Why Our Current Political Climate May Be Reason We're All So Obsessed With True Crime Docs

“During times of social unrest [and] cultural change, it makes sense that we are interested in material in which there are good guys and bad guys and we see a resolution by the end of the show."

Why are people so into true crime documentaries these days?

Oxygen spoke to forensic psychologist Joni Johnston who theorized that it may have something to do with our political climate.

“During times of social unrest [and] cultural change, it makes sense that we are interested in material in which there are good guys and bad guys and we see a resolution by the end of the show,” she said.

Johnston said that people have a personal investment in today’s true crime, because of the way it is depicted. 

“Today’s true crime shows are more likely to tackle issues of social importance (wrongful convictions, racial imbalances in the criminal justice system, the politics of crime) than the previously sensationalized focus on glitz and glamorizing the actual deeds and participants,” she said. Johnston went on to say that during times of social unrest, we look for ways to distract ourselves from the underlying anxiety that we are experiencing from external factors.

"For some people, watching comedies might do that.  For others, true crime can be a welcome distraction that serves multiple purposes.  One, it allows us to focus our anxiety on a single, intense experience.  In this way, the up and down emotions we feel during the high drama can provide a catharsis for pent-up (and free floating) feelings.  Second, some of us may use true crime almost like therapists use exposure therapy to help clients deal with phobias  - by gradually exposing them to the very things they fear the most.  Third, in a time of uncertainty, it can be comforting to watch television shows in which there are clear 'good guys' and 'bad guys' and, while bad things may happen to innocent people, the perpetrators usually get what they deserve."

A Quartz article mirrored Johnston’s many of sentiments. It stated that, generally speaking, true crime documentaries used to focus on glamorizing the details of a crime. But now, many of them focus on investigating the criminal justice system.

Serial dug deep into peoples’ preconceived notions surrounding interracial dating, Muslim-American culture, modern teen masculinity, and the pressure on law enforcement to build clean narratives around crimes,” the article stated. “Making a Murderer dissects society’s need to contain so-called undesirables in our communities, and how righteousness and bias can completely railroad our constitutionally mandated judicial processes.”

The 2012 documentary The Central Park Five focuses on racial profiling and discrimination. Netflix’s new true crime documentary series The Keepers follows two women as they investigate a murder that possibly stemmed from a Church sex scandal.

Johnston added that true crime in general incorporates survival strategies in their agenda, which helps viewers to feel more empowered to protect themselves in potentially dangerous situations.

So, if the unstable social climate has got you down, maybe now is the time to get a glass of wine and indulge in one of the many new true crime documentaries.

[Image: NBC News]

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