Crime Curious (part 1): The Trend of True Crime + The Staircase exposed
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True Crime has been trending for centuries. I feel like it has been trending in my own personal life as entertainment and a way to unwind more and more lately. I love relaxing on a long walk around the neighborhood - listening to some morbid podcasts or getting thrilled when I see a new True Crime or even serial killer documentary. Neil is my “partner in crime” as well as we gather together on the weekend with a few bottles of wine and a new thrilling doc to watch. I mean where did that come from? I don’t remember being interested in any of this 10 years ago?
Well - according to a study from Civic Science - Over half of Americans say they’re interested in true crime as a form of entertainment. Serial - released in 2014 - has topped over a record breaking 340 million downloads and Netflix is chasing the true crime high with one documentary after the next. Murderino’s abound and the trend in crime junkie paraphernalia is growing - including Amanda’s favorite - a novelty tee with “True crime glass of wine in bed by nine” printed on it or even the minimalist approach of just “True Crime Junkie” - to complete the obsession - Serious hobbyists even have the opportunity to attend live podcast recordings, conferences or even luxury crime themed cruises.
We just can’t look away and in fact true crime has proven to be some of the most intoxicating forms of entertainment for new media like Podcasts and Streaming Services - with over 2800 true crime podcasts to choose from now. But even traditional forms of media can’t escape the demand - from 2016-2018 there was a 60% growth in print copies of true crime books hitting More than 1.6 million.
Medium reports that the genre appears to be one of the most popular for streaming services like Netflix, with the more grisly and disturbing programs getting the highest number of ratings. The shows that focus on the particular psyches of criminals — many of whom are downright psychopaths — tend to lead in popularity with viewers. Shows like Tiger King, Night Stalker, Any of the Ted Bundy docs, Don’t Fuck with Cats, Sons of Sam, and Making of a Murderer top the lists.
Rolling Stone came out with a 2016 article ‘Making a Murderer’ and True Crime in the Binge-Viewing Era saying that “The fascination with true crime is nothing new, but the binge-watching (and -listening) era is changing the way the stories are consumed, and how they’re made.” Documentary viewership is notoriously specific - but true crime has broken down any barriers and caused the non-fiction demand to flourish.
Director Joe Berlinger told them that “Crime has always been a staple of television, but I’ve never been approached more by the networks. I get phone calls: ‘I want Serial, but with X,Y, and Z.’ ‘We want the next Jinx.”
The pandemic only fueled the binging and demand for these narratives - as we sit at the edge of our seats while a cold case is getting dissected in front of us. The new unsolved mysteries is a classic fantastic - of course, it frustrates some because it doesn’t actually give us a solve...er hem, Neil. Cold Case Files, 20 20 reruns - the ability to just consume true stories of heinous acts. ````````````
Crime as entertainment has been a pop culture phenomenon for years. Newspapers learned that serializing, sensationalizing and romanticizing scandal and horror sells papers even centuries ago - Jack the Ripper is a rather notorious version of that which gripped London and beyond….. While the OJ Simpson trial can be considered another true crime situation that became legendary and catapulted the interest in the 90’s of court cases - arguably even sparking the trend in reality TV, the 24 hour new cycle and unquenchable thirst for celeb gossip…
So - what's the history you ask?
It can be argued that the true-crime genre is practically Biblical - with Cain and Abel being an early version of the style. But the release of these so-called true crime pamphlets in the beginning of the 18th century England was really the kindling to the fire that would endure for centuries. England - particularly London was experiencing a crime wave like they had never seen. Public fear and uncertainty as to controlling, reducing and punishing crimes was at an all time high - so in an effort to appease the masses true crime pamphlets were released sharing details about murder investigations. Jack the Ripper - one of the most notorious serial killers received national attention due to the high circulation of these pamphlets - which then led to increased demand in fiction and non-fiction accounts of crime making its way over to America during the mid to late 1800s.
Here is one such pamphlets - read the whole think in this LINK:
By the 1930’s a wave of true crime magazines was published across the states that sensationalised stories, incorporated grisly photos of crime scenes and theories of potential offenders. These mags were considered trashy and low-brow back in the day which this stigma effecting consumption habits for years. These magazines were popular up until the 1960’s when they had to compete with the television , which was becoming a modern medium. The article When Podcast Met True Crime which is where I am getting a lot of this amazing history lesson to share mentions that the truely modern interpretation of the True Crime genre was born in the 1960’s when In Cold Blood by Truman Capote was published. The story is an account of the Clutter murders with a detailed review of the investigation of the crime and the execution of the murderers. Initially the New Yorker Magazine had published it in four installments - but due the popularity it was eventually introduced in book form.
A departure from the traditional portrayals of true crime - that focused on the investigators - Capote reinvented the medium by building the story around the crime that was committed and the perpetrator as the main character (reminds me a bit of Doystoyevski’s Crime and Punishment which of course was a fiction novel). He explored the psychological state of mind of the criminal which has become a significant characteristic of the true-crime genre. In Cold Blood ushered in a new interest and boom in gory true crime books that fascinated and intrigued - as well as making it socially acceptable - reducing that low-brow stigma!
2014 - the tipping point:
It really still had remained in a hit or miss consideration of a low brow existence - until 2014 when this all changed and all us murderinos came out of the closet and the medium exploded.
You can see which podcasts are the top streamed on itunes and Amanada you will be shocked to hear that The Department hasn’t made the top list.
But what is #1? Crime Junkie….and 4 out of the top 10 are all true crime….8 are in the top 20.
Arguably - Nothing endures and can be binged quite like a true crime podcast.
I found this really in-depth research article titled: When Podcast Met True Crime: A Genre-Medium Coevolutionary Love Story by Line Seistrup Clausen and Stine Ausum Sikjær that takes a really close look at how true crime became popularized by the podcasting medium. The article reminds readers that 2005 was the beginning of this new fangled thing called the podcast - which was rumored to be the death of radio for years yet actually found its footing with different content and able to co-exist with radio and scratch an itch that we didn’t realize we even had - for a narrative and audio storytelling medium.
Podcasts sorta existed below the mainstream until 2014 the year that changed everything for the medium. The niche and tech savy millennial audience found their newfound obsession with true crime in a podcast form when Serial was released about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee which became the fastest podcast ever to reach over 5 million downloads - and has now reached a whopping 340 million. The podcast was so monumental that 2014 and before is referred to as BS or Before Serial and post release is AS or After Serial. True Crime podcasts and interest spread like actual wildfire. The article shares some really interesting stats: “Statistics show that the podcasting medium experienced a rise in popularity after 2014, with nearly a third of all podcasts listed on iTunes U.S. being launched between 2014 and 2015. Similarly, before the launch of Serial, only 27 percent of Americans had listened to a podcast, compared to 51 percent today. In the following years, several true crime podcasts were launched and well-received by audiences, such as Undisclosed (2015), My Favorite Murder (2016) and S-Town (2017), and in 2019, 50 percent of the top ten podcasts were true crime.”
My Favorite Murder has developed a genre that was clearly in demand - with over 19 million loyal monthly listeners - they have their own community of Murderinos who share the same fascination with true crime, murder, mystery and the history behind it all. They have a cult following of Murderinos - melding comedy into the mix and creating a niche that is undeniably intoxicating. I myself enjoy listening - and in fact find it weirdly comforting as well as fascinating….