What True Crime Really Needs to Investigate Is Itself
We do not need Stan wars.
True crime is everywhere—TikTok, Instagram, Youtube, Podcast, and a never ending slew of books and television specials. The genre has always been popular, profitable, and exploitable. For every insightful, thoughtful piece of work, there is just clickbait-y, uninformed, unscientific commentary that can perpetuate more harm than good.
It doesn’t help that, really, in many ways, this true crime boom is led by people who think they are Sherlock Holmes. They believe that every tic has some secret meaning that they can unlock because they know when people are lying. Everything is vibes, not fact. The problem with that is people are not books. You can’t always read them, and just because one person avoids eye contact when they lie, doesn’t mean everyone else does.
A few weeks ago on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explained, in a segment about police interrogations, how even folks trained as detectives can be tricked and manipulated, and are taught techniques that do not often work or are psychologically inaccurate. We have been taught that asking for a lawyer when you are asked questions by the police is suspicious, even though cops are allowed to lie to suspects and manipulate them in ways the average person might not expect.
Amanda Knox—convicted of killing her roommate in Italy but later exonerated and still fighting to take control of her own narrative—is someone I think about often. Even now, certain YouTube channels will post documentaries about Knox, and there will be people who still think she is guilty. I found this YouTube comment within seconds of looking for examples: “Too many lies… I believe Amanda knows exactly what happened and chose not to speak the truth… Why would a innocent person lie?!” Mind you, DNA evidence has already exonerated Knox and proven the guilt of someone else, but people still think that she is guilty of something.
I have still heard people bring up the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese and the myth that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and that none of them called the police, even though that has been debunked time and time again.
So why is this a problem? Because so many people have felt emboldened, by this rise in popularity, to armchair dissect people—to decide what mental illness they have and what are “real” signs of abuse, and to manipulate facts to suit their means.
While there are comedic true crime podcasts and more straightforward ones, I find that the comedies (at least my favorites, like “Let’s Go to Court” and “Scam Goddess“) tend to at least understand that they don’t have the ultimate say in everything. They are doing it for entertainment, but also, in the same way, joke about privilege and the systems of power, and have empathy when necessary.
The problem that arises when serious podcasts pretend that they are journalistic and morally superior and unbiased, is that people stop interrogating at that point. The lack of critical thinking, or checking of sources, has made it so that people will watch a true crime TikTok, and if someone says they are a professional (blank), their viewers take it at face value.
Now, with a major domestic violence case taking place in the public eye, we have “therapists” and “lawyers” breaking down the trial, but in ways that will appeal to the algorithm and, therefore, the biases of said algorithm. These same ideas of looking at body language and projecting intent onto actions trickles down into everything else, like the TikTok of the kid who was surprised by his girlfriend on a couch and millions of people used that as proof he was cheating. That is not normal behavior. That is not a deduction. That’s just gossip.
When Gabby Petito was killed by her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, an onslaught of videos and material was made documenting the developing story, all the while spreading misinformation and straight-up lies into the public arena. This is dangerous and not helpful, but it does make certain podcasts a lot of money:
One true-crime podcast, “Crime Junkie,” rushed to release a special episode on Sunday about the Petito case. “This isn’t a regularly scheduled episode,” the host, Ashley Flowers, told listeners, explaining that the show was focused for “the first time ever” on “a breaking story.”
“In almost four years of doing this show I have never, I mean never, seen you guys in a frenzy like you are in now,” she said. “Our emails are flooded. Our DMs are flooded.”
On Monday, the episode was the fifth most popular on Spotify’s podcast charts and No. 1 on Apple Podcasts.(via The New York Times)
I am not throwing stones at any podcast in particular. I listen to a lot of true crime, and as a skeptical person who believes in restorative justice, a lot of them are not for me, but the ones that are operate with empathy first.
I’ve listened to ones that make sure to discuss the missing and murdered Indigenous people in North America (numbered at over 700) and that address the injustices in the system, the importance of reasonable doubt, and (in the case of “Scam Goddess”) to need to be wary of people who use privilege as a badge of access. That should be the root of true crime content now.
(image: iStock / Getty Images Plus)
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