True Crime: The Anxiety and the Ecstasy

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Recently, there has been an uptick in interest in true crime. The rise to popularity began with the podcast "Serial" and has grown stronger with genre crossing true crime podcasts such as "My Favorite Murder" and "Last Podcast on the Left" that mix true crime with comedy.

My own interest in true crime dates back to my childhood years when I would watch shows such as "Unsolved Mysteries" late at night. I wasn't allowed to watch because my parents thought I would get scared and they were right, I did. I suffered from extreme anxiety since age 10 and it took me until my adult years to "get over it" or--manage it.

The hosts of "My Favorite Murder" have created a dialogue about mental health through their podcast. The hosts, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, speak openly about their therapists and encourage listeners to seek therapy if they feel the need. Kilgariff speaks of her battle with addiction and Hardstark of her anxiety and depression. They have also created an open dialogue about mental health within their Facebook communities. I often see listeners reaching out for help when they need, whether it is a therapist recommendation or for a friend.

While some true crime podcasts uncover and reopen cold cases, "My Favorite Murder" and "Last Podcast on the Left" typically cover a different crime in each episode. This mixture of murder and comedy has somehow created a sense of safety for those of us struggling with mental health issues. Kilgariff and Hardstark (MFM), especially, are able to talk about the atrocities of murder while inserting jokes and honoring the victims. They don't minimize the awful things that occur in this world, but they bring them to light in such a way that is easier to swallow. In a way, they bring it to light in a way that a wider audience can take in order to prevent future crime.

Their audience is far-reaching and many say the podcast opened the door for them to begin talking about the true crime obsession with friends. In the friends that I have bonded with over this odd "hobby," I've noticed many of us have struggled, or are currently, struggling with mental health issues. Many of us have also experienced some form of trauma in our lives, yet we are drawn to these traumatic stories.

I often find myself wondering why true crime attracts those who struggle with anxiety, including hosts of the most popular true crime podcasts? 

In his article, Why are We Drawn to True Crime Shows, Scott Bonn states, "The euphoric effect of true crime on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters." He posits that humans get hits of adrenaline from witnessing or listening to the spectacle of murder. 

I suspect it goes deeper than adrenaline. As I ponder this fact, I think of the tagline of "My Favorite Murder," the playful, "stay sexy and don't get murdered." The hosts often sign off with this tagline and fans use it as well. As the hosts discuss murder on the show, in certain ways, they are exploring and sharing with their audience how to stay safe. The urge to kill is something most of us do not possess. It feels foreign and wrong. Many may not understand the mind of someone with the urge to kill--someone who possesses traits of psychopathy. In exploring these crimes and the history that lead killers to create them it creates a larger sense of safety, like we are coming closer to understand the thinking behind the crimes, therefore, reducing anxiety.

I also think of the trauma aspect. As someone who has been through significant trauma, it surprises me that I enjoy true crime. I further think about the trauma brain and how trauma can get stuck within it, causing humans to go in to fight, flight, or freeze mode. I wonder if hearing stories of true crime and imagining what might of happened helps the brain to process our own trauma, to feel like we are gaining the tools to fight back. 

The interest in true crime has brought awareness to cold cases that were left cold for years and justice to some that were waiting a long time for it. Because of podcasts such as "My Favorite Murder," a community has been created around an interest once considered "strange" and "unusual." It has brought new friends together and spread awareness around the importance of mental health and self care--something that becomes of greater importance when you take an interest in true crime.