If you listen to Sick Sad World, chances are that you are a fan of true crime podcasts. There are certain podcast names that you will hear over and over again every time you ask for recommendations for something new. But even with these bigger podcasts, there are always gaps that need to be filled. There’s always something that is bound to be missing.
That’s why we started Sick Sad World. There were gaps that we wanted to fill in. But there’s still some things that we’d like to see more of in other true crime podcasts.
While race is starting to be discussed in true crime more often (thanks to the work of podcasters like Connie Walker of Missing and Murdered), some of the more mainstream podcasts tend to only focus on a surface-level racial analysis when talking about true crime or horror. Most of the time, it’s really because these podcasts are hosted primarily by white people. Without lived experience, your analysis can only go so deep.
Think about Serial and Adnan Syed’s case. It took Sarah Koenig until episode seven to even approach the idea of racial profiling, even then only after speaking with defense attorney Deirdre Enright who brought it up. “Racial profiling, really?” she responds incredulously.
When I listened to season one of Serial, in just the first episode, my mind first went to racial profiling. Some of the conclusions that were being drawn by police and prosecution, all seemed glaringly obvious. Yet here was a woman who didn’t even seem to consider for half of the season. I mean, I thought it was one of the biggest factors in why the case was so important.
It’s why we need more hosts and producers of colour when it comes to true crime podcasts. Podcasts like Crime in Color and Fruit Loops have also tried to fill in these gaps as well. They take a look at victims and perpetrators through a racialized lens and can give insights that would be missed without them.
Fights Against Ableism
One of the most frustrating things about true crime podcasts is that a lot of concepts that come up in mainstream coverage are rooted in ableism. Even in My Favorite Murder, a podcast that took off extremely well due to their openness about anxiety, depression, and issues with addiction. There have been several episodes where personality disorders are painted as dangerous, and they have even suggested that people who stop taking their meds should be forcibly institutionalized.
This is extremely problematic as people with mental illnesses are more often the victims of violence than perpetrators. But they aren’t the acceptable type of mentally ill so that makes it okay? Except it doesn’t.
You also don’t see people covering topics like when disabled people are killed or neglected because of their disability. Like we discuss in “The Dangers of Being Disabled”, disabled people are often treated as burdens that drive people to kill, not victims of ableism and violence. Their stories aren’t told, and they aren’t considered undeserving victims.
I’m not saying that Sick Sad World is perfect in this regard. We still have yet to come up with a solution to providing quality transcripts to our episodes, meaning that we are actively participating in audism. Audism is the exclusion or oppression of the Deaf or Hard of Hearing community. They also deserve to be included in these conversations and that’s something that we’d like to rectify.
But we need more podcasts actively trying to fight ableism in every single episode in what ways that they can.
If you follow big names in true crime, then you know it is like any other community. When fans find a show that they absolutely love, then their hosts are absolved of all of their mistakes. Take for example My Favorite Murder again. Many of their fans were downright vitriolic towards Indigenous fans for daring to speak out against the hosts using imagery of teepees and other Indigenous cultural imagery for promoting their Summer Camp tour campaign.
These same hosts did an episode of the Highway of Tears, and spoke of the ways that Indigenous women, girls, and people are disproportionately targeted and neglected. They’ve already been called out before for saying that cultural appropriation doesn’t exist, and they only apologized when the publication Bitch called for their boycott.
But there are even worse examples. There are some groups where you can’t even mention anything that the host of Sword & Scale has ever done wrong, including harassing victims’ families and predatory comments to younger female fans. For many of his fans, bringing this up is tantamount to bullying and will call you “divisive” when we’re all here “just to have some fun”.
When talking about true crime, we are talking about the lives and deaths of real people. While there are ways to have fun when talking about it, you can’t purely love true crime “for the fun of it”. Everything about it is political. If it’s not for you, then you’re just reveling in the pain and suffering of other people.
Podcasts aren’t exempt from the standards to which we should hold all media. We should be critiquing and asking for better, even if we consider the medium to be new or experimental. There are still lots of ways that the community as a whole can improve and change the medium.
What are some other true crime podcasts that you think are getting it right? Let me know in the comments! Or let me know other ways you think that true crime podcasts can do better.