America’s Dark Obsession

Author: Vaishali Bansal, Graphics: Carol Lu

The BRB Bottomline

The true crime genre has been a popular staple in the country for decades, gaining more fans every year. What does that spell for the media, film, and tourism industries? Read on to learn more about how America’s obsession with true crime has affected business throughout the nation.

From fan-favorite TV series like Tiger King and You to movies like My Friend Dahmer and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, media centered around true crime and serial killers have been on the rise for the past decade. In fact, true crime is one of the fastest growing genres today. Netflix has especially taken an interest in this genre, coming out with more crime documentaries and shows than ever before. Since March of 2020, Netflix has released about 20 true crime documentaries, 8 of which have debuted at number 1 in the Top 10. However, true crime is not a new phenomenon. In the 19th century, people would buy tickets to view public hangings, and in the 90s, more than 50 percent of the country sat down to watch the infamous trial of O.J. Simpson. Americans have an obsession with true crime, and this has greatly influenced the film and tourism industries.

True Crime and Tourism

Businesses and media have started to capitalize on this interest by creating products and experiences that are catered towards true crime fanatics. For instance, San Francisco offers the Zodiac Killer tour which takes people to places where the murders occured around the Bay Area. Similarly, Miluawakee, the city where the infamous serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer, lived has seen a drastic rise in tourism in the past decade. The city boasts haunting tourist attractions such as the Cream City Cannibal tour, which traces Dahmer’s frequented spots in the city. There has been quite a bit of protest from Miluawakee residents about this, who complained that the tour is sensationalizing and profiting off of the gruesome murders and the trauma of the victims. When asked about the complaints, the organizer, Robert Weiss, argued that the tours are made to satisfy “unprecedented customer demand.

True Crime and Media

Crime channels, once viewed as a shameful or embarrassing pastime, have now gained increasing popularity. 24 hour crime channels and film festivals have emerged in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Educational crime-centered accounts such as Real Stories and True Crime Daily have also found success, accumulating over 10 million subscribers on Youtube. Furthermore, the crime podcast Serial is incredibly popular, becoming the fastest podcast to gain 5 million downloads on iTunes

The growing popularity of true crime has spelled profits in other areas of business as well. Annual conventions like CrimeCon and Crimesolve have become a popular pastime among true crime fanatics. Just in 2019 itself, thousands of people paid up to $1500 to gain access to this exclusive event, discuss true crime, and attempt to solve some cases of their own. Many toy companies have also started selling unsolved case files that simulate solving crime cases from the comfort of your own home. 

Criticism and Backlash

Despite their popularity, depictions of true crime in the media have faced quite a bit of backlash. As I mentioned previously, many have criticized crime-centered documentaries and movies for glamorizing serial killers and distorting the truth. Furthermore, these media portrayals sometimes put victims and their families through unnecessary trauma by making them relive the events of the attack. 

After a film about the charming killer Ted Bundy was released, his first victim, Karen Sparks came out, saying “I wanted to keep quiet. I wanted to have my own life in privacy.” She is not the only one whose life has been affected by true crime movies and documentaries. Victims have to watch their attackers gain insane publicity, and on some occasions, fan mail and sympathy as well. At the end of the day, the media is trying to sell a story, not simply recount what happened. Many critics have argued that these true crime documentaries have idealized and romanticized the story of these serial killers, portraying them in a more positive light than they should be. 

Nevertheless, there is a positive side to the true crime community as well. True crime aficionados have often helped law enforcement and legal authorities solve crimes. For example, the true crime community on TikTok recently banded together to help solve the murder of travel influencer, Gabby Petito. Without the case’s insane publicity and the tips sent in by strangers on social media, it likely would have taken much longer for the police to solve the murder. 

True crime has always been, and will continue to be a driving force in the media for decades to come. However, as popular as it may be, true crime is not always ethical. It glamorizes the lives of serial-killers and reduces their victims and families to characters of a story, profiting off of their pain and tragedy. As this genre gains popularity, it is important to not get swept away in the Hollywood gore and horror. True crime appeals to our humane instinct to survive and calls upon our curiosity and fear, enticing the most animalistic parts of ourselves. And this is exactly why true crime is going nowhere. As unethical as it may be, Americans are hooked. I, for one, cannot wait to see how the media and other industries take advantage of this growing interest in true crime in the future. 

Take-Home Points

  • America’s interest in true crime is not a new phenomenon, and has been gradually growing since the 1900s. 
  • The media has taken advantage of this interest, releasing more crime-centric shows and movies compared to ever before.
  • Many people have complained that media companies are profiting off of the trauma of the serial killers’ victims. 
  • True crime has also affected other areas of business, not simply media and film. 
  • The tourism industry has been influenced by true crime as well; hometowns of popular serial killers have seen a rise in tourists.
  • True crime fanatics have often banded together to help solve open murder cases, as seen through the case of Gabby Petito.

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