True Crime and Public Justice: Why Are We So Obsessed?

3 min
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From grisly murders and mysterious disappearances to conspiracies, swindlers, catfishers, and serial killers – the absolute worst of humanity and the horrors some people are capable of are being increasingly laid out and meticulously examined in popular media, like a fresh corpse on the pathologist’s slab. And it seems we simply cannot get enough of it.

The true crime genre has exploded in the streaming era, and there’s even a special name for someone with an addictive compulsion to delve into the latest investigative podcast, Netflix docuseries, fictionalized dramatization, dedicated TV channel, or book-length account detailing very awful, very real crimes: a murderino. So what is with this insatiable appetite for horrifyingly disturbing, terrifyingly true crime tales that everybody and their grandmother seems to have developed over the past few years? Well, it seems that the answer may lie in our evolutionary psychology.

Making a Murderino

Fascination with human behavior is pretty common and, to a point, completely healthy. It’s probably why you’re here on the Infijoy blog right now. The true crime genre specializes in a specific area of that behavior: the bad, bad things some people do. It also feeds into a need to establish justice and order in a chaotic world, which is why crimes and their punishment have made for compelling stories since the dawn of time. Morality has formed the basis of gossip, songs, fairy tales, and folklore for as long as we’ve been telling stories, which serve as warnings for both potential victim and perpetrator. In modern times, we moved on to detective fiction and then all kinds of crime drama subgenres, from the police procedural to the psychological thriller. With true crime, the stakes are higher: because this stuff is real, and we now have access to the evidence bag that proves it. 

Inside the Mind of a Serial Thriller

Aside from the titillation of a shocking story, the investigative nature of true crime stories offers an adrenaline rush and the promise of a dopamine hit every time something new and incriminating gets uncovered. These hormones are literally addictive, leaving us wanting more from the same source. Many of us live in a relatively safe and sanitized world, so we tend to seek out stimulation to feel these things. The popularity of horror movies, rollercoasters, and extreme sports are testament to our thirst for a good scare, and true crime responds to this on a deeply psychological level: because in these cases, the monsters actually are real and have roamed among us. We also get to explore what lurks within ourselves, with true crime taking us into the darkest corners of the human psyche to indulge our worst fears and fantasies. We can avoid our own demons, though, when focusing on the ones that lurk outside the front door.

Sweet Justice

Weirdly, many of us find the details of true crime stories comforting – which is one reason why we can’t get enough of the ins and outs. We are reassured by evidence that suggests “I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to fall for that”, or even, “I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to get caught for that”. And at the very least, “I’m lucky it wasn’t me”. Interestingly, it is women who are driving the surge in demand for true crime content; a demographic that is far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator. The world may be a dangerous place, but seeing justice being served is extremely satisfying. 

Yet the jury is out on whether a thirst for true crime protects us on a practical level or harms us on a mental one. Perhaps it’s just a relief to know that there are skilled professionals on the case. And where the justice system fails, there are meticulous journalists, private investigators and even the murderinos themselves picking up the slack – which is where true crime fandom gets meta. With many of these popularized investigations unfolding in real time, a growing number of armchair sleuths have taken it upon themselves to help scour for clues to unsolved cases. As puzzles go, it’s quite the level up from doing a daily crossword.

Whether it’s our fascination with crime or the darker corners of the human mind, the illusion it gives us of being more prepared (and the curious comfort that may afford us), the adrenaline rush of facing our fears, or the mystery-solving and storytelling aspect, if you have a true crime obsession that you’ve been indulging in a little too often lately, then it may be time to consider your own reasons for this infatuation. Who knows – by looking at our own passions with just a fraction of the energy we give to analyzing the perpetrators in these stories, we may even use this fascination to help us develop a better understanding of ourselves. 

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Why Are We So Obsessed With True Crime?; The Psychology Behind America's Crime Obsession; Captured By True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn To Tales Of Rape, Murder, And Serial Killers?; Demons With Guns: How Belief In Pure Evil Relates To Attributional Judgments For Gun Violence Perpetrators; Guilty Pleasure: A Case Study Of True Crime’s Resurgence In A Binge Consumption Era.

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