Most of the time, the headline news is about crime and violence. Although it is shocking and sometimes gory, we are hooked (whether we admit it or not). We just can’t get enough of it every day. Not only that, in today’s literature, one in three books is a crime novel.
Why are we hooked to crime stories? Despite being dark and gloomy, we have different reasons why we pay attention to it. And according to psychologists, there is nothing wrong with being hooked on true crime stories.
It all started with the first recorded crime in history: the murder of Abel. As we all know, Cain struck Abel’s head with a stone. But what caused Cain to do it? Envy and perhaps, pride.
It seems that we are born with these emotions and if we get carried away from these, it may take us to our darker side.
A person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to violence and crime…– Xun Kuang
Another thing that remains a mystery to us is the mark of Cain. There are numerous theories as to what this mark was that until now it is being debated upon.
Another theory of how crime began stems from the principle of natural selection and survival. Animals have to adapt to their environment and would likely make critical choices, killing included, in order to survive. Remember that we humans are the highest form of animal.
What Fascinates Us
Although we know that greed, envy, pride, and other negative emotions can cause us to commit evil, we are still fascinated by the criminals’ motives. We keep on asking why until we are satisfied with the root cause. We love puzzles, and true crime stories get our brains working.
Another thing, we are intrigued with what went inside a criminal’s mind, an explanation of his/her behavior, and try to understand him/her as a person. We would be reminded of that quote from Xun Kuang. In the process, we are trying to become couch detectives and couch psychologists at the same time. This is because we have the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, among others that we look up to.
We also love coming up with conspiracy theories about things we thought we know more about. It is easy for us to jump to conclusions, or prying on someone’s secrets. We don’t want things hidden from us. Spies, assassins, and undercover agents fascinate us even more. The bottom line: we always ask the how and why of things.
Crime stories follow a certain pattern. There is a crime, and we follow a character, whether a police officer or a civilian, who attempts to solve the crime until the perpetrator is discovered and brought to justice. Most crime fiction depicts lawlessness, corruption, brutality, racism, and the double standards in society as a form of social commentary.
We become satisfied if the criminal is arrested, jailed, tried in court, and served his/her prison term. This satisfaction comes in two ways: (1) we are grateful that we are not the victim; and (2) we are grateful that we are not the perpetrator. There is a kind of rewarding relief in knowing what justice is served.
But for unsolved cases, we become fascinated even more. For one, we know that the criminal is still out there and trying to get away with it. For another, we have this desire to seek justice and play an advocate for justice.
Outside Looking In
For us spectators, we are just observing what is going on. For some of us, true crime stories serve as a reminder of other related experiences. It could even be a thought of assurance or affirmation that we are not alone, we are (or are not) safe, or we have to act. We as humans have evolved to pay attention to things that could harm us so that we can better avoid them. This makes us be prepared and aware of our environment.
Also, true crime allows us to experience fear and horror. Kids are afraid of monsters in fairy tales, but adults like us are afraid of death and killers in real life.
As a fiction writer, I appreciate how crime mysteries are well-written. I get story ideas from true crimes, too. I use other emotions to fill in the blanks even though I haven’t experienced a certain crime. One film director told us that we could still write a rape scene even though we haven’t experienced it as long as we have experienced what it was to be violated.
More often than not, for the victim or the family, the crime turned them into advocates for justice. There are other people who would stand up for the victim’s rights not because they’re victims, too, but because it’s the right thing to do.
One person that I could think of is the late Tony Calvento. He was a journalist and became famous for his daily column and crime documentary The Calvento Files. He tackled criminal cases that went unsolved until the case was solved. There were times that I wished I could be like him.
However, we always say, “Be careful on what you wish for.” I believe in the Law of Attraction. That’s why I try to say or write things in a positive way, if I could help it. So I’d rather use “pro-justice” than “anti-crime”. This way, something positive may come our way despite the dark side of crime and violence.