I’m a bit of a true crime addict. I was totally hooked on Serial; I binge-watched Making a Murderer; my idea of a great night in usually involves a Netflix documentary about a serial killer. I loved Tabloid; I adored The Imposter; I just can’t get enough of them. So naturally, as a book fiend, I now want to get my hands on all the true crime novels I can find. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Dave Cullen’s Columbine and Anne Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me are all sitting in my TBR pile waiting for me. But before I can get to them, I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of conscience. I’ve been worrying: is liking true crime immoral?
In the case of both Serial and Making a Murderer, the families have spoken up about their distress—leaving me feeling incredibly guilty for snatching this insight into their suffering that they never granted me. Especially as, let’s be brutally honest, they’re produced first and foremost as entertainment. That’s why they’re so gripping; they’re created to thrill their audiences, and get people clicking “Play next episode” late into the night. And the true crime books piled up by my bed are the same: the covers are designed to shock you, and they boast their #1 bestseller status like a badge of honour. By reading them, am I exploiting somebody’s very real pain just to get that extra morbid excitement that fictional worlds can’t provide?
But on the other hand, the popularity of certain true crime entertainment can actually raise awareness of really important issues. Making a Murderer has highlighted serious corruption within the US justice system, and starting that conversation has got to be a good thing. Humans respond better to personal cases than statistics, so perhaps true crime films and novels are the best way to get people’s attention.
And another thing: reading novels is widely believed to enhance people’s empathy. So these types of novels might actually be making us more sympathetic and understanding people. They help us understand the tragic consequences of actions, and they might even give us an insight into the minds of criminals, and what leads them to commit crimes in the first place. And if we can understand that, then surely we can make better progress towards stopping it from happening at all.
So do you think liking true crime is immoral? Or do you think that it can be a positive influence?
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