Nothing scarier than the truth: Why people can't get enough of true crime

NOW: Nothing scarier than the truth: Why people can’t get enough of true crime


MILWAUKEE (CBS58) -- True crime is a genre so many indulge in, but why? CBS 58 dug into the many reasons these morbid stories captivate audiences again and again.

It is not a "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" type of reality, but it does depict real life, and people cannot seem to look away.

"I think that evil fascinates people," UW-Milwaukee Director of Psychology and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Stacey Nye said. "You know, we really want to see and understand why people do these things that they do that we can't really understand."

Nye says understanding the "why" is one reason true crime is so popular.

"I think people are drawn to puzzles. We love puzzles," she said. "Someone can be an armchair detective and kind of figure out the whodunit. That's exciting to people. I think people like to feel afraid, in a controlled way. So, we can experience that but not necessarily, you know, we're not in danger when we're experiencing that."

Whether it is podcasts, tv specials, documentaries, or dramatizations of infamous villainy, it seems that no matter where you look, there is something to satisfy your cravings.

"I think people are intrigued by and drawn to [true crime] because it really happened. Like, they know these are real people. They were involved. This is a story that did happen," CBS 58 evening anchor Jessob Reisbeck said.

Reisbeck is a journalist featured in a true crime documentary about a man convicted of murder, "The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker." For Reisbeck, it is the in-depth look at these real-life crimes that differentiates these productions from crime stories on local news.

"There's a lot of stuff in local TV that you can't put on the air," he said. "You know, swear words and stuff. Yes, you can bleep and stuff like that. But there are some terrible things that happen to some people that you just can't talk about or put on local news. You can use your words to weave around it and give people a good sense of what happened, but there's just some stuff that isn't fit for TV. So, that's another way that you can delve deeper with a documentary. So, you also want to tell the true facts and what went into it, and what went into people's decisions and stuff like that. "

They are also stories that show people something out of the ordinary.

"You need you need a good story. It has to be a powerful event that happened. You have to have powerful and intriguing people involved and kind of good personalities and people that are, you know, intriguing to watch and can put their experiences into words," Reisbeck said.

Dr. Nye stresses that viewers should remember the crimes shown are not as common as they are portrayed.

"Serial killing is really rare," she said.

"Most crime does not happen like that; most crime is not murder, you know, so, so keeping in mind that we're seeing only this, you know, a rare little excerpt of, you know, like, like plane crashes really aren't that common, you know, so, when they happen, it's big news, and we might feel afraid of them. But it's quite rare for those things to happen. Often, these shows depict dramatizations of women and white women. The tide is changing a bit now, but a lot of crime is against women of color, black women, indigenous women, and trans women. We don't see that, that hasn't been highlighted enough in the media. And so, to keep in mind, again, that this is just, you know, pretty rare, and there's so much more happening out there that we should be aware of."

For women, entertainment might not be the only reason to tune in.

"I think there's also some evidence to show that people are drawn to crime on some level because of a basic survival instinct. Women, in particular, are drawn to True Crime more so than men. And there are some thoughts about watching in an attempt to prepare ourselves, to learn tips to try to protect ourselves from these things happening to us," Nye said. "Now, I want to go on record and say that there's a lot that we can't do, and I am in no way suggesting that if some people did it this way, they wouldn't have gotten hurt or killed. But I also think it's really important to trust your instincts."

When it comes to shows like Netflix's "Dahmer," which gives a dramatized version of a real-life killing spree, Nye wants viewers to remember there are artistic liberties at play and to take their representation of mental health with a grain of salt.

"Most serial killers don't necessarily have depression or anxiety, or even psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. You know, they're most often people with antisocial personalities. So, it's unfortunate that mental health gets demonized in a lot of those shows," she said.

While these shows provide people with a puzzle to solve and insight into someone's mind, they can also impact your mental health.

"Well, they can be triggering," Nye explained. "So, if you yourself have been a victim of crime, you might want to stay away from things like that because you would find depictions of violent acts really disturbing and triggering. I do think that that's a real thing. If you're finding that watching all these things [and] you're not able to sleep at night, or you're having nightmares, or you're now afraid to leave the house, those are signs that you should probably back off the true crime a little bit."

No matter the "why," true crime stories are tantalizing tales many cannot get enough of.

"The fascination with 'what are the events?' 'What are the details?' 'What's the evidence?'" Nye said.

"We're still just drawn in by it. It's like a train wreck, we just can't turn away. I just think that is very, you know, innate in many of us."

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