Most of the time, the headline news is about crime and violence. Most of the time, these crime stories become books, films, documentaries, TV series, and even topics on podcasts. The list of true crime stories keeps growing, along with the popularity of the crime fiction genre.
Although these crimes are shocking, grim, and sometimes gory, interest in murders and unsolved crimes has surged across all media. And we are hooked, whether we admit it or not. We can’t get enough of crime stories every day. These stories send shivers down our spine and tend to keep us awake until the wee hours of the morning. Not only that, in today’s literature, one in three books is a crime novel. On Netflix, there are a lot of documentaries about true crime.
So why are we hooked on crime stories? Despite being dark and gloomy, we have different reasons why we pay attention to it. And according to psychologists, there is nothing wrong with being hooked on true crime stories.
It all started with the first recorded crime in history: the murder of Abel. As we all know, Cain struck Abel’s head with a stone. But what caused Cain to do it? Envy and perhaps, pride.
It seems that we are born with these emotions and if we get carried away from them, it may take us to our darker side.
A person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to violence and crime…– Xun Kuang
Also, the punishment of Cain — especially the “mark” — remains a mystery to us. There are numerous theories as to what this mark was that until now it is being debated upon. I’m itching to write a novel about this concept but that’s another story.
Another theory of how crime began stems from the principle of natural selection and survival. Animals must adapt to their environment and would likely make critical choices, killing included, to survive. Remember that we humans are the highest form of animal. Therefore, anything that threatens our own survival motivates us to act and even kill someone.
What Fascinates Us More
Although we know that greed, envy, pride, and other negative emotions can cause us to commit evil, we are still fascinated by the criminals’ motives.
We are brought up to follow certain rules in our civil society. We know the Ten Commandments and we follow that.
But when someone breaks those rules, we want an explanation. We keep on asking why until we are satisfied with the root cause. We love puzzles, and true crime stories get our brains working to make sense of the senseless killings.
These criminals are also human beings even if we call them inhuman or evil. We are intrigued by what went inside the criminal’s mind, an explanation of his behavior, motivations, needs, and desires, and try to understand him. We would be reminded of that quote from Xun Kuang.
In the process, we are trying to become couch detectives and couch psychologists at the same time. This is because we have the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Mike Hammer, among others that we look up to.
We also love coming up with theories about things we thought we know more about. It is easy for us to jump to conclusions, or pry on someone’s secrets. We don’t want things hidden from us. Spies, assassins, and undercover agents fascinate us even more. The bottom line: we always ask the how and why of things.
In fact, gone are the days of the “whodunnit” stories. Most of the crime stories coming out these days describe not only identifying the perpetrator but also how the crime was done or investigated. Thanks to those crime TV stories like CSI, 48 Hours, and Forensic Files.
Somehow, there is an adrenaline rush within us. There is this fear and excitement that thrill-seekers look for while in the safety and comfort of their home.
Crime stories follow a certain pattern which makes them formulaic to a certain extent. There is a crime, and we follow a character, whether a police officer or a civilian, who attempts to solve the crime until the perpetrator is discovered and brought to justice. Most crime fiction depicts lawlessness, corruption, brutality, racism, and the double standards in society as a form of social commentary.
We become satisfied if the criminal is arrested, jailed, tried in court, and served their prison term. This satisfaction comes in two ways: (1) we are grateful that we are not the victim, and (2) we are grateful that we are not the perpetrator. There is a kind of rewarding relief in knowing that justice is served.
But for unsolved cases, we become fascinated even more. For one, we know that the criminal is still out there and trying to escape it. For another, we have this desire to seek justice and play an advocate for justice.
Outside Looking In
For us spectators, we are just observing what is going on. For some of us, true crime stories serve as a reminder of other related experiences. It could even be a thought of assurance or affirmation that we are not alone, we are (or are not) safe, or we have to act. We as humans have evolved to pay attention to things that could harm us so that we can better avoid them. This makes us prepared and aware of our environment.
Also, true crime allows us to experience fear and horror. Kids are afraid of monsters in fairy tales, but adults like us are afraid of death and killers in real life.
As a fiction writer, I appreciate how crime mysteries are well-written. I get story ideas from true crimes, too. I use other emotions to fill in the blanks even though I haven’t experienced a certain crime. One film director told us that we could still write a rape scene even though we haven’t experienced it as long as we have experienced what it was to be violated.
More often than not, for the victim or the family, the crime turned them into advocates for justice. There are other people who would stand up for the victim’s rights not because they’re victims, too, but because it’s the right thing to do.
One person that I could think of is the late Tony Calvento. He was a journalist and became famous for his daily column and crime documentary The Calvento Files. He tackled criminal cases that went unsolved until the case was solved. There were times that I wished I could be like him.
However, we always say, “Be careful about what you wish for.” I believe in the Law of Attraction. That’s why I try to say or write things in a positive way if I can help it. So I’d rather use “pro-justice” than “anti-crime”. This way, something positive may come our way despite the dark side of crime and violence.