DeathSan Francisco

Why Are We So Obsessed with Murder?

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By Amanda Davis

You know the feeling when you can’t look away from something disastrous? Like driving really slowly past a car accident, just to get a good look? Today, murder stories are the couch-lock equivalent of insane car accidents.

Explorer Daniel Boone once said, “Curiosity is natural to the soul of man…,” but it appears that society’s natural curiosity is taking a grisly turn, toward murder and true crime. Did people suddenly transform into morbid weirdos, or is there something more to the phenomenon? Do we watch hours of “Law & Order: SVU” for  some strange, uneasy sense of enjoyment or because, in some small way, does it help us feel prepared for the worst?

I’m the first person to tell a friend to text me when they make it home and double check the license plate of my Uber ride. These habits come from lessons taught while growing up…and from the dozens of true crime/murder podcasts, documentaries, books and shows I’ve consumed in my lifetime.

But why? It sounds like I’m obsessed (I’m not), but like millions of people who have made this genre so popular over the last few years, I am genuinely just fascinated by it.

Long commutes consist of listening to podcasts like “Serial or “My Favorite Murder”, and relaxing after a long day of a nine-to-five includes a glass of wine and getting to the final episode of “The Staircase” on Netflix. The reason this has become such the norm for people is not to get odd thrills at the victims’ expense; it’s about being intrigued, being scared on your own terms and preparing yourself for the slightest possibility of the same situation happening to you and knowing what not to do.

Photo courtesy of Liukov via Shutterstock.

For one, we are all interested in knowing what makes a murderer or accused murderer the way they are, what makes them capable of doing the horrendous things they do and what separates us from them. The nature vs. nurture argument is often discussed, and either way it goes for a particular criminal, there is comfort in knowing we could never be that evil. Shows like “Mindhunter” (based on true events) and docs like “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer” help us get into their heads and in a way, that uncomfortable space offers us some sense of relief.

For some of these cases, the attraction is in the sleuthing, figuring out what really happened and why. A crazy amount of missing people and cold cases remain unsolved after years (sometimes, decades) of investigation. According to the New York Post, 40 percent of murders in 2017 alone went unsolved —that’s nearly half. And we, the nosey and curious public, need answers. To some degree, the draw is based on a desire for justice. Watching people care enough to unearth evidence from a 20-year-old case, where the victim is just a regular person, can be a powerful experience. Ironically, murder stories remind us of the preciousness of every life and give us faith that people won’t be forgotten.

Documentaries and podcasts that leave us wondering, such as “The Atlanta Monster” and “Up and Vanished” (Season 2), make us rack our brains for the truth. It’s exhausting, intriguing and entirely addicting.

You’re overthinking if you feel like it’s crazy to be into something like this because in the end, the community of true crime lovers just really love amazingly well-told stories. Some come to  conclusions and some are being investigated as you read this, but either way, the process of getting to the bottom of it is something we can take part in and that can be pretty cool.

An intriguing story that could easily happen to you or someone you know really hits home. But throw in scandal, creepy neighbors or a psychotic rando and we’re there at the edge of our seats like a kid on a roller coaster. Whether it’s about self-preservation, compassion for others or just some sick sense of curiosity, murder and true crime shows are definitely a thriving and popular genre…and that may not be such a bad thing.

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