Murder She Wrote screenshot True Crime is Gross

The Monetization of Murder Is Gross

Last week, more than half of the Top 20 podcasts on Apple’s platform were true crime. Look, far be it from me to scold anyone for the stuff they enjoy, but, well, I guess I’m going to do exactly that. What the f*** people?! How have other people’s murders become such a big, lucrative business? By its very definition, the true crime genre is exploitative because it relies on having victims, usually dead, in order to exist.

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Now, look, my hands aren’t clean here. I listened to Serial’s first season, and practically grew up on Dateline and ripped from the headlines Lifetime movies in the ’90s. I also understand my own interest in the subject, primarily due to violence that was adjacent to me growing up, and the weird internalized survivor’s guilt you feel that the genre helps shed light on, and as a result, is cathartic in an entirely self-absorbed way.

However, there is something new and grotesque about true crime that seems to have gained traction in a post-social media society that I find gross, dehumanizing, and frankly, just icky. The fact that there are communities of people built around true crime entertainment that is now monetized strikes me as the polar opposite of empathetic. Not to get too existential on you, but if there is some grand reason that we’re all here on this floating rock in outer space, I’m extremely positive it’s not to pour over the grisly details of someone else’s crime and bond with other people over it.

I bring this up because The New York Times recently wrote about Stacy Chapin, whose son Ethan was murdered earlier this year, along with three other people: Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle, and Madison Mogen. You probably know the case, known colloquially as “The Moscow Murders.” Chapin went to CrimeCon last month in the hopes she could remind people that her son was a real human being, instead of an entertainment talking point, among other reasons. Per The New York Times:

At CrimeCon, she hoped her presence would help people remember what had been lost. She also wanted to connect with other victim families who were looking to find community and build support for a foundation that will award college scholarships in her son’s honor.

She had not even had a chance to pick up her badge at the conference before a woman wearing a “Basically a Detective” T-shirt — on sale in the gift shop — approached Ms. Chapin to give her a tearful hug, thanking her for her grace and expressing sympathy for her loss.

What a terrible indictment of our society that a grieving mother has to go to a for-profit true crime convention in order to seek out other victims’ families, the only people who might have a sliver of understanding of what she is going through. There is simply no support for Chapin, here, and no assistance to help her navigate her grief while being tied to a murder that has grabbed the true crime communities’ collective attention.

Chapin’s experience at CrimeCon is nothing short of ghoulish. At one point she was in a lecture from a Professor of Forensics on the hypotheticals of her son and his friends’ murder (there’s a gag order on the case for people directly involved in it), which was the main event for the convention. Rather than being horrified at its content, or lack of grace shown towards the families of the victims, the convention’s organizer was mildly chagrined that Chapin had experienced it, not that he had put it together:

Four sessions at the conference were dedicated at least in part to discussing the Idaho case. As Ms. Chapin stepped out of the session led by the Alabama professor, she first sought refuge in a private lounge, where she came upon CrimeCon’s founder, Kevin Balfe. She explained to him how unnerving it was to hear someone she did not know, and who lacked a full command of the case’s details, speak about the killings to such a large audience.


Mr. Balfe said he had wondered earlier what would happen if Ms. Chapin were to visit the session during the conference.

“I wish I had called you and said, ‘Don’t go in there,’” he told her.

The New York Times

Of all the half-assed nothing things to say to a grieving mother, that’s certainly something. Please note that Balfe expressed no regret for monetizing a mother’s murdered son for entertainment, merely that he hadn’t bothered to tell her not to go to that specific lecture. The mind boggles at the shocking lack of empathy on display here.

Eventually, Chapin decided to return to the lecture, which was at the question and answer portion of the spectacle, and introduced herself to the speaker and the crowd:

“My name is Stacy Chapin, and I’m Ethan’s mom,” she began. The crowd gasped, then applauded. Some stood to take photos.

Ms. Chapin spoke briefly, her voice shaking, explaining that she wanted the crowd to know that all the positive things that people had heard about the victims were true.

“Don’t forget these kids,” she told the crowd. “They were amazing, amazing kids, in the prime of their life.”

The New York Times

There is something deeply wrong here when someone’s first instinct is to stop and take photos of a grieving mother talking about her murdered son, as if she was a reality TV star caught out and about having lunch. I can’t quite wrap my head around seeing someone processing unimaginable pain that I hope I never have to experience myself, and only seeing more content to consume.

For Chapin, at least, the moment was worth it:

The moment, she said, was empowering. She hoped it offered people something to consider as they consumed their next true crime episode.

“It’s pure entertainment at some level,” she said. “That entertainment piece — there’s a real face behind that. There are real people behind these stories. Don’t ever forget that.”

The New York Times

Chapin is absolutely right.

This is not to say that the genre is completely devoid of empathy or humanity. True Crime can shed light on cases that no longer have the general public or law enforcement’s attention, and force advances to be made in them. However, that usefulness has become warped in a way that completely dehumanizes the victim. Turning their pain into monetization and entertainment.

Obviously, True Crime is not going away anytime soon. There will always be a fascination around what the worst of humanity has to offer by way of the pain we’re capable of inflicting on each other. I just wish that it wasn’t third-party rubberneckers gawking at the aftermath and getting rich in the process.

(Featured image: CBS)

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Image of Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson
Kate Hudson (no, not that one) has been writing about pop culture and reality TV in particular for six years, and is a Contributing Writer at The Mary Sue. With a deep and unwavering love of Twilight and Con Air, she absolutely understands her taste in pop culture is both wonderful and terrible at the same time. She is the co-host of the popular Bravo trivia podcast Bravo Replay, and her favorite Bravolebrity is Kate Chastain, and not because they have the same first name, but it helps.