Is it immoral to like true crime?

true crime immoral

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?

true crime immoralIn 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.

true crime immoralAnd 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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  • Nicole Hewitt

    Oooh! Such good questions! I have to admit that I would never have thought of this – I don’t really read crime fiction, so I’ve never had this moral quandary myself, but I can definitely see how you would feel conflicted. I do think that it’s sort of horrible that someone is capitalizing on another person’s pain – it would be better if you could only read books that are somehow sanctioned by the families, but I don’t know how practical that would be – how could you possibly police that sort of thing, even just for yourself? So, I guess I’ve given you no good answers here …. not a lot of help, I know. LOL!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    • Yes I agree—if I could read books sanctioned by the families that would feel much better, because I’d feel that I was hearing the story that they WANTED to tell! Hmm… it’s tricky!

  • Wendy Gassaway

    You always bring up such interesting ideas. I do find true crime to be morally dubious for the reasons you discuss. I read Columbine recently, which was much more about analysis than entertainment. I read one Anne Rule book decades ago, and swore off that type of true crime–for one thing, it was plain scary to think about it being real, not to mention the exploitation of other people’s tragedy for my entertainment made me feel icky, for lack of a better word.

    • Thanks Wendy! OK, I’ll skip the Anne Rule one. I like the sound of analysis more than entertainment too!