Since the release of Serial in 2014, there are few podcasts genres that have grown in popularity as much as true crime has. I like a bunch of shows, and as someone who doesn´t live in the US - i feel like i learned a little bit about the justice system and the culture surrounding it. But as a listener of true crime podcasts, i have always felt conflicted about them.
I guess that in general it is a question about ethics: To what degree do i, as a listener, play a part in a voyeuristic culture that seeks to extract the “entertaining” parts of stories about loss, pain and injustices that happened to real people? How is listening to a detailed description of a crime, any different from stopping at the site of a car accident, just to satisfy ones curiosity? And at what point does storytelling get invasive?
Because of the genres popularity, there is a million shows out there with different approaches to the questions i just asked. There are investigative shows like Serial or In The Dark, the “let´s discuss cases at a round table”-shows like The Generation Why Podcast or My Favorite Murder and podcasts that really double down on production and creating a narrative like Sword & Scale.
While I think that it´s great that the genre gets some acknowledgement, there are also certain aspects of a number of shows that i find troubling. For example I stopped listening to Sword & Scale after a couple episodes, because the host kept on making connections between mental health issues and crime rate. Two white guys seemingly unable to use the word “racism” in an episode about the death of Freddie Gray (The Generation Why Podcast), is also a good example of the missteps some shows take.
So - what are your takes on the genre? What do you like listening to and why? Do you sometimes feel like the entertaining factor of those shows, dont outweigh the bad feeling one can get? I would really love to read your thoughts!
Completely agree with you that the voyaristic aspect of his kind of media should be on the mind if the creators at all times. Curious if you ended up listening to S-Town which intially starts under the guise of a true Crime podcasts and eventually morphs into something else intially. More akin to a deep character study which allows talking about areas of human life.
It definitely stumbles in places but I got the impression it seemed a lot more INVESTED emotionally which has its benefits but I’d also arguably bad practise in journalism. Curious on your thoughts if you have listened.
I would put them on a scale, with Missing Richard Simmons on the far side of creepy and exploitative. S-town had issues equating kinks with mental health challenges, and serial had its own well documented problems but I at least felt like they were trying.
I don’t see how there’s any meaningful difference from other true crime media.
Maybe the intimate nature of podcasts makes it feel creepier than it actually is.
I did listen to it and I agree that it seems way more invested than those stories usually are. The thing is also, that it really did affect me emotionally, which of course makes it a bit harder to take a critical distance. I also agree with the Vice article that it seems that Brian Reed alway seems to come from a point of compassion and deep affection for the people, which does not mean that the story is not invasive. Also with not being familiar with the US-American south aside from the cliché depiction you usually get in media, it felt like a more “fair” take if that makes sense? Anyway i really did it enjoy it, thought it walked a very fine and dangerous line in regards to the subjects privacy, but ultimately seemed very compassionate.
I can see where you are coming from, my first experience with the genre was podcasts though, so i felt i couldn´t really talk to the challenges of true crime literature or TV and if they differ in a meaningful way.
Serial kind of began my obsession (though that ending was anything but satisfactory), but Sword and Scale really pushed it over the edge. I definitely feel that some of his statements regarding mental health were particularly problematic in the beginning, but I feel he has vastly improved over time in his content and the way he presents it - much more “aware” of what he’s saying, it seems.
My Favorite Murder is probably my favorite simply due to the fact that it barely takes itself seriously. The hosts are a blast and provide fantastic and often very amusing commentary on a subject that is otherwise relatively grim, all while being pretty respectful (at least I think so.)
S-Town was great, but definitely a different type of “true crime” podcast - don’t think I could call it that at all. In the Dark was getting really interesting, but my podcast app stopped letting me resume episodes of it specifically for some reason so I all but gave up.
Up and Vanished had a very strong first half that quickly fell into what felt like the host falling head over heels in love with himself and taking all too much credit for his impact on the case itself. The point where he played a clip of his grandmother leaving him a voicemail about how important he was to the case…so cringeworthy. I pretty much quit from there.
Last Podcast on the Left has delved into some true crime stuff and they’re definitely not for everyone, hardly “politically correct” in much of their humor, but I still listen from time to time, especially for their non-true crime stuff. Really interesting episodes on Satanic Panic in the 80s and other such weirdness.
This might be a good place to discuss this then. I thought season 2 of Serial was pretty good. People talk about it like it was completely uninteresting, but I thought it told a good story. Didn’t reach the highs of season 1, but it was still enjoyable. It should be noted I didn’t know anything about the case before listening. It’s probably more likely that someone was familiar with the Bergdahl story as opposed to Adnan’s story so that could have shaped people’s opinions.
I really felt gross listening to Serial season 1. Particularly since the victim’s family really didn’t seem to want it? I wouldn’t listen to another season of a similar case.
That said, I’ve been listening to a Danish podcast called Dobbeltmordet recently, and I haven’t felt much guilt. It’s about the unsolved double homicide of an upper class couple committed in 1948. The hosts speak with people who were around the neighbourhood then, and interview people on their theories about what happened. It also features a delightful interview with a member of the Danish ww2 occupation resistance, who speaks with absolute glee about intimidating and shooting at nazi sympathisers, which I found very charming.
I’m glad someone else feels the same way. I really enjoyed Season 2 of Serial. It was a deep dive into something I knew little about - the military. The first season was gripping but I came away without having learned much.