True crime podcasts such as Serial, Criminal and, of course, Sword and Scale are currently amongst the most popular downloads on iTunes. Every day millions of fans flock to download the newest episodes and hear stories of deplorable people doing deplorable things. I know the motivating factors behind my interest in these topics, but were the factors that drew my interest to the subject the same for everyone else? To answer this question I rounded up some of the leading personalities behind these podcasts and asked their opinion on why they thought people were so drawn to the subject of true crime. I think you may be pleasantly surprised and impressed with what these hosts had to say.
Though the Generation Why podcast is not strictly focused on true crime, the hosts have claimed that their true crime shows are some of the most popular of the series. I was able to get in touch with Aaron and Justin and gather their opinion on why they think that is.
“I believe that true crime affects us in so many ways that if you let the information in at all that you’re likely to end up focusing on it. Who did it? Why did they do it? Why did they convict him or her? Where did they go? So many questions and so few answers. We cannot let go as far too often the answers are not satisfactory. But we continue on because we’ll never quit asking questions and we’ll never stop seeking answers.”
Justin also includes:
“I personally like trying to solve the mystery, whether is be solving the case or figuring out what motivates a murderer. It can be informative, educational and entertainment all wrapped into one. People have moved from the old soaps on television onto something real and with more bite. It’s easier to get emotionally invested into something real and that impacts lives.”
The underlining psychology and mindset of how and why a person may have acted in such an unfathomable way is definitely alluring. People love to inject themselves into these stories and add in their own ideas. I think most people can agree that they enjoy hearing about the drama, suspense, and the mystery surrounding these cases. At the same time, the real life aspect of the story adds another dimension that isn’t possible with works of fiction and, in that vein, people are drawn to true crime in the same way some people are drawn to horror movies. They want to hear something genuinely scary. A terrifying event that could happen with little, if any, warning to anyone, at any time.
Dan Zupansky, host of True Murder on Blog Talk Radio and author of the book Trophy Kill: The Shall We Dance Murder, was also able to shed some light on why he thinks people are generally fascinated with true crime stories.
Dan offers are far more simplistic explanation:
“The interest and fascination in true crime is simply people keenly interested in history. Shocking, bizarre and horrifying history but true crime history is just terrible but true history. I wonder why people are not interested.”
Perhaps those of us interested in true crime are historians of sorts. We are drawn to stories of the past, even those stories that may evade typical history books. We don’t just want the happy endings, we want to hear about the blood, guts and gore that went along with those stories as well.
The final person I interviewed was a person we all know. My boss and host of Sword and Scale, the one and only Mike Boudet. Mike’s thoughts on why people are drawn to true crime stories is not unlike Justin and Aaron’s, however, he takes the psychological allure of these tales to a much more personal level.
“If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have a place deep down, some deeper than others, where we know we are capable of horrible actions. Every single one of us is capable of murder under the right set of circumstances. For some the catalyst is an event, for others a series of events. Some of us experience horrible lives and turn out just fine. Others are born with a silver spoon and resort to horrendous crimes. The reason true crime fascinates me, is because I want to better understand what flips that switch for someone and turns them into a killer. What would flip that switch for me?”
Ultimately, I believe it is a culmination of all the reasons listed above that fascinates us about true crime. At the surface we are drawn in for a story’s historical significance or the psychological intrigue, but there are much deeper reasons which keep us coming back for more. As terrible and as tragic as these stories are, we can’t help but find the lead characters relatable. We can easily empathize with the victims, or perhaps even the perpetrators, and imagine what we would do if we were in a similar situation. We like the drama, mystery and suspense these stories weave and force us to question our own morality.
Why are you fascinated by true crime? Share your thoughts below.