With Gabby Petito’s disappearance becoming one of the main discussion topics of the Internet and national news, true crime cases have made their way to the front of public consciousness once again. And unlike missing person cases of the pre-Internet age, Petito’s disappearance has empowered thousands of social media users to put on their sleuthing hats.

This is nothing new; long-running shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Law and Order” wouldn’t be as popular as they are without our widespread fascination with crime. But honestly, something about people’s obsession with true crime reeks of ethical violation, especially now that true crime has become an entire genre of entertainment from which anyone can make a huge profit if they have time for research and good storytelling abilities.

While the aforementioned TV shows are often based on real-life cases, they are, at the end of the day, fictionalized accounts. As the name entails, true crime relies on the shock value caused by the fact that these are real accounts of people’s brutal deaths.

True crime as a genre is tactless and insensitive, and neither its creators nor its viewers are innocent. Where there is a demand, there is a need to supply, and this system has worked in favor of those who get a thrill from dissecting crimes for profit and those who find a sadistic pleasure in it.

It’s understandable; while there is a good possibility that anyone could be the victim of some tragedy, we find a certain solace in the idea that it’s unlikely for you or I to experience such things. By maintaining that distance from the topic at hand, we as media consumers can continue to consume and suspend our belief; that is to say, reside comfortably in our disbelief.

Admittedly, I was quite a fan of one true crime/makeup/lifestyle YouTube creator who I will not name. I thought she was doing it right; she had a fun, bubbly personality, but she gave due seriousness to the gruesome true crime cases she made weekly videos on. 

She was well-researched and tactful. But on a particularly boring night, I binge-watched her videos and noticed some off-putting trends.

Not every one of her true crime videos was sponsored, but when they were, the shift from the sponsored message to the murder or missing person case was jarring. And then I made the mistake of venturing into the comments under her videos.

Among the normal comments discussing the case, people would comment gushing about how much they looked forward to this YouTuber’s true crime videos, how after a long day of school or work, they would binge-watch her videos about these horrific tragedies to lose themselves in something detached from them. After just coming off a marathon of true crime videos, I thought, “Are we watching the same content?”

Hearing story after story about domestic abuse turned murder, child abductions and the like, I was left shaken, paranoid and unable to disconnect from the case after the video had finished. And yet for others, true crime was a form of escapism.

From a creator standpoint, what exactly is the point of these quirky true crime videos where one applies a full face of makeup while describing people’s very real torture and death? Dredging up years-old cases week after week, editing sensationalized thumbnails for clickbait, making sure the Squarespace sponsorship comes through to account for the potential demonetization caused by including photos of a ravaged corpse in a YouTube video.

This isn’t even to speak of true crime podcasts, which are an equally if not more popular medium. While I’ve never listened to fan favorites like “My Favorite Murder,” “Serial” or “Crime Junkie,” these likely follow the same structure as true crime YouTube videos.

It is not my place to make judgments on people’s character based on what they enjoy; however, it is important that we critically reflect on what we consume, especially when real people and their mourning families are involved.

I don’t predict this obsession with true crime will ever go away. If anything, we as a general public will just become more and more desensitized to it and see crime as a genuine form of entertainment.

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