A few nights ago, in the middle of watching a four-part docuseries about the Night Stalker, my husband asked me what the deal is with women and true crime. I’ve been thinking it over ever since.
I mean, we all know that women are obsessed with true crime television shows (and podcasts and books and YouTube channels and entire broadcasting networks). That’s not new information. Hell, our society has normalized this obsession so much that no one bats an eye when I start casually dropping facts about how Jeffrey Dahmer disposed of his victims or why John Wayne Gacy used sharp angles in his clown makeup- somehow, we ended up in a place where that’s completely appropriate cocktail party conversation.
But until I was asked the question, I guess I hadn’t really thought about the why of it all.
Why am I obsessed with true crime? Why do I like learning about horrible things that certain human beings (mostly weird men) have done to other human beings (usually young ladies)? Why do I think it’s totally normal to have a favorite serial killer (Albert Fish) and a favorite unsolved murder (JonBenét Ramsey, although I’m 99.5% positive that I figured that one out).
It is kind of weird, right?
So I’ve been thinking about this for a few days…and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with basic human evolution.
Our lizard brains like being scared, you know? That’s why we all pack ourselves into the cinema (shout-out to the Beforetimes) to watch anything from slasher flicks to supernatural thrillers to however the fuck Ari Aster would describe his filmography. That’s why Stephen King is one of the most popular authors in the world, despite the fact that we all kind of agree that he’s a hack in most of the ways that count.
We like scaring ourselves, but in ways that don’t really put us in danger. Horror movies and scary stories are safe outlets to vicariously experience the titillation of something really terrifying happening to us. We get to scratch the evolutionary itch of being kept on our toes and skillfully, narrowly avoiding dangerous predators, but we know that Jason Voorhees isn’t actually going to pop out of the bedroom closet and cut us into little pieces. (That said, I still fully believe that Norman Bates can and will get you in the shower, so be careful.)
True crime is the logical extension of this feeling.
I know I’m not going to get murdered by Ted Bundy- his reign of terror was over before I was even born. But even so, he was still real. I still could have gotten murdered by Ted Bundy, if I happened to be walking around California at the wrong (read: right) time.
It’s as far removed from my reality as any slasher flick, so there’s nothing to be scared about.
But it’s also a reminder that I’m one instance of forgetting to lock my door away from being a gruesome video on Buzzfeed Unsolved- and that is something to be scared about.
So in summation, why do I like true crime? Because it’s like a scary story, except it’s real, except that it isn’t, but then also it TOTALLY IS.
Or maybe I’m just a weirdo. But I don’t think I’m alone here.
Then again, when you consume as much true crime content as I do…you never really feel like you’re alone anywhere.