What makes us so addicted to violent crimes and murder stories?

Image by Éva Ostrowska

Time immemorial has transformed violent crimes, and in particular murder cases, into plots of hugely successful movies, TV series, and documentaries. Like bees are drawn to the honey, violent crimes attract intrigue.

In recent years, TV series such as the 10-episode documentary television series Making a Murderer (2015), true crime anthology series American Crime Story (2016), and now Netflix’s latest masterpiece Mindhunter (2017), have been hugely successful thanks to (Netflix of course), but also to the heinous homicides and mysterious characters involved in their plots.

To put it simply: the entertainment industry should be thanking the villains who have committed abominable crimes in never failing to inspire the production of award-winning thrillers and true crime TV series. This statement might sound controversial, like saying that NGOs will always need conflicts and human rights violations to make sure they can keep doing their jobs – a criticism that's been outlined in Antony Loewenstein's book Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe.

Truth is, the increased fetishisation of violent acts – and terror attacks fall in this category – have made the public greedy for unnecessary details. This is seen in the insistence of the media to show birds-eye plans of terror attacks, the severe language used in depicting brutal murders and the explicit images and videos of violence. To create trend the strategy is always, the more gruesome, the better. As a result we’ve become stuck in a vicious paradox.

America, in particular, has developed quite an iconic history of spectacular violent crimes that have shocked the masses and occupied the media, to the extent that some criminals have transformed into culture legends. As much as the public is horrified by the crimes, we keep indulging in the gory details for decades to come. According to criminologist and former network television executive Scott Bonn, what really make us addicted to crime stories is one thing: fear. “As a source of popular culture entertainment, it allow us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment where the threat is exciting but not real.”

Watching true crime series is a guilty pleasure that allows the viewers to be exposed to very bad behaviours, graphic images, and violent scenarios without the burden of remorse for having done something wrong. This way, we can experience the adrenaline and fear from behind the glaring screen in the comfort of our own sofa on a lazy Sunday evening, while unconsciously contributing to the general level of addiction to violence characteristic of our contemporary society.