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Why Are We Fascinated with Crime Shows?

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Some people, including me, have some kind of fascination with crime dramas, whether it be true crime or fictional crime dramas. The media seems to cater to that demand. For example, there is Investigation Discovery, a television channel specifically dedicated to the true crime genre. For those who don't know, true crime depicts the real murder and killer. An example of such would be a documentary on Charles Manson, the criminal, and the murders he masterminded and committed by proxy.

Even the big media companies, such as CBS airs shows like Criminal Minds, which is a fictional show about murder. However why is it that we are attracted to crime? There are many theories in which to explain this. For example, a friend of mine and criminologist at Drew University, Dr. Scott Bonn, explains that people love crime, especially murder, because of fear. In his recent op-ed in Time Magazine, he claims that we like crime because we can experience fear and horror without being the victim! We seek thrilling activities. He likens it to a roller coaster at an amusement park. You can read more of his article here: Time Article.

Yes, I agree with that, but there is something more that causes this phenomenon because it doesn't explain why we desire a happy ending and get upset when we don't get it. The happy ending usually comes in the form of the criminal getting locked up or in some cases executed. When those things don't happen we get upset. I propose two of my own theories, The General Dichotomy Theory and The Comparative Emotions Theory.

First, The General Dichotomy Theory. I believe that we are drawn to true crime because of our belief in dichotomies. More specifically good vs evil. It is not because we like evil (murder or murderers), but we glorify the good guys. That's why we love superheroes like Spiderman fighting Dr. Octopus. Or real life superheroes like detectives who solve the crime and catch the bad guys. Maybe we like justice. We like the process of the good guy catching the evil guy. We hate justice not served. Second, The Comparative Emotions Theory. This theory derives from Weber's concept of trying to understand other people from their perspectives. I believe we watch these crime shows because want to try to understand and empathize with the victim's feelings at the last moments of their life. How shocked and mortified the victim must be. We also try to imagine who the right mind would do such a heinous act? The act just seems so inhumane.


Drew University C'17, Sociology major, Former Intern and Volunteer at Mountain Lakes Police Dept.

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