True-Crime: America’s Sick Pastime

Has gruesome crime become the next bingeable sensation?

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Sean Bruce

A staggering number of Americans spend their evenings staring at murder on their TV screens.

By Sean Bruce, Wentzville Liberty High School

Investigative journalism and the power of media have been instrumental in solving criminal cases and bringing justice to the victims. The local news aided in catching Richard Ramirez, “The Night Stalker” who had terrorized California in the summer of 1985, and Facebook groups aided in the capture of murderer Luka Magnotta, who had famously eluded authorities at every turn in Canada. Countless examples could be cited to prove the usefulness of crime media.

However, this had led to the rapid growth of the true-crime genre into an extremely saturated one. The informational and scientific programs like “Forensic Files” and “Catching Killers” have been cast aside for more sensationalized and dramatic storytelling shows and documentaries. With new bingeable case studies popping up every day, the public has become heavily desensitized to horrifying crimes that are happening in the real world.

Modern consumers have become completely incapable of separating television from reality to the point where it disrespects the victims of the criminals they watch. These victims often become throwaway sentences and faceless numbers in death tolls, time is spent more on the brutality of crimes rather than the lives of the victims. Most people could identify Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer from a photo, but I doubt they could name a single victim of theirs.

Elisa Lam will never be remembered by modern culture as a Canadian college student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver or as the loving daughter of immigrant parents. She is forever remembered as the girl in the water tank or the girl in the weird elevator footage at the Cecil Hotel. Mary Louis Cannon will never be known as a kindhearted grandmother, but rather another body to attribute to the “Night Stalker.”

Even in recent cases, the deceased are completely disregarded and turned into headlines and avenues of relevance. The tragic disappearance and death of Gabby Petito in late August has been desecrated by true-crime-obsessed Twitter users who have turned a manhunt into a lighthearted topic of conversation. I myself have heard incredibly disrespectful comments in passing. Comments like ‘do you know the girl who got murdered?’ and a conversation about theories of how it happened would follow.

Even locally, wide buzz has surrounded the arrest of a suspected serial killer who has been tied to four murders and two attempted murders all over Missouri. The obsessed public has already sprang into action, commenting on how exciting it is that we have our very own serial killer, as if four people didn’t lose their lives and this isn’t the real world. Pam Hupp has lingered in the headlines after committing murder in O’Fallon Missouri in 2016. Instead of supporting the families of her victims, a TV show, starring Renée Zellweger, about Hupp’s involvement in the 2011 murder of Betsy Faria is in production for NBC. In addition, the resurgence of the “I-70 Killer” has whet the appetites of our seemingly bloodthirsty community.

I get that people died and that’s sad and stuff, but isn’t it so cool that we have a serial killer?”

— Anonymous

What has happened to us? Has death become our new pastime? Has America developed a bloodlust? We have become a society that craves suffering on our screens. Production studios are hiring actors to recreate the ultimate crime for public consumption, but where does this all end? We have already reached a point where the media has cast aside the story of the victim in exchange for more photos of their last moments on earth.

Are we giving the criminals exactly what they wanted by keeping them in the spotlight? Has social media and streaming platforms become a morbid gallery for a killer’s twisted ‘art’? Yes, we can deny it no longer. Our nation has become hungry for its next tragedy and a subsequent Netflix show giving us all the gruesome details, we’ve propped up the villains of the world as TV stars.

All we can hope for now is that parents are raising their children as if the hulking beast of a true-crime genre never existed. And that we’re not raising the next generation of serial killers.

This story was originally published on Liberty Ledger on November 17, 2021.