Why longtime fans of true crime are quitting the genre for good

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When Paige Sciarrino saw her neighbor’s car still parked on the street after many days, she spiraled. Have they been murdered? Should I go check on them? She grew more agitated, convincing herself that her neighbors were victims of a grisly crime.

They were, in fact, on vacation. But Sciarrino realized her unfounded fears about her neighbors rose from a sense of anxiety and paranoia. After examining her habits, one stood out as part of the problem: her near constant consumption of true crime. She quit the genre cold turkey for a New Year’s resolution, replacing her many listening hours of true crime podcasts with music. She found her mental state improved after several months.

For years, true crime has been one of the most popular entertainment genres, now spanning movies, shows, books and podcasts. Despite the boom in true crime content, the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction as some fans, and even podcast hosts, grapple with heightened anxiety and qualms over exploitation of victims.

A recent example is the high-budget Netflix series, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” starring Evan Peters as the serial killer, which passed 1 billion hours of viewing time to become one of the most popular shows on the streaming service. But many families of Dahmer’s victims spoke out against the production, saying they had not been consulted or even made aware of the dramatization of the last moments their loved ones had.

With any trend, a downturn can happen as people become oversaturated with too much of the same type of content, said Jean Murley, a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design who studies the cultural impact of the true crime genre. “I think we’ve reached the peak with it right now and it is going to start waning. I don’t see how long this sustained attention to the genre could last,” she said.

A steady trickle of defectors from the genre is vocal about the pros of quitting. A popular TikToker whose bio reads “reformed true crime podcaster” uses the platform to discuss what they consider harmful aspects of the genre, where fans have been known to use epithets such as “murderinos,” a person who is interested in murder and serial killers, as badges of honor.

The Jeffrey Dahmer story not one that needs retelling on television

A Reddit poster chronicled their realization, with the help of their therapist, that their true crime consumption was triggering their “preexisting fears.” Another said they could not stomach the idea of creators profiting from someone dying. On X, a user expressed guilt, perhaps in jest, over reading true crime stories and feeding the demand: “new people have to die for me to get new content. This is a serious ethical problem.”

Sciarrino, who lives in New York, said she often would be too scared to take a shower alone in her apartment. Consuming true crime entertainment felt like an addiction she could not kick. Whether she was cleaning, showering or driving, the 30-year-old would listen to podcasts like “Crime Junkie,” whose tagline is “a weekly true crime podcast dedicated to giving you a fix,” and “True Crime Obsessed,” which recaps cases with “humor, heart and sass!” After watching the Dahmer show, she felt uncomfortable he was being idolized online, yet she did not know any of the names of his victims.

True Crime Obsessed hosts Gillian Pensavalle and Patrick Hinds said they recognize the impact their podcast can have on both the loved ones of victims and listeners. “The genre of true crime and podcasting has really changed a lot. And one of the things that’s really important to us is to sort of stay on top of those changes and to try to change with the times,” said Pensavalle, adding they no longer label themselves a “comedy podcast” after receiving negative feedback. When the father of a victim expressed anger over a live tour show featuring his daughter’s murder case, they canceled that portion of the show.

The explosion of genre merchandise has contributed to the growing disquiet. A gift roundup titled “True Crime Lovers Will Kill for These Gifts” includes a cutting board engraved with Dahmer’s face and the phrase “I’ve got to start eating more at home,” serial killer playing cards and a doormat that reads “Crime Shows Have Taught Me Unexpected Visitors are Sketchy.”

Mollie Goodfellow, a freelance journalist, chronicled her breakup with true crime after she heard an ad for branded clothing on a true crime podcast. “I was disgusted,” she wrote in an essay for the Guardian. “It’s slightly shameful that this, of all things, was what turned me off true crime, but my stomach was turned by the idea of these two women monetising the content I had been so hungry for.”

Krista Witherspoon, a fitness coach and human resources professional, said she would fall asleep to television crime series like “Dr. Death” and “Investigation ID.” She loved the feeling of putting the pieces of a puzzle together, of getting into the mind of someone else and learning what makes them tick.

‘My Favorite Murder’ marks acceptance of true crime entertainment

But the allure fizzled when a podcast host recounted that families of victims would sometimes contact them, saying “every time you report on this, every time you make a big deal of this, new reporters are coming and asking us questions and it’s reopening a new wound.” “It’s not just mindless consumption,” she said. “This is truly impacting the families of these victims.” In addition to being less anxious, Witherspoon said her sleep improved after she quit listening to true crime cold turkey.

There are ways to engage with these stories that are not addictive, Murley said. She notes two nonfiction books on the topic, “Last Call” by Elon Green and “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann. (“Last Call” is now an HBO docuseries and Martin Scorsese’s movie adaptation of “Killers of the Flower Moon” will be released later this year.)

“In the hands of a capable creator, whether it’s a writer or a podcaster or a series creator, true crime can illuminate some very important things about our justice system, the way it works or doesn’t work, things about social class and race, all of the considerations of victims’ voices and who gets to tell the story of a murder,” Murley said.

Murley said one of her favorite true crime books is the 2007 memoir “The Red Parts” by Maggie Nelson. She wrote that while she researched her aunt’s murder, she often slipped into “murder mind,” a feeling of paranoia, anxiety and unease, that required her to step back from her writing project and recalibrate by consuming other forms of media.

Writer Emma Berquist, a survivor of a random attack, wrote in Gawker two years ago that she thinks she “would rather get stabbed again than have TikTok users descend like vultures on my social media.” To her, tales of true crime are most valuable when they reveal mistakes in the system that can be righted.

Chivonna Childs, a counseling psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, said she has suggested to patients with anxiety that they examine what they consume to avoid viewing everything “through a lens of suspicion.” She encourages them to think about what else they enjoy in life. “We are multifaceted people,” she said. “Who are you besides a true crime lover? What else do you like? Let’s tap into those other things.”



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