The Tricky Ethics Of Watching True Crime

by Nia Peake ‘23

True crime has become the new craving of the current generation of young people. The thrill of watching or listening to cold cases unfolding right at your fingertips–who wouldn’t be enthralled? But it seems that we forget the lost lives and the loved ones that still mourn that are the real stories behind the entertainment of true crime. 

True crime has quickly made its way to the forefront of modern-day pop culture given the world’s obsessive curiosity about gruesome tragedies. What started off as an eccentric literary genre has now expanded all across digital media. Documentaries, TV shows, YouTube videos, podcasts, and even viral TikToks have been centered around retellings of true crime stories. 

The rise in the consumption of true-crime culture has fueled bizarre ways to present these murder crimes and mysterious disappearance. It has become a trend for creators to narrate a brutal crime in gory details as they complete a glam makeup look or decorate holiday cookies. By presenting these crimes in a mundane manner, they end up sensationalizing a fatal occurrence, thus reducing these horrors to simply “scary” stories to be watched as light-hearted content and unintentionally normalizing it for some viewers. Many people acquire such brutal information by playing these videos or podcasts as they clean their house or on a long drive. This casual approach of digesting true crime has led the consumers and presenters to forget that the people they are learning about were actual people, not just someone behind a screen or a form of entertainment. 

Streaming services also are culpable as they have started to capitalize on the draw to true crime by constantly having a new documentary on their platforms. While one would like to believe that streaming services are putting out true-crime documentaries to bring awareness to a victim’s story, it seems as though the revenue is the real reason. Recently, Hulu released a documentary on the murder of Brooke Preston in which the family wanted no part and had asked for it not to move forward as its focus would be on the story of the murderer and his defense that he committed the crime while he was sleepwalking. Although documentarians don’t generally need consent to produce a film about a case it is insensitive to exploit victims and pretty obviously unethical. Or at least it should be obvious.

So while there’s no need to feel guilty for consuming true crime as entertainment, it is still important to remember to be mindful of the content. What may be a fun mystery escape for you, still is a story about a real person who lost their life. So keeping that in the back of your mind is a way to watch true crime but also being respectful.