TRUE crime has gone from the fringes of mainstream entertainment to become one of the most profitable genres in recent years.
From Victorian Penny Dreadfuls to the Video Nasties of the 1980s, hunger for the morbid is nothing new, but there is a crucial difference between fictionalised tales and accounts of real suffering. These traumatic events need to be handled delicately and with respect for the victim’s family.
The majority of TV documentaries are handled well, featuring testimonials from the family and condemning those deserving. However, as more YouTube presenters have jumped on this rising trend, the quality has plummeted.
The exploitation of people’s pain for financial gain is concerning. I recently watched a video online about a young woman who was murdered while working at a sportswear shop that featured a paid promotion for… you guessed it, sports clothing.
The ‘disclaimer’ at the beginning, claiming no disrespect to the victim’s family, only served to highlight the creator’s sheer tactlessness.
This is just one example of the mistreatment of true crime cases online. In these videos, YouTubers often maintain a light, even at times, humorous tone.
It is easy to understand why; it simply makes the viewing experience more palatable. However, when you remind yourself that the gruesome subject matter actually happened to someone, is it appropriate that it is watered down into an enjoyable format for viewers?
Furthermore, this pursuit of the dark and disturbing often focuses on the killer, resulting in an erasure of the victim, whose family are forced to relive tragedy as those responsible are given a platform and fame. Their tragedy and loss are laid bare for audiences to pick over and discuss detachedly.
The demand for this kind of content has got to the point where documentaries are being created despite the family’s protestations. Just last year we saw the mother of Alesha Macphail, who was murdered on Bute in 2018, plead with the public not watch a documentary on her daughter’s murderer Aaron Campbell, as it would provide him with ‘the attention he craves’. Evil Up Close aired last year despite this.
Is it morally justifiable for these YouTubers, with no connection to the case or victim, to be telling stories that aren’t theirs to tell?
Over-consumption of this material detaches viewers from the reality of these situations and it can create an appetite for more twisted and disturbing cases.
Jooyoung Lee, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, warns: “We live in a culture that fetishizes sexual assault and murder of women.”
All the while this can subconsciously breeding an atmosphere of fear in our day to day lives. Is this really entertainment?