As it is probably quite clear, I am a big fan of true crime. I have been watching true crime specials on TV for as long as I can remember. My mother was always watching them and it just kind of stuck, even as it became too much for her. But my feelings for true crime are not so cut and dry. I’m often left conflicted about how I feel about the genre with every new Netflix special or true crime podcast.
I’ve already written about why I love true crime. I’m afraid of everything already, so why not feel prepared. After years of listening, watching, and reading true crime, I can often convince myself that I know the signs. I know the patterns, the red flags. If you know what to look for, you know how to prepare for it.
It reminds me of a scene from Wynonna Earp. When a character named Waverly gets attacked while she’s throwing a party for friends of hers who weren’t aware of the creepy circumstances the town was under. She ends up killing the assailant (albeit temporarily). While her friends were panicked and calling her strange, she retorts, “I’m the one that knows the best way to kill someone bigger than you is to stab them through the temple!”
While life might not actually work out that way, there is some comfort in knowing how you could hypothetically protect yourself, or avoid the situation in which it happens in the first place. There is comfort in thinking that there’s something you can do to keep yourself safe.
But true crime isn’t always something that offers positive knowledge and change. It isn’t always easy to watch as a marginalized person.
Of course, it’s not always easy to consume true crime media. I have had to avoid all podcasts that have covered the Bruce MacArthur murders at any point. It’s hard to have constant reminders that within my own city, there are people going missing, are killed, and if they don’t have a support system, they are left without justice. There is still no news on what happened to Alloura Wells. They haven’t even released a cause of death.
I think it’s the same reason my mother stopped watching true crime. My parents were living in the area when Paul Bernardo was active as both the Scarborough Rapist and as one half of the Ken and Barbie Killers. When we moved to the suburbs further outside the city, there was a string of attempted child abductions in what was supposed to be a safe city.
My mother went from loving X-Files and true crime documentaries to watching Glee and superhero TV series. It became harder to watch all the horror out there in the world. Especially once she had kids who were determined to be out there in the world. It can be hard to be reminded how in danger people you love and care about are in constantly.
Now most of my circle of friends are marginalized in some way. Racialized, trans, queer, disabled, sex workers. Most of my friends are in so much danger all the time. It could be someone I know and love being described on a podcast.
But what’s worse is that those identities also mean that they may never be reported on in depth. They could just become another statistic, another faceless and nameless victim. And when they are reported on, those parts of their identity might be stripped away and forgotten in order to make them more sympathetic, like Kitty Genovese whose queer identity was erased. Or how she wasn’t the first victim to her killer, Winston Moseley, who had been preying on Black women before he attacked Kitty.
There is a lot of history behind true crime media that often reveals an uglier truth.
The truth is that sometimes true crime media can often perpetuate and glorify violence. As a fan, it can be hard to face, but it’s true. How true crime is reported can affect who we see as victims, who we see as violent perpetrators, who we see as heroes, and who we see as dispensable.
There’s a disturbing trend in who gets humanized and who is reduced down to stereotypes or are anonymized. Black activists have been raising concerns over how Black victims have been represented in news media, especially in comparison to white killers.
There are a lot of true crime stories that glorify violence. There is a fine line between humanizing a violent offender and worshipping them, and a lot of true crime are quick to cross that line. You can buy sweaters with the faces of famous serial killers patterned across it. There are many stories that try to explain and even excuse what they did. They blame childhood injuries and troubled childhoods, while ignoring the troubled childhoods of the victims.
And as a genre, there is a certain glorification of the policing and justice systems. There are many who hold too much faith in our policing and justice systems. Even among stories of wrongful convictions, and killer police officers.
Fortunately as time goes on, there are podcasters, documentarians, and activists who are trying to change that. There are more people who are trying to cover injustices within our justice systems, systems that were built with the express purpose of controlling certain undesirable populations.
Sick Sad World was a project that wanted to be among that growing trend. Both myself and my co-host both want to keep talking about the problems in true crime and the problems in our justice system.
Why not take a listen and let us know how we’re doing?