Entertainment or Exploitation: The Ethical Dilemma With Consuming True Crime Content

True crime, love it or hate it, the genre is inescapable. From the latest YouTube uploads to books gathering dust in forgotten libraries, it’s everywhere. It has grown in popularity and accessibility, sure, but it has always been around arguably since the invention of newspapers.

Since then, a question is asked every so often. Is this kind of entertainment ethical?

I mean we are talking about the assaults, kidnappings and murder of people. People who left grieving family and friends behind when their life was cut short. People whose names are forgotten in favour of their killer who gets the spotlight. Seriously, think of a famous killer right now. Do it. Got their face in your mind’s eye? Good. Now, try to remember the names of the people who they killed. Chances are you can only name a few if any. That is not your fault, but this is part of the problem I am trying to highlight here. It’s pretty messed up how these sick individuals become household names, yet the people killed are forgotten. 

In fact, the ones who are left behind, trying to move on with a hole in their heart after their loss might stumble on some podcast talking about the monster who stole their loved one. Or even see their face plastered on billboards promoting the new Netflix documentary about the crime, even when they asked them not to make it. That is not hypothetical, unfortunately. This exact thing has happened. 

When approached by Netflix to participate in the series about the murder of her 18-year-old stepson, I Am A Killer, she responded with;

“As a parent, a fellow human being, I beg you not to do this, PLEASE don’t do this!”

Yeah, they went ahead and did it anyway. This story is just one example

That is just scratching the surface. Let’s not ignore the deification of murderers. Elliot Rodger, a brat who was sick of not getting what he wanted (female attention) that he murdered innocent people to “send a message”. In incel communities, this piece of work is worshipped as a saint. Then you have monsters like Bundy and Dahmer, who still have fans and often make appearances in pop culture.

Not to mention the hybristophilia that seems rampant in online message boards and comment sections. I hope that most of those are jokes, but I have seen a fair amount that are painfully real. Mostly young women all but drooling over school shooters. I wish I was joking.

On YouTube, there are countless creators making cutesy videos involving these deaths. Each with a different gimmick, with one creator doing her make-up as she recounts the horrors and another munching down on a massive feast as she tells her viewers how the gruesome deed was done. There is a fair debate as to if these actions count as profiteering from the pain of others. I personally think so to an extent. 

Does this mean we need to stop enjoying true crime content in general? Of course not, but we do need to be careful about what we support. I think we need to be a bit more selective as to what we watch, what we read and what we listen to. Look for creators that honour the lost in a respectful manner, ones who help donate to cold case funds and spread awareness as to what we can do to help others. 

I myself love true crime, but I have noticed the dehumanisation of victims in popular titles in the genre. It is a bit tricky, yet there are great ones out there, like Coffeehouse Crime, who puts the victim front and centre.

I know that I have presented a simplified perspective on what is a pretty nuanced and complex issue. I did my best. A lot of this is going to come down to personal opinion. I hope this has given you something to consider going forward. 

If you have a strong opinion on this topic, please share it below. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject. 

2 thoughts on “Entertainment or Exploitation: The Ethical Dilemma With Consuming True Crime Content

Add yours

  1. I have no use for the true crime genre. But the genre goes back as far as there has been media to distribute it. 60 years ago my mother had her collection of “true crime” magazines. They left her shocked and scared in a very entertained way. Perhaps it was comforting to have her natural fears confirmed at a safe distance but it also leaked (actually poured) over into her regular life. She was quite paranoid about such things and that fear diffused into me as well.

    OTOH, it is possible for even true crime to be great literature. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is a good example. The rural family that was killed in the story was similar enough to our home in the remoteness of northern Michigan to leave her on edge for years. She loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i think its become obvious at this point that i don’t really consume non-otaku media lol so i guess in that sense (presumably, the language barrier always helps us plead ignorance) i don’t really see this being a problem in my future but then i was thinking about some webcomics that i’ve read where one of the male leads (this is BL) is a murderer so i guess even then we idolize characters like this. i have yet to finish one of these but yeah even in otaku content murderers and killers are not uncommon. i guess it’s the circumstances that dictate if they’re justified or not

    i remember that book being pretty big a few years back, it was even recommended to me but i never got around to it and i’m glad if that’s the backstory of it. tbh i’m not surprised anymore when i hear the “and they did it anyway” stories. it’s so messed up but how does one fight ppl like netflix or hollywood (etc)? idk about laws or anything but if it’s happening frequently enough then there’s clearly not something in place to deter this type of exploitation (and probably not enough pushback on it either)

    i know that there has been a lot of push for people to be more mindful of the media they consume recently but idk if i ever will. i think that i follow a decent group of bookish people who yell loud enough when they see things, which i then take note of and will usually ignore those books or media (though i’ve noticed it’s mostly in genres i don’t read so maybe i’m safe), but personally doing that research? maybe i’m a bad person but it would be too much work. my college degree weeps as i write this. reading and watching stuff is supposed to be fun, not a homework assignment. i want to say it’s sad media has become this but i think it’s always been this and it’s only now that ppl are calling things out

    Liked by 1 person

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