Is True Crime Exploitative?

Updated: Sep 24

If it bleeds, it leads. Society is addicted to blood, gore, and the tragedy that always lingers alongside it. An entire subgenre of media is dedicated solely to our fascination with carnage. True crime media has reigned supreme in recent years and has specifically infiltrated the world of podcasts. My Favorite Murder, Crime Junkie, Casefile, Serial, and other popular true crime podcasts have flooded the charts, leaving only a few coveted spots for other shows to fight over. As true crime becomes an ever-expanding industry it’s important to consider the implications of discussing other people’s devastation for profit and entertainment.

True crime is inherently exploitative and as “amateur podcasters” discuss cases for clicks there has been a heightened level of disrespect for the victims and their families. Though there are serious, investigative podcasts that delve thoroughly into the history of the case and occasionally even crack them, more often than not these podcasts feature two buddies giggling over cans of beer or glasses of wine while sharing the details of a gruesome murder as if it was schoolyard gossip. These casual, informal podcasts are meant to make the listeners feel as though they are friends, but when this informality is extended to discussing the deaths of people it begins to feel callous. These stories are not cannon fodder to be offered up as cautious tales or cocktail party small talk. To lap up true crime as salacious stories to be gasped and gawked at is to do a disservice to the actual victims of those crimes. These are not characters in an Agatha Christie novel, they are real people with real families. Often these families are not even asked before their darkest days are spread across the internet for entertainment. Without consent, their personal tragedy is dragged out into the public limelight and given to millions of listeners to bicker and theorize over.

The most egregious aspect of these podcasts is that the hosts and producers are monetarily capitalizing off of them. Every single stream puts money directly in the pockets of the podcasters. Every live show ticket and cutesy murder-themed T-shirt sold adds numbers to their bank accounts. They are vampirically making their fortune off of bloodshed and devastation without even considering compensating the families whose stories they are telling. It is already stomach-churning to tell these stories as entertainment, but to do so to make money is edging on vile. There is no way around it: they are making their livelihoods off of people dying.

The true-crime frenzy is more than understandable. Society’s inclination for gore goes all the way back to oral tradition. It’s an unpleasant aspect of human nature that we naturally gravitate towards catastrophe and it is inevitable that true crime will be a part of popular culture. There should, however, be more cognizance in regards to the kinds of true crime that we consume. At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that these victims were people and their lives are worth much more than a 30-minute podcast.

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