March 31, 2022

True crime: Consumerism of Crime

How the commercialisation and narrative glamorisation of violent atrocities contribute to the ethical corruption and hybristophilia of true crime consumers?

The genre of books, movies, and podcasts that we recognise as true crime has established itself within pop culture as a product that provides a graphic description of true crime stories for the consumer. The interest in true crime has been present in many historical periods. Starting with books at the beginning of the 20th century, it has evolved and adapted to new media in the form of documentaries, movies, videos on ΥouΤube and podcasts. From the “Legend” of Jack the Ripper to the obsession with Ted Bundy and Jodi Arias, questions have arised about the nature of crime. Ideas about the methods, manners, and reasons in which people committed a crime. How did they do it? What was the reason? How was their childhood? Is it a part of human nature or is it an animal instinct? How can we delve into the psychology of the perpetrator? How is someone driven towards these monstrous acts? Rational questions arise from the curiosity of everyday people who rarely will ever meet human-shaped monsters in their day-to-day lives, but more easily find them through screens and books. Nevertheless, one question remains: Why aren’t we interested in the victim?

The interest in the victim and their family lasts for the appropriate period of mourning in which public opinion has silently decided to maintain. Mourning, however, for the families and close cohort of friends of the victim, continues and is not constrained by an expiration date. The martyrdom of the victim is transformed into mourning for those closest to them. As soon as the media stops their coverage of the crime and the public stops talking, the creators of real crime content start their work. Many times, they do not wait of course. The content is produced during investigations, when the victim has not yet finished being a hot topic and the family still hasn’t forgotten it. Like vultures, the creators insert their beaks into the cold body of the victim, with the idea of getting money and to gain the recognition they receive from the "hot crime".

This phenomenon usually occurs on YouTube. Content creators discuss each crime while also engaging in other random activities. For example, the combination of makeup, mukbang or ASMR with true crime, combines two or more types of entertainment, resulting in a successful and profitable product. The main reasoning for this combination, is that this is the most "appetising" presentation of a traumatic true event, with the creators claiming that their content becomes more enjoyable for the audience without becoming emotionally "weighing". Although elegant macabre humour can be a successful storytelling technique, in these cases, humour is absent and a complete disregard for the gravity of the case is observed. The narrator presents the case in a digestible and convenient way for the audience, while the victim's families do not get to have this luxury. To those close to the victim, the case remains a horrific experience they try to forget. For hedonistic reasons, this way of telling the story takes place without empathy, a situation for which the creator and the consumer are responsible, since both parties are responsible for the production of the content.

The ability to critically think isn't absent in the consumer. According to George Fisk, "consumers are not passive idiots, but active producers with the ability to differentiate." They are responsible for producing romanticised versions of the real crime, as they create its demand. The lack of critical thinking and empathy contribute to the complete desecration of the event. Consumers have the ability to control the movements and production of the creators' products. This possibility, however, does not limit the obsession with real crime and especially with high profile serial killers that have become established within the public consciousness as a form of entertainment. In the consumer-creator relationship one side controls the actions of the other. In the case of real crime, however, the media plays an important role in us adopting an obsession with criminals.

Public opinion is influenced by the media and social networks, by persuasion techniques from which the human mind finds hard to distance itself. The media often magnifies crime with the criminals' taking centrestage. They exaggerate their genius, placing them within a cloud of mystery and misinformation, with the result being the extortion of the consumer. As Scott Bonn wrote, "there is a sense of moral panic in which some government officials and the media are involved in creating striking, legendary, criminals-devils. The media raises them into the realm of criminal-rockstars." Due to the glorification of the perpetrator, and the mythologising of the real crime, the usual questions mentioned earlier, reasonably arise. The want to delve into the mind of the perpetrator, and the complete ignorance of the victim, are promoted without filter by all media outlets. After all, according to Brian Jarvis, "the commercialisation of violence in pop culture is systematically integrated with the violence of commercialisation itself."

The commercialisation of violence completes its cycle in today's media world, whereby true, traumatic victims' stories are transformed into content in order to be exploited for profit. The initial grief for the victim is transformed into complete desensitisation, which benefits the content producers. By romanticising crime, the creator and the consumer face beastliness like a fictional fantasy with the perpetrator, and victim playing the leading roles. It is a social morbidity for which we are all responsible and in which critical thinking and empathy are a panacea*. Maybe by simply applying them we would really care about the victims.

Photography by the Photography Team of TEDxAUTH 2022

*hybristophillia - Hybristophilia is a paraphilia involving being sexually aroused or attracted to people who have committed an outrage or a gruesome crime. In popular culture, this phenomenon is also known as "Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome''.

*panacea - a solution or remedy for all difficulties or diseases.: "the panacea for all corporate ills" "the time-honoured panacea, cod liver oil".

Traianos Kouvatsis

He studies Journalism in AUTH and he is part of the Blog team (not a cliché at all). Constantly anxious and addicted to coffee (that’s to blame), he spends his time watching reruns of Arrested Development, listening to irrelevant podcasts and avoiding the urban transport of Thessaloniki. His music varies from Biggie to Sondheim and everything in between. Call him “Try” next time you’ll meet him, although he won’t listen to you due to his headphones.

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Samuel Pechlivanis-Olagoke

Born and raised in London, his life story has seen him move to Canada, Cyprus, and now Greece. Supposedly he studies medicine but most of his time is spent discovering the hidden gems thessaloniki has to offer, such as cool cafes or cheesecake bakeries, and reminiscing his childhood through finding the snacks he grew up with at the pantopoleio.

Panagiota Katsaveli (she/her)

Born and raised in Kilkis, but her imagination has convinced her that she has lived in many countries around the world. Spends most of her free time watching TV shows, while adopting the personality and behavior of her favorite characters. The combination of perfectionism and laziness that characterize her will eventually be her destruction. Chocolate, wine, coffee and pizza is what she is made of.

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