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Personal writings of Arjun Rao

Taste of the macabre

Category: Philosophy

I have noticed a recent spurt in dark and grisly stories being made available for consumption across all forms of media. Podcasts abound in this category ranging from "S-Town", "Serial" to uncomfortable names such as "My Favorite Murder". This is just a small cross-section of the available titles, but are some of the most popular podcasts today. On a bit of a tangent, there is a fascinating article about the gender disparity in podcast listenership numbers in the True Crime genre, here, in which they observe how podcasts like "My Favorite Murder," have 80% of it's listeners who are female. They bring up interesting reasons for why this might be the case, including getting tips for staying safe, but you cannot get away from the fact that this is gripping material for a big swath of consumers.

Podcasts aren't the only channel of media for the True Crime category. Video streaming services like Netflix have a slew of offerings such as "Making a Murderer", "Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" and the list goes on and on. Amazon, for its part, is serving up titles like "The Moors Murders" and "Where Is Robert Fisher?" among others.

It is tough for me to attribute this spike in popularity, either to the current tastes of the consumer, or to something that has always been a part of our viewing palette. We have had fictionalized shows like Dexter in the past that have had tremendous success, but there is something about portraying these stories in the real world that differentiates this. The reality of the situation and the thrill of knowing how depraved the human mind can get, seems to have an unexpected allure. It is like watching a bad event unfold in front of you, that you cannot look away from. The adrenaline rush that one gets, from watching normal people describe how a diabolical figure walked among them and did terrible things, may put one in that twilight zone of thrill and fear, which might account for this grotesque magnetism.

The other option might be that we have something very primitive in us, that is weirdly attracted to actions of violence and blood. Over time, as civilization progresses, we have adapted our tolerance to brute force and gore. Back in the Roman times, having thousands of people watch grown men tear each other apart physically, was just society's idea of of a weekend excursion. Over time, we have gradually pared back those kind of activities, and we are now at the point where boxing and the NFL are considered to be violent sports. 40-50 years from now, any kind of contact sports might make their way out of our zeitgeist and become a faded memory. Not having a release for this desire, in a controlled environment, is probably what these True Crime episodes are providing an outlet for. Or at the end of the day, maybe all this complex analysis of the human psyche is moot and it is just the good production quality. 🤷🏽‍♂️