True crime, once considered a niche topic of interest, has taken the world by storm in recent years. There are hundreds of true crime shows, podcasts and books to choose from at any time. Audiences seem to really enjoy learning all the twisted details of crimes and the lives of the criminals — which is normal in healthy amounts. But can you still make the distinction between the entertainment value of true crime media and the atrocious crimes by the criminals. But what happens when it goes too far? When fans of true crime cross the line from innocent interest to scary admiration? In this article, I’ll take a look at a growing community that almost worships these killers.
The True Crime Community
The “True Crime Community (TCC)” is the preferred name of the fandom by its members. The community exists on various different social media platforms but the most prominent is probably “Tumblr” (although it is also currently growing on “TikTok”, like practically everything else). The entire community is admittedly significantly more interested in true crime than your average person (members of the TCC often spend time learning about the lesser-known details of crimes, earlier and personal lives of serial killers, theorizing on unsolved crimes), however, the community also seems to be divided in two: those who “condone” the crimes, and those who don’t. (This is a good point to remember that the latter group genuinely tries to separate the community from those who claim to actually love and admire the criminals.)
A lot of the “condoners” as we’ll call them for now, seem to be young girls and they mostly tend to be obsessed with serial killers and mass murderers. School shooters are especially popular among the fandom and “Columbiners” (fans of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who committed one of the deadliest and most infamous school shootings ever in Columbine High School in 1999) are a prominent subgroup of TCC members.
As for serial killers, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez are among favorites, most probably as many consider them to be attractive and charismatic. The fans of these vicious murderers post all the typical things you would imagine a fan of anything else to post — there is fanfiction, “ships”, and “flower crown edits” and more. Members of the community also detail the mental problems, bullying, and traumatic family lives the criminals endured in an attempt to humanize them and excuse their actions.
It is frankly quite scary to turn the victim narrative from the actual victims to the perpetrators.
And while it cannot be denied that untreated mental illness can have dire consequences for people and societies, it is frankly quite scary to turn the victim narrative from the actual victims to the perpetrators. Plus, considering a significant amount of well-known mass shootings have racist or misogynistic motives, it becomes even scarier to see young people embrace these criminals as people they relate to or understand.
The Possible Reasons Behind The Obsession
“Hybristophilia” is the scientific name given to sexual or romantic attraction to criminals — and there are many speculated reasons behind the phenomenon. Some put forth that women specifically are attracted to male criminals because they like to believe they can change them and some argue that obsession comes from a deep desire to understand these killers’ motives.
One other reason might be, specifically in the case of “loner” criminals with histories of trauma and bullying, that these fans could simply be going through similar things and projecting onto them or empathizing with them. If these murderers are the only people they are exposed to that seem to have similar backgrounds to them, they might feel like they relate to them regardless of the horrifying acts they committed.
Through this fact-to-fiction machine, with monetary goals in mind, the glorification of criminals, unfortunately, becomes prevalent and influences (especially young) audiences.
It’s also important to recognize that the media is definitely not blameless in this. It’s not uncommon for producers of true crime media to alter the facts of crimes and criminals in an effort to gather more viewership. This can include having serial killers be portrayed by actors who are much more conventionally attractive than their real counterparts or celebrated for their looks by many, sensationalizing the nature of the crimes and turning the killers into celebrities, or overemphasizing and distorting any romance or love elements involved in the cases. Through this fact-to-fiction machine, with monetary goals in mind, the glorification of criminals, unfortunately, becomes prevalent and influences (especially young) audiences.
Looking Back and Moving Forward
It’s worth noting here that this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon — admirers of criminals have existed long before social media was a thing. Many of the most notorious serial killers in highly-publicized cases would often receive romantic and sexual fan-mail in prison, some even led to wedded unions between the so-called fans and murders! However, the problem definitely grows bigger with the added factor of social media. Obviously, it’s universally a pretty bad sign when adolescents (or people of any age group) think the actions of criminals are excusable or even to be celebrated but the open and publicly accessible nature of social media brings in another horrifying level —victims or loved ones of victims can now see these posts at any time. This, and the fact that members of this fandom of serial killers also probably started off thinking they were simply intrigued by true crime stories, indicates to me that the media has a growing responsibility in their representation of these criminals.
While all these true crime shows can bring in money as well as honor the victims if done right, when they leave any room for romanticization or glorification — it will get exploited. Just like everything we choose to make available for anyone, anywhere to consume; true crime media also needs to be conscious of what messages they can be sending, especially to young and ripe brains. Furthermore, teaching media literacy at a young age and actually addressing the roots of the psychological problems that make people turn to idolizing these monsters is clearly vital.
Edited By: Younes Skalli