,” it was my gateway into what would become an obsession with killers and how they think and operate. It wasn’t until later that I gathered such an interest in true crime stories.
True crime media is where the author gives a detailed account about a crime and the real people involved in that crime. These range in format from books to movies, and from podcasts to TV shows, all offering different takes on the stories and events of heinous crimes. In recent years true crime media has blown up, gathering a cult following.
Why are we so fascinated with learning about killers? People enjoy being scared in a controlled environment. In other words, people like the adrenaline rush of not knowing what is coming next, whether that be who is killed next or if the perpetrator is going to be caught. There is something enjoyable about watching a story where things are unclear and no one is safe. Psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll said “true crime stories allows us to explore the darker side of nature in a safe way.” There is something entertaining about cuddling up on a cold day and watching something that gets our hearts racing, skin crawling and mind churning. Professor of criminology at Drew University Scott Bonn said in his book that true crime “triggers the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us– fear,” and he’s right. Being able to be scared in a controlled environment is oddly entertaining. We cannot fathom the actions we are watching, which adds a sense of the mystical and unreal to the story that in fact is real.
There are different forms of true crime media; in some the killer is known to us and the events we follow could be how the police went about the capture, or how the known killer avoided being caught for so long. Others are more a mystery, where the killer is unknown and we are left guessing with the police over whodunit. Each are entertaining in their own way; however, the slow burn of a mystery might be more appealing to audiences. Being able to slowly piece together a story activates our inner detective and keeps us more engaged.
True crime media has taken off in the past decade because of streaming sites. One example is The Ted Bundy Tapes on Netflix, a documentary series that follows the story of Ted Bundy and actual conversations he had on death row. This was a captivating series that dealt with the inner thoughts of such a composed criminal. Another interesting example is a new true crime podcast Radio Rental, with star Rainn Wilson from The Office. This podcast takes the everyday person’s real stories of crime and has that person tell the story themselves. It is an interesting concept that is both creepy and, at times, elating. True crime in the current day has gathered a huge following that allows audiences to get an adrenaline rush while figuring out some of the greatest mysteries of all time.
Buzzfeed Unsolved is a documentary series based around this concept of unsolved cases. It has 48 episodes that span across five seasons. The show has massive popularity with fans, and 96 percent of google users like the show. People enjoy playing armchair detective; we like piecing together mysteries and being spooked by the unknown. There is a reason Netflix has invested so much money into their true crime documentary series. Within the same year Netflix released a documentary series and a feature length film, both on Ted Bundy. That’s not all either, as there are countless documentary series and movies based upon real life crimes and investigations that have gotten a big budget treatment. I think part of us enjoy watching these unbelievable true stories because it is so hard to imagine them actually happening.
William Porter is a second-year Exploratory major who stays up all night on the Ed Gein Wikipedia page. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.