Americans have a penchant for being a little more interested in certain types of artistic material. Take The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones for example — or literally any other post-apocalyptic, dystopian, or downright depressing story. We love them. Dexter was the story of a serial killer who murdered only people who really deserved it (with one or two mistakes and deviations along the way). Why do we find these stories so very compelling? Do we have a secret desire to live and survive in one of these worlds?
Teaching Fellow at University of Law David Green said, “The reasons people are obsessed with crime generally and true documentaries specifically are multi-faceted. One of the key reasons that students are drawn to study criminal law and why I believe the public are drawn to true crime documentaries is the human interest factor. Crime can affect any of us, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or social status. It can happen at random and when it does happen, can devastate people’s lives.”
And therein might lie the key: it’s a psychological interest we have with people who are different — or at least when those differences lead to disaster. It could be that deep-seated fear of anything different that causes our interest in these types of criminal cases over, say, personal injury cases (just ask https://koonz.com/).
Like it or not, bad news is something we all find exciting. Humans have this intrinsic need to break what works or cause chaos to break up the peace — even though peace is something for which we all say we strive. Are we really so self-destructive? The answer is probably “yes.”
Psychologist Dr. Meg Arroll explained that “true crime stories allow us to explore the darker side of nature in a safe way.” Even watching shows that explore this dark underworld can “trigger chemical reactions in our bodies,” she said, “while also affirming our moral views about right and wrong.”
Others believe we adopt this interest not because of an inherent self-destructive flaw, but for exactly the opposite reason: we do it to protect ourselves and the ones we love the most. Author Caitlin Rother said, “We want some insight into the psychology of a killer, partly so we can learn to protect our families and ourselves, but also because we are simply fascinated by aberrant behaviour and the many paths that twisted perceptions can take.”
This perspective justifies our love of documentaries that dig into the minds of serial killers, but what about the aforementioned dystopian films and TV shows that are increasingly popular? Do they teach us something about the minds of killers? After all, they’re just imagined realities by writers who aren’t necessarily specialized in real-world subjects that parallel the ones they write about.
Green said, “It’s clear we’re a nation of true crime addicts. The popularity of this genre can be due to our natural human interest making us curious about the dark and the different, but it’s fascinating to see it can also be because we want to learn how to protect ourselves from harm.”