Why Are We So Fascinated By the True Crime Genre?


The true-crime genre has quickly become one of the most popular in the podcasting realm. Yet, nobody can work out exactly what it is about true crime that keeps listeners engaged, and our appetites hungry for more. Is there something we innately just love about murder, crime and serial killers, or does the genre just bring to life the realities of our world? In truth, the genre taps into many different areas of the human character.


The Science Behind the Popularity of the True Crime Genre


Perhaps the reason behind our attraction to the true crime genre is that, as Scott Bonn puts it, it “triggers the most basic and powerful emotion in all of us – fear.”[1] In a type of controlled exposure, true crime allows us to experience our fears around tragic criminal acts and without dealing with the very real trauma that haunts the victim(s) and their families.

As we are thrust into the chronology of events of a particular show, as viewers, we must subconsciously navigate our uncertainties about the course of events, and we subconsciously develop our own coping mechanisms – in case we find ourselves in similar situations.


In this sense, the genres tap into our fight-or-flight response. Whether you’re watching the stories unfold between Pistol Pete, also known as the “King of Rikers Island” (New York City’s most infamous jail complex), and his guests recounting their experiences on the Dog In The Yard podcast, or dropping in on an episode of The Gangster Chronicles podcast with former gangster and convict James McDonald and his co-hosts MC Eiht and Norm Steele, such podcasts give us a glimpse into the world of those that live their lives outside society’s normal parameters. As we listen to the stories of violence and destruction, we are forced to come to terms with the true reality of disaster, consequence, and ultimately how to reconcile that which is uncontrollable.


Fear is not the only driving force behind our insatiable thirst for true crime entertainment. True crime podcasts also provoke us to challenge our ideas around empathy and understanding. We often listen to the stories of violent destruction, serial killers, and other criminals, and while we struggle to comprehend the actions of any protagonist, we feel compelled to understand the forces behind their motivations.


The true-crime genre consistently taps into our psyche, provoking us to question several ideas. Tapping into the fears we all have about criminal acts and disasters happening to ourselves and our loved ones, the genre also forces us to reconsider the human experience and the motivations behind peoples’ actions. True crime is the quintessential “guilty pleasure” genre. Whether you are gripped by the horror by the relentless pursuit of culprits to carry out their actions, or you sympathise with the struggles of a story’s victim(s), the genre speaks to each of us in unique ways. Being human is all about sharing our stories and experiences, and very few genres are capable of providing us with profound, emotional responses as the true crime genre.


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[1] https://time.com/4172673/true-crime-allure/