It was the insomnia that started it. Somehow I became addicted to real-life murder shows. First I got hooked on Serial, a podcast questioning Adnan Syed’s conviction for murdering Hae Min Lee, his former high-school sweetheart. Then I gorged on The Staircase, a documentary asking whether the American author Michael Peterson killed his wife. I followed The Jinx, HBO’s offering about the suspected double-murdering millionaire Robert Durst. Now, along with the rest of the world, I’ve binge-watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer, a show casting doubt on Steven Avery’s murder trial.
This canon of real-crime dramas has become a primetime obsession and a hot topic on social media. Ricky Gervais said MaM deserves a Nobel prize; Kim Kardashian squealed, “It is soooo good”; the supermodel Gigi Hadid started a Twitter storm theorising on it. But while I’m as enthralled as everyone about these shows, I’m also uncomfortable about them.
I have a love-hate relationship with the real-life murder genre, in common with many things I’m attracted to. I find it as appealing as it is repellent. I’ll watch desperately to hear details of the weapon, the motive, the murder scene, then I’ll look away when the images get too graphic. But it’s not only the explicit details I find disturbing, it’s wondering how OK it is to watch someone’s death as entertainment.
They watch these shows as if they are tuning in to an episode of The Archers, picking over real tragic deaths as if they are playing a game of Cluedo
Journalists are often accused of intrusion, but I believe it’s important to report on people’s lives. Sometimes that justifies, for example, approaching for interview a family mourning a relative. Still, as someone who has done such “death knocks”, I know how writers and editors worriedly weigh up the importance of such stories and how they are presented. If that balance ever goes wrong, people quite rightly berate a newspaper for it. But this is why I find it so strange — and hypocritical — that the people so quickly and vocally appalled by what they see as any kind of tabloid “intrusion” are often the very same people lapping up these shows.
They watch them as if they are tuning in to nothing more than a titillating episode of The Archers — or playing amateur detectives as they entertain themselves by picking over real tragic deaths as if they are playing a game of Cluedo.
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