“The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic.”
– G.K. Chesterton, The Blue Cross: A Father Brown Mystery
So did we all just binge watch Breathe: Into the Shadows? What about Criminal Minds? Mindhunter? Or Sherlock Holmes? These are some of the shows that had us clutching our popcorn tubs in tight grip all the while being on the edge of our seats thinking what would happen next? How will the detective catch the culprit? What is the murderer’s motivation to do such vile things to others? You wonder about how much it would be different if it was you who were to do this? Generally our minds are occupied with questions while watching a crime thriller movie or a show. Certainly every one of us gets an adrenaline rush as a reward for witnessing something terrible. Think about it, when we go to an amusement park, most of us want to ride the most dangerous ride of all, no matter how much we are terrified of it. The thrill we get after going for a ride on a roller coaster again and again is overwhelming. The feeling of adrenaline and the euphoric effect of watching crime related shows and movies on human emotions is similar to that of roller coaster or natural disasters. Another fascinating example that happens with almost all of us i.e. when we see an accident or train wrecks or any natural disaster, we are unable to look away from it as we are intrigued despite knowing the fact that it is terrible and devastating. Scott Bonn, a professor of criminology at Drew University and author of Why We Love Serial Killers?, states that serial killers enthrall people much like wrecks, accidents and natural disasters. He continues by saying that people’s fascination with the crime can be seen as a specific manifestation of its more general fixation on calamity and violence. Simply put, no matter how gruesome actions are done by the killers in shows and movies, most people cannot simply look away due to the spectacle and that’s one of reasons why people are so attracted to this genre.
As humans, we are automatically attracted to things we can’t have or can’t do like wanting to laugh when it’s clear that you shouldn’t be laughing at that moment. Just like that we like to watch crime shows as they are full of things which make us curious about knowing more. All the imagination in the darkest corner of a person’s mind from which he/she should stay clear. The scariest, most alluring and sensational behaviour which goes completely against the societal norms. If one acts upon it, he’ll be branded as an outcast so clearly a person should steer clear from acting on these behaviours. Thinking how it would feel to rob a bank? Money Heist. What if I accidentally murder someone, what would I do then? How to Get Away With Murder. What if I were to roam around the country and be allowed to do whatever I want and not be held accountable for? The Purge. These shows make us intrigued and excited about it. These genres can be dark and tenacious or silly and escapist, but whatever it is, it is different from our daily routine. To be able to have a slight change in our routine life we watch shows with something we haven’t seen in your life.
The questions we tend to have while watching a crime show are one of many motivations we have to watch them. Who did it? Why and how did they execute all this? Who will prevail? The villain or hero? We get so engrossed with shows which are messiest, complicated and gorgeously complex just to be able to get answers for the questions lingering inside our heads. We watch the show without breaks, episode after episode, season after season, movies after movies, just to satisfy our own curiosity. Humans tend to like puzzles and mystery and this is exactly what a crime show gives them. People love to play detectives and guess what will happen next, start making their own theories and possibilities, wanting to identify the culprit before the law enforcement in the movie does. Dr. Katherine Ramsand, a professor of forensic psychology at Desales University, told Hopes & Fears that there are three main reasons why people seek the genre; first they watch all the terrible things happening in the show to reassure themselves, second that they are safe from this, and third that we are not the victim to this horrible fate. According to psychologists, a big factor to watch this genre is ‘Schadenfreude’ which means getting enjoyment from the trouble experienced by the other people. It cannot be necessarily labelled as sadistic, but if something bad were to happen it better be to someone and not to us. There’s a sense of relief in knowing that it happened to the other people rather than you or your family. Secondly again most of the true crime shows offer a puzzle that people are eager to solve which gives them a sense of closure. Serials and shows like Mindhunter or White Collar give a feeling of empowerment in some way, people at home are in a position where they feel they helped to crack the case or are an active part of the investigation. And lastly, it is a challenge that stimulates your brain.
A true crime story gives an insight into the minds about people who have committed some gruesome crime in history. The documentary on Netflix about Ted Bundy or the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” which is a fiction work based on a serial killer Hannibal Lecter gives us the opportunity to look inside the minds of these murderers. Why did they choose all those killings? What were the reasons? Childhood trauma? We all contemplate what is it that made them this evil? In a way after knowing it, we have a slight idea how we would deal with a situation like this. We try to understand the psychology behind all their actions and come up with a contingency plan. Dr. Marissa Harrison, associate professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg, said Hopes & Fears believes to avoid situations in the movies, people start to be more observant of their environment and things in general. In a mystery crime show or a movie a person keenly watches everything hoping to get slightest hints or clues which could help them to identify the plan or the culprit. It then helps you to formulate a plan to get yourself out of the situation if you ever end up being in the place of the victim in the movie.