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Why We Should Look Into How We View True Crime in Regards to Victims and How It Can Also Affect Our Mental Health

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Oswego chapter.

Last week Gypsy Rose Blanchard was released after serving eight years in prison. In the weeks leading up to Blanchard’s sentence ending, social media has been circulating with articles about her story, videos of her interviews, and Hulu’s 2019 series The Act; the series was based on her story and was rising in popularity again. Besides that though, I’ve also noticed an overwhelming amount of memes and skits about her release, which brought me to realize this is another example of how the media has changed our view in regards to true crime cases.  

True crime consists of a genre in which one will examine real events of crimes and actions of real people. The genre, depending on how it is distributed, can include a mix of fact and fiction. In recent years this genre has become a popular one across entertainment platforms. The most popular ways I’ve noticed this is through streaming platforms, such as Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify, or media platforms, such as Youtube, TikTok, and Instagram. 

Due to the rise in popularity of the genre in recent years, it also has seemed to shift many listeners or watchers to just view the stories as entertaining only, rather than being informed on these stories. It seems that today, when one is listening to a podcast on a case or watching a video the listener or viewer does not take into consideration the reality of the case actually happening. Not all, but some people I’ve noticed often romanticize the case or try to make it more entertaining for the viewer. Again not all, but some people I’ve noticed do this, rather than being informative. Though like I said, the entertainment platforms have put these stories more out, so that might lead to some of the fault in the shift. 

For example, when Netflix put out their two series, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (2019) and Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022). Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile was the story of Ted Bundy, but Bundy in this series was played by Zac Efron. After the series was out, many viewers thought they would consider this serial killer to be “hot” due to the actor’s role in the series. Then a few years later there would be a similar response when the series, Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story came out in 2022, where people believed another serial killer was “hot” because he was played by actor, Evan Peters. This is just one example of how the media has shifted how true crime is seen and in cases like these two series, it not only seems odd to believe a serial killer is hot, but it also takes away from the victims and their story. These series did have an entertainment aspect, they might have spots of fiction, but at the end of the day there were still victims to these cases. So, due to aspects of viewers seeing it portrayed by someone they find attractive, it takes away from the story they are trying to have for the audience. 

There is also the issue of the viewer or listener adding to the case either by humor or imaginative scenarios. Some people (again not all) will often be curious about what they would do in these situations. While anyone can have curiosity, some can take it to an extreme level of either publicly sharing jokes on victims or instead becoming obsessed with the case at hand. Sometimes I’ve noticed in certain podcasts or videos on cases that they can joke or throw dark humor around while talking about victims. Now although some might say that, “just don’t listen or watch then,” it’s not myself I am worried about. Rather the audience that won’t take a case seriously and the victim(s) family or friends who might hear or see it at some point are the ones I would see affected. As for the obsession side, some people who cover cases to post on their platforms can post multiple things about it, such as memes, skits, or just keep covering a case that might already have been solved. Now again, it’s okay to bring awareness to a case. However, when you instead use an overwhelming amount of dramatic sound effects, memes, skits, and aren’t taking into account who it will affect it’s no longer giving the actual story, but creating imaginative and false scenarios and solely just using someone’s terrifying or tragic events as entertainment.

This is why I especially wanted to bring up the case of Blanchard. Although the memes and skits might be funny at first, at the end of the day this woman is a real individual. Again, I understand if I felt this was offensive to remove myself from the issue, but I think I just want to allow people to be aware of how out of touch the way we take in this entertainment view of true crime can make us. I mean I will not share the details, but if you were to look up the case of what happened with Gypsy Rose Blanchard and read about it, she had a traumatic way of being raised, then going to prison, and finally getting to just start her life at 32 with everyone wanting to know her next move. Some might also bring up in this scenario that she is now having a documentary and book come out, but we have to remember those were on her terms. Whereas, many times these stories are being told without the actual individuals involved on board with it. 

Besides some viewers or listeners possibly being out of touch of the true crime they are looking into if they don’t become correctly informed on the case or how it can affect victims, true crime can also negatively affect an individual’s mental health. Last March, Kristina Robb-Dover published her story on the Florida-Based Healthcare Institution’s (FHE Health) website titled, “Is True Crime Binging Affecting Your Mental Health?” The article was written in reaction to the National Public Radio (NPR) publishing a piece on the ethics of true crime. Robb-Dover included that binging or watching a single episode of a true crime show could magnify depressed or anxious feelings. This is because the fear or worry from the cases could create a  reinforcement to those emotions. Robb-Dover also touched on the fact of how we could view a case differently after viewing true crime as entertaining for so long, “After viewing so many of these scenes, a person might even become desensitized to them,” said Robb-Dover. “Which may become problematic in its own right.”

She closed her article by including that a therapist will likely sway a patient who struggles with anxiety or depression to use caution or avoid true crime media altogether, “Entertainment should entertain – not undermine one’s mental health,” said Robb-Dover.

As I conclude this piece, I want to say that true crime can be consumed, but make sure you are watching or listening only a certain amount and getting the information in a more ethical way. If you are looking for new ways to find true crime cases, I recommend looking into Tracy Lowe’s article on Parentology titled, “11 Ethical True Crime Channels & Podcasts That Respect Victims, Survivors, and Their Families.” As well as look into Project: Cold Case, which is a non-profit organization that provides information and resources on unsolved murders. Project: Cold Case also hosts support group meetings in-person and on zoom for those who have lost a loved one to unsolved cases and Year of Hope, their annual fundraiser. Lastly, if you struggle with a form of anxiety or depression, please make sure to balance yourself if you like to listen or watch true crime. 

Hello, I am Leila LaJoie (she/her). I go by Leila, but sometimes people call me Laine. I am a 22-year-old senior at SUNY Oswego. I double major in Journalism and English, so I have always had a love for writing in general. In my free time I enjoy writing, reading, dancing, listening to music and going on walks. As far as what I focus on while writing, I'm very open, it really depends on what I'm into at the moment as well as what is going on around my environment. I am grateful for the opportunity to start this journey on Her Campus, as it will allow for me to have a writing outlet that can kickstart and further me into my career. It also will allow me to hear more about others' stories and experiences. A stepping stool if you will to my future and connections to be made.