OPEN THREAD: Why Are Women (Like Me) So Obsessed With True Crime And Murder And Stuff?

I've been a horror-movie junkie since I was a kid. As an adult, I graduated to trashy true-crime books and TV (plus an inexhaustible passion for "Law & Order: SVU"). It's slightly embarrassing, but I'm not alone in this -- am I? Let's discuss.

Aug 3, 2013 at 1:30pm | Leave a comment

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I wasn't actually smiling about crime and murder here.

My fascination with crime, horror, murder, and mayhem all began with "Jaws" (and continues to this day -- I just got home from seeing "The Conjuring"). I was a little kid when I first saw it, and it obviously scared the crap out of me (did it fail to scare the crap out of ANYONE when they first saw it? The shark may look all lame and mechanical now, but in the '70s, that gigantic-toothed freakshow was major).

Anyway, my fear didn't faze me. I loved the anticipatory rush of knowing something horrible was about to happen onscreen, and being powerless to stop it. Key word here: ONSCREEN. The fear was real, but it wasn't about something tangible actually happening to ME. So despite feeling like I was about to combust from the sudden cortisol spike, I knew I was safe and cozy; Jaws couldn't touch me.

I must have watched that movie 200 times.

All the spattered blood, hair-raising screams, sinister music, and half-naked ladies of "Jaws" soon prepped my palate for an upgrade to slasher films like "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Halloween." And eventually, when I was 12 or so, I finally experienced the holy grail of horror films: "The Shining." Really, you guys, has there EVER been a more terrifying movie? Could there ever possibly be one? Doubtful.

So yeah, I've always been a horror freak. Which makes it somewhat natural that I'd graduate to an adult obsession with true crime. The fake shit just wasn't cutting it anymore -- I needed it real. I needed the thrill of knowing it either HAD really happened, or COULD really happen. Because that stuff is the scariest of all, right?

The weird thing: I've known a handful of people who've been murdered in real life. When I was growing up in Washington, D.C., a janitor at my elementary school got killed in crossfire during a random shooting at 7-11. Then my 7th grade science teacher got stabbed to death at his front door during a robbery. When I was 14 or so, a kid one year ahead of me in high school -- whom I'd known since I was little -- got shot to death FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON while mowing his front lawn.  And just a few years ago, a guy I went on a date with was stabbed to death outside his San Francisco apartment building in a mysterious case that still hasn't been solved.

So yeah, suffice it to say, this stuff intrigues me in a morbid way. Nowadays I have a semi-shameful collection of true crime books (my favorites? Ann Rule's "The Stranger Beside Me" and Jeffrey Toobin's "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson") that I keep hidden in boxes under my bed. I also have a DVR packed with terrible TV procedurals like "Major Crimes" and "Law and Order: SVU" (the theme song makes me feel insta-safe and comfy; not sure what that's about). And of course I'm a sucker for trashy real-life crime shows like "Dateline" and "48 Hours Mystery."

Anyway, I know I'm not alone in this fixation -- I have multiple girl friends who share it. But WHY we have this Crime Thing? None of us really know.


On some level, watching and reading about killers and rapists and death and disaster makes me feel ... something, I guess -- there's clearly a payoff, or else I wouldn't do it. Maybe it helps nudge me into gratitude for my sometimes-boring, sometimes-messy, but very real and very precious everyday life. Maybe it helps remind me that I'm incredibly lucky just to be right here, right now, sitting at my computer in a gorgeous city. Maybe it reminds me of how fragile and unpredictable life is, how powerless we are over, well, pretty much everything. Or ... maybe I'm just a voyeur who gets off on catching glimpses into the minds of people who snap -- people who abandon all adherence to social norms, who flout common decency and, without giving even a small percentage of a crap, succumb to their basest instincts to commit crazy acts most of us couldn't stomach. (I'm not saying that what they do is remotely admirable, but it IS interesting from a psychological standpoint, no?)

What do you guys think of crime shows, books, movies, etc.? Do any of you share my passion? What are some of your favorites? And why the hell do you think people like this stuff so much?!