There is a human fascination for acts of cruelty — not committing them, but solving them or understanding the psyches of the perpetrators. The mystery’s release of tension is cathartic, the immorality is an allure to a common morbid curiosity, and the experience of fear in a controlled environment is an attraction. It is no surprise that true crime is so popular — it has all the parts of good storytelling. However, there is almost always an inherent problem in true crime media because it exploits trauma, glorifies crime, and desensitizes viewers.
True crime’s definition of “a genre in which the author examines an actual crime and people involved” is, unfortunately, often a euphemism for an exploitation of trauma for money. In media like Dahmer–Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, no consent or consultation was given by surviving friends and family of victims; instead, some scenes were made up for dramatization. The show capitalizes on the trauma of victims and retraumatizes those who are alive and were affected by Dahmer. While Dahmer does accurately depict what it was meant to, it seems more like a grab for money more than anything else.
Furthermore, true crime often glorifies the killer and dehumanizes the victim. Much of true crime media is told from the killer’s point of view; it provides the context and motives behind their monstrosities. While this heightens understanding of the killer’s mind, it also humanizes them and glorifies the crime. If you ask a person who watches true crime how many killers they can name, versus how many victims, it will be clear which one they know more. If you go on a true crime fandom’s website, it will not be uncommon to find posts on how to dispose a body, commit the perfect crime, or hide from the authorities. Though it sounds harmless, it is undeniably problematic.
However, some argue that true crime can also help raise awareness. It can teach viewers what to do, what not to do, and brings attention to the failings of the justice system. But all of that can be done without the broken morality that is associated with true crime. Many true crime YouTubers combine their content with other things such as makeup tutorials or a mukbang. The combination of casually eating large amounts of food or doing makeup while retelling a violent crime removes empathy from the viewer. They are desensitized, and often do not realize that the events are real and happened to real people. When this happens, it is easy to question whether or not these true crime content makers actually care.
The genre is popular and will not go away for a long time; however, changes can be made in the way it is consumed. True crime media that contains untrue accounts of crime, glorification of killers, a lack of consent or consultation, or is not told in a respectful manner should not be watched or supported. Genres shift and change based on consumer wants and demands; so if enough people demand a more ethical approach to true crime, given enough time, it will happen.