I am, and have always been, obsessed with my own death—or rather—the possibility that I will someday be brutally murdered.
I consume true crime like it’s my day job. In fact, I practically made it my day job during my Masters’ degrees when I decided to study the role of murdered women and women who murder in American folk music traditions.
While morbid, I find comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my obsession with stories about murder. In fact, true crime itself is a genre almost entirely consumed by women, whether that be through podcasts like Serial and My Favourite Murder, Netflix docuseries like Making a Murderer and the always popular—Ann Rule true crime classics such as The Stranger Beside Me.
Despite the popularity of the genre, I have encountered the naysayers who find any consumption of the genre wrong and perverse. There is a general attitude by those outside of the fanbase that think focusing on these stories somehow glorifies the villains—or in this case—the murderers. This became a cultural disscussion last year with the release of the Netflix film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, where sexy Zac Efron played one of the world’s most notorious women killers, Ted Bundy. While there is a cultural phenomenon focused on women who do become obsessed with male killers, they are definitely a minority when it comes to the true crime fan base. I do believe there is a line that separates the women who are infatuated with the killers and those interested in the genre as a whole.
Ted Bundy and Zac Efron. [Image source: Bustle.com]
As a result of this cultural criticism levelled towards true crime, I have spent much of my short adult life so far contemplating my obsession. While I have not come to any conclusive verdicts as to why my interest is so strong, I do have some theories. One theory—my own personal psychoanalysis if you will—narrows in on my own upbringing. Three months after I was born my maternal grandfather was murdered by a “friend” over a simple argument. I think I’m guilty of sometimes seeing this as and reasoning for my prolific consumption of true crime, as if I have to personally justify my interest in it.
In a much broader sense, I think that as a woman, I am a part of a population that feels intimately connected to these crimes because the cases that are presented to us in the media mostly focus on the white, female victim. The story of the malicious male killer out to savagely murder a woman because of her feminine qualities is a familiar narrative often told to women in order to illicit feelings of danger and existential dread. These stories often hold instructive qualities, as if by hearing the stories themselves, one will be able to avoid a similar situation.
I also have to emphasize whiteness here, because as a consumer of the medium, I notice that most popular true crime stories feature the white female victim. And while white women are constantly represented within true crime, I have to understand that as a white woman, I am statistically way less likely to become a murder victim in Canada than the medium leads me to believe.
[Image Source: pixabay]
It’s no secret that our country has neglected the alarming number of missing and murdered Indigenous women throughout the years. A quick look at Canadian crime statistics shows that, in fact, more than one in five victims of homicide in Canada are Indigenous and Indigenous peoples are five times more likely to be murdered in this country than non-Indigenous people. In addition, last year in Canada, there were considerably more male homicide victims than female homicide victims. These statistics have also stayed relatively consistent over the last five years, leading me to believe that—at least in Canada—women are statistically less likely to become the victims of homicide than men.
That being said, women are more at risk of being victim to violent crimes than men. This primarily accounts for the fact that women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. It is also important to note It is also important to note that these statistics rarely account for transgendered and non-binary individuals, often excluding them altogether. The data discussed also doesn’t heavily account for other determining factors such as race outside of Indigenous peoples, class, and sexual orientation.
The white female victim has become a trope in true crime media that is not representative of reality. Crimes that involve white women victims tend to be the cases that our more popular true crime storytellers tend to focus on the most, and in turn, start to appear representative of the problem in general, which might lead audiences to think that they are the demographic most often victims of murder, when in reality, the situation is disproportionately represented in true crime media.
[Image Source: Pexels]
As a white woman who has grown up in a relatively safe, suburban neighbourhood, I have to understand that the fact that I can sit back and be entertained by these horrific stories is a privilege, because these stories aren’t my reality. I am privileged in that I can enjoy the media from a far and with empathy, without it impacting me directly. The same cannot be said for communities who are regularly subjected to violent crime.
Numerous forms of socio-economic factors breed violent crime. While many true crime stories concentrate on the idea of poor women who never saw it coming, the narrative must be redirected and expanded to include the communities most affected by these crimes. A lot of true crime, like the podcast Serial or the Netflix series Making a Murderer for example, were used to bring attention to potentially unjust situations. Focusing on stories involving injustice and discrimination may have a positive effect when it comes to positive social change.
Ultimately, I think my relationship with true crime is morally dubious and like all cultural mediums, true crime is not void of its own complex social issues. That being said, maybe the cultural problems with the medium do not just revolve around the fixation on killers, but instead on telling more stories that accurately represent those who have historically been more affected by violent crime. While true crime is a source of entertainment for many, it can also be used to bring about social change, and by redirecting these narratives, this change can reach the communities most affected.