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  • Nina Butts

Cracking the Case on True Crime

With Halloween right around the corner, people have been getting into the holiday spirit by doing scary activities and consuming scary media.

True crime TV shows and other media are favorites to consume year-round. According to an NBC article, Symphony Advanced Media reported that 7.8 million people watched the season finale of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer”, which covers the case of Steven Avery, a man who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and murder in 1985. The true crime podcast “Serial” had five million downloads as of 2014, according to Apple Podcasts.

But what is true crime, and why do people enjoy these shows?

According to Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Regina Armstrong, Ph.D., “True crime are criminal acts that have taken place throughout the United States or world and are show-cased through actor portrayal in documentaries.”

Some true crime shows like “Criminal Minds” and “NCIS” are based on real cases and are exaggerated, according to Armstrong. Other shows like “Forensic Files” present the case and how it was solved. Either way, the gruesome details can be sensitive topics for some viewers.

So why do people like these shows despite the gore?

Armstrong said, “Many people are fascinated with human behavior and want to understand why some individuals can do horrific/heinous acts while others are law-abiding individuals. Since behavior and why people act the way they do is so mysterious, people are attracted to this type of behavior and shows.”

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, Mike Sherzer, said, “I think people like mystery, I think people like to speculate. It’s real, we’re talking about real people, real issues.”

Sophomore and criminal justice major Taylor Norton shared her interest in watching true crime.

“I watch true crime shows because I find them highly interesting and I am a criminal justice major. By watching true crime shows the cases do not have the “Hollywood effect” like crime shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and Blue Bloods.” Norton said.

Norton described the “Hollywood effect” as “making cases less realistic” by adding “more petty drama.”

Armstrong’s shared her overall opinion on true crime shows.

“Some of the true crime/media is okay. If it is a documentary and the facts are correct, I do not mind them.” Armstrong said. “Our society thrives so much on the heinous things that are in our world that people are drawn to this type of media. If they are trying to educate people on this type of criminal, it could be good. However, if it is just to sensationalize the criminal.....I don't like it.”

“If they’re entertaining, if you like watching it then watch it...but don’t always think that things aren’t simply what they appear to be.” Sherzer said.

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