Most of us aren't strangers to binge-watching, it's a cultural phenomenon that isn't slowing down. If you look at your TV queue and it reads something like; Making a Murderer, Law & Order: SVU, The Jinx, and whatever is on the I.D. channel, then the chances that you're a true crime fanatic are pretty high.
Could it be something deeper? Making a Murder was a released December 18, 2015, and in just a couple of days everyone was talking about this Netflix original documentary series about the Steven Avery murder case. If you hadn't watched the 10-episode series by the new year, you were way behind. People were scrambling to catch up to the rest who already knew whether Avery would be found guilty or not guilty. But why did we care so much? We could have easily googled the case to see the outcome. Our fascination with the true crime genre far exceeds the expectation of figuring out "whodunit."
"I think the fascination with murder is natural because there are so many different ways to judge each crime," Psychologist Paul G. Mattiuzzi, who has a background in criminal forensic psychology and clinical consultation, said. "We wonder about the victim, about the perpetrator, and about the circumstances.
"We are fascinated because of the powerful emotions aroused when we consider the fate and fortune of the victim and the pain that remains for their survivors. In reality, it is the cold realities that draw and demand our attention. We actively seek the clues that tell us that we are safe, that it couldn’t happen to us."
One of the main reasons why Making a Murderer has been so successful is because Avery didn't come from an affluent background — his entire family was seen as outcasts. Viewers saw injustice simply because he was poor.
As the series goes along it becomes easier to identify with Avery and wonder: What if I was framed for murder? That's a key reason this show is such a hit. It shows the flaws of the justice system and the "overzealous police department." With so much happening with the Black Lives Matter movement, the plague of unarmed minority men being shot and killed by police, and the ensuing police department cover-ups, it's easy to take a sympathetic stance when it comes to the Avery case.
For women, the fascination with true crime seems to be deeply entrenched. "Women are more drawn to true crime books than are men," according to research published by the Social Psychological and Personality Science. "What makes these books appealing to women are relevant in terms of preventing or surviving a crime. . . . By learning escape tips women learn survival strategies they can use if actually kidnapped or held captive." But Slate writer Jessica Grose doesn't believe women are into true crime because we like to apply it our lives.
"I certainly enjoy the true-crime genre, but I don't find tales of violent death intriguing because I fear it happening to me."
Part of it is the desire to make a smart decision about the case, the more details you know about the crime, the more of an educated opinion you can make about the accused. We want to understand what compels people to commit crime.
There's also a reason why gritty thriller Gone Girl (2014) was such a hit: Women could partially relate to the distraught wife who's been cheated on, but also to the film's protagonist, the husband, because he was a victim as well. We think: What would I do if I was in her shoes? Would I go that far?
That's part of what makes this so fascinating, you just don't know what you would do in those positions, as much as you speculate.
One thing is for sure, the demand for true crime stories isn't waning. The Serial podcast and True Detective were both picked up quickly for second seasons (True Detective season three is still tentative) after their ratings success. There also great anticipation for The People v. O.J. Simpson, which airs on FX on February 2, even though we all know how the story turns out. We want to relive the thrill because perhaps we missed something about the case when we were just kids. For millennials, this will be their first taste of that O.J. chaos that enveloped the country in the mid-'90s.
Who knows what the next true crime show or movie is that will captivate the world, but it's certain that we'll be on pins and needles.