I became strangely interested in the … “media genre” (?) of true crime.
When I was about 16 years old, something pretty bad happened to me. I don’t want to go into it right now, not to be secretive or add mystery or anything like that, but simply because I will get paid for writing this, and I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with making money talking about this thing.
I only bring it up because it was during this very shitty period that I first became strangely interested in the … “media genre” (?) of true crime.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but what I do remember is watching weird, enthusiastically narrated documentaries about serial killers on YouTube — in parts, back when there was a ten minute limit on videos. I would watch one after another, sat in an uncomfortable chair at my family desktop, chin resting in my hands, eyes glued to the screen.
Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrei Chikatilo and Richard Ramirez all became familiar to me in a strange, disturbing way.
I’m sure there are a plethora of psychological reasons why I started loving all this morose stuff at this particular time, but for me it was something to … dilute my pain. With loads of other pain, sure, but it diluted mine nonetheless.
Since then, my morbid fascination with all things true crime has been a constant. Although I no longer spend fifteen hours a day researching the most horrendous murders imaginable, I’m still a sucker for a content warning at the start of a podcast or documentary. ‘Some viewers may find disturbing?? Well, rest assured, sir, I am not some viewers.’
And I’m not the only one. The true crime trend is walking that clever tightrope of so-hot-right-now and here-to-stay, and loads of nice, normal people are embracing it. Serial, The Jinx, Making a Murderer — even your mum has probably got on board. I know my mum has, after several slightly tense years of worrying about my obsession with all things horrible.
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One of my very favourite of these crimey podcasts is called My Favorite Murder. In it, two very funny and seemingly also lovely ladies (Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff) talk each week about a new murder they’ve researched. No one could accuse either of them of being horrible or cold — they talk of the killers with contempt and spend a lot of time talking about (and thus humanising) the victims. They also make it funny, but not (obviously) in the sense of laughing at how hilarious murder is.
I hate and despise the fact that murder happens. But when it does happen, boy, do I want to know about it.
The show has garnered a massive amount of listeners, who call themselves “muderinos,” all of whom love true crime and have been made to feel slightly strange about it their whole life. The community is honestly one of the most wonderful that exists on the internet.
And if you dip your toes into the world of true crime podcasting, you’ll soon realise quite how un-alone you are in your darker interests. There’s the absolute smash hit, Serial, whose series one was many people’s true crime awakening. There’s Radiotopia’s slickly produced Criminal, which tackles both the sublime and ridiculous with a fine tooth comb. There’s The Generation Why Podcast, which looks into the most unbelievable murders you’ve never heard of. There’s Sword and Scale, grimly dark, the most reminiscent of a real life horror movie. There’s Untold: The Daniel Morgan Murder, a fascinating look at corruption in the British media through the lens of one crime. There’s Hollywood and Crime, a glamorous retelling of the Black Dahlia Murder like you’ve never heard before. I’m firmly of the belief that within the genre, there’s a podcast for everyone.
It’s a prime example of what I’ve known all along: that the true crime interest and the niceness of a person are not mutually exclusive.
And this confirms something I’m pretty sure I know about myself, too: I am nice. I’m not the best person on earth; I still eat meat, I buy cheap and unethically sourced things, I have no direct debit to a charity. But also, I am generous with my stuff, I smile at strangers, and (it goes without saying), I hate and despise the fact that murder happens. But when it does happen, boy, do I want to know about it.
Because the world is scary and horrible and shitty. Vile people do unspeakable things to others. It’s terrifying. But pretending it doesn’t happen, denying curiosity about why and how it does, seems ridiculous to me.
In fact, I truly think people who are more on the “murderino” side of the spectrum are even more conscious about all this bad stuff. We are aware of the problems of killers getting famous and victims getting lost in the ether. We remember that every person involved in these heinous crimes is a human, and when we talk about them we make sure that comes across.
Our preoccupation with these things in no way means we become flippant or blasé about them.
Accepting a morbid curiosity and a slightly creepy fascination with the darker elements of life is accepting a part of personhood. On an evolutionary level, knowing bad stuff that has happened to others is a way to self-protect, after all. In fact, I’d be more inclined to question the good person-ness of those randomly throwing accusations around at something they don’t really understand. HA! Take that!