Why is True Crime So Popular?

Why is True Crime So Popular?

Ciara Blanco (12th), Reporter

This idea came to mind only because of the book I’m reading on criminal psychology. It’s called Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit written by the talented and insightful John Douglass, one of the first criminal profilers, and Mark Olshaker, his co-author. 


I only found out about this book thanks to the two-season show Mindhunter, directed by David Fincher, on Netflix. Starring Jonathon Groff, who you may or may not know as King George III from Hamilton or Kristoff from Frozen, the series follows Holden Ford and his partner Bill Tench as they interview convicted serial killers across America. Seriously, go watch the show and/or read the book if you haven’t already. They’re both amazing. (The show is based off of the book, of course.)


On the question regarding why true crime is so popular, Douglass and Olshaker said that, “… by its very nature, true crime deals with the essentials and fundamentals of what we loftily call ‘the human condition.’” What do they mean by that you may ask? The human condition is basically everything that makes us human: our experiences, our feelings, our morality, etc. In this case, Douglass and Olshaker are primarily focused on our shared emotions: love, hate, jealousy, etc. We like to see ordinary people operate at the terrifying extremes of these emotions for our own entertainment. 


According to Google, true crime started to become popular somewhere around the 1980s. This makes a lot of sense, considering how the term “serial killer” was coined within the same time frame by Robert Ressler, John Douglass’s original partner in the serial killer study and fellow profiler. The phrase first appeared in a 1981 Times report on the Atlanta child murders. 


Think about all of the shows you know today that have to do with crime, in fact, it doesn’t even have to be true crime. Here, I’ll start: 

  • Criminal Minds
  • Hannibal
  • Law and Order
  • Dexter
  • Bones
  • NCIS
  • The X-Files
  • Mindhunter


These shows are great. I love them all. Though to be honest some of them are the type of shows I would only watch as a random, though not unwelcome, alternative on TV when there was nothing else on.

I remember watching Bones with my mom all the time and not always following along with the plot and still being heavily entertained. I think, to some degree, this is another reason why some of these crime shows are so successful. Usually, you don’t even need to know the storyline or be familiar with any of the characters to follow along. (Though it does make it slightly more enjoyable if you are.) The horror elements and unique mystery in each episode certainly help to keep it interesting. 


It turns out that women are the biggest audience for true crime related content. There are a multitude of reasons for this, one of them being that women are much more likely to be victims or survivors of violent crimes rather than being perpetrators. Due to this, women have developed a fascination for wanting to learn from them.


Interview Questions:

I asked my mom and my dad the same set of questions at separate times to see how their answers varied and whether or not they would overlap or contrast. 


Mom’s Answers:

  1. Do you like true crime? 

“Yes, yeah I would say that I do. My favorite show used to be Bones but now I would say it’s tied with Killing Eve.”

  1. How does it make you feel? (afraid, upset, intrigued) 

“I mean if we’re talking seriously, that kind of crime makes me upset but I still like my shows. They’re entertaining and I can watch them while I work on my budget and other stuff like that.”


Dad’s Answers:

  1. Do you like true crime?

“You know, not really. I mean, I’ll watch it with you if you want to but it’s not my favorite thing.”

  1. How does it make you feel?  (afraid, upset, intrigued) 

“I can’t watch stuff like that, especially when it’s about little girls. Like if it’s on the news? Yeah, it makes me upset.”


I find it interesting how my own parents kind of fall in line with the information I was learning about as I was writing this article. My mom will eagerly watch crime shows with me but I can’t really get my dad interested in that kind of stuff. He likes action and cars more than anything.