Obsession with Crime: Realities?

The Death of Marat. Oil on canvas, 1793, by Jacques Louis David.

by Edward Reid


There is a weighty number of non-fiction and fiction books in all languages, in a majority of countries, with a spotlight on murder, terrorism, serial killing, war, suicide, homicide and bloodshed in general.

Is criminal behavior a natural fixation? How much of everyday television drama, news and photojournalism are filled with the shadowy side of human nature? For even in satire the positive and agile mind is susceptible to the humors and rumors of violence. How much is entertainment mingled with our obsession with crime whether in fiction or non-fiction?  

The more heinous and monstrous the crime the more sensational coverage by the media. That in turn equates to more readers and viewers and the resulting advertising money as politicians from around the world can attest, and in turn many espouse violence for the sake of self-empowerment and money.

The line between fiction and non-fiction can get blurred and purposefully so. The exaggeration of a crime in fiction becomes numbing when it becomes reality. What is the effect on the human brain when constantly assaulted with brutal images and words on television and the Internet and electronic news and then add the person who commits the crime and their background? All cultures in the world have depicted men, women, and youth that have committed horrendous crimes. And a question of context is unrevealed until later date.

There’s an aspect to the crime that’s puzzling as a non-expert. What specifically motivates a person’s curiosity to obsess about a serial killer, a person who murders and a person that eats his victim, a teenager that blows the heads off innocent children, a man who hangs bodies on hooks like deer; the list is too long and too sick. It seems to publicly identify the killer is to feed into his or her deed and ego. Even when negative the coverage gives the killer something to hold on to – an affirmation, attention, a celebrityhood, no matter how bizarre. Even poor reviews area review.

The question appears ultimately one of evil.

Titillation retains only so much value. What is it about the human psyche that draws a person to the sensational and macabre?  Why are we open to following someone who is a dictator and kills tens of thousands and millions of people for they are the ultimate serial killers in the name of war?

Listening to a true crime podcast recently about a serial killer I was thinking about all the people fascinated by him, having books on him, watching documentaries and films on him, and thinking about who he truly is. And there I was listening. I became one those I write about.

How does one reverse abuse that is instilled at an early age like being locked up in a basement filled with rodents? Or grow up in a wealthy household with the insinuation that you were naturally superior?

The cry for help comes in many forms. Regardless, there are the victims.

Whether a killer or a dictator or whomever, letters pile up from fans and cultists. True crime is something I find of interest but not obsessed by. To be obsessed perhaps says more about the person obsessing than the criminal.

There’s a plethora of true crime podcasts and TV channels specifically targeting true crime. Websites are dedicated to this and constantly update on the newest gruesome and horrific crimes that just took place. Every detail is provided. Some websites sell serial killer items: letters, death certificates, and a polaroid image. And these are not cheap either.

Whether prisons should exist is another matter and how much money is spent on rehabilitation and education in getting to the roots of such behavior appears not to be lucrative enough. Greed accentuates the problem.

Maybe all of this interest says something about our culture: we appear to have a disturbing curiosity about death and evil. Our society is also considered one of the safest, which gives us security, and we think these murders cannot happen to us, so the draw is even more intense. Many people in the televised shows say the same thing regarding the crimes they are interviewed about. “I never thought it could happen to us. “Who are the victims of the criminals?  

Dedicating much time and attention to the criminal generates public interest and increases revenue streams.

The names of the victims like those engraved on a memorial stretching across a field is sobering and tragic, yet when researching those names, we many times first seek the names of those people that were the cause.