My very first memory from the beginning of the pandemic is walking along the seafront in Brighton while bingeing a true crime podcast for the first time before going to three different stores to see if they had pasta and rice that I could bring back to my flatmates in London. As my cabin fever grew over the months that followed, so did my true crime fascination. According to data from an article in the Daily Beast, it isn’t just me. True crime podcasts, shows, and TV channels have soared in popularity since March 2020. When so many of us are miserable, why would we turn to something even darker than what is going on around us?
One Greenwich student, Melissa, was surprised when she found herself sucked into true crime podcasts and documentaries this year. “It’s a (sick) way to forget about the things that i have to go through and also I think people have a fascination with evil and people being evil,” she said, noting that she especially enjoyed the storytelling aspect of it. The explosion of true crime content and its popularity wasn’t just limited to her. Anyone with an internet presence heard about Tiger King in March, even if they didn’t watch it, and similar (if, perhaps, darker) series like Don’t F*** With Cats and The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel also became some of the most streamed Netflix shows. In a bizarre turn of events, we have turned to even darker realities as a form of escapism during the pandemic. Even pre-COVID, many people, particularly women, found true crime content to be a form of escape. Some experts say that the ability to enjoy frightening and exciting content at a distance draws in many who might be afraid of something similar happening in their own life. Now, while we’re stuck inside, we may not be afraid of going on a date with a serial killer, we find the same form of escapism in being able to hear the story and say “things might be awful now, but at least that isn’t me.”
In terms of podcasts, Like many, Melissa cites the podcast Serial as one that drew her into the genre. In some ways, the weekly installments (now bingeable on any podcast streaming service) was reminiscent of 19th century serial publications by authors such as Dickens and it drew the same kind of engrossed audience, becoming the most downloaded podcast ever. Six of the top ten podcasts in the US are crime-related and they make up a significant portion of the top 100 in the UK as well. Some podcasts, like Serial, give us the same sense of satisfaction that we got as children being read a story. Others, like the popular podcast My Favorite Murder, have chatty hosts that add in a social element in times when socialising is nearly impossible. We can either be reassured by the loose ends of an intense case being tied up or given a puzzle to work out when it’s a case that remains unsolved. They can even be soothing—as morbid as it is, I’ve fallen asleep to stories of murderers more than once, even though any horror movie has forced me to sleep with the light on for months.
If this third lockdown is getting you down or you’re just looking for something new to binge on your study breaks, have a look at some of the most popular true crime content because, like Melissa, you might be surprised by how riveting it is. Other favourites like Serial include Hunting Ghislaine, about Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, Dirty John, and Undisclosed, which picks up where Serial left off. If you’re looking for more witty and and morbid banter, podcasts like Redhanded and Morbid handle cases with aplomb while being both thoughtful and lighthearted.
By Madeleine Richardson Graham
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