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Documentaries. Docudramas. Podcasts. YouTubers. Books. The true crime genre is rampant. Katherine Polzer, associate professor and undergraduate director in TCU鈥檚 Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, talked to TCU News about navigating its magnetic draw.  

polzer

Can you speculate on what has led to the popularity of the true
crime genre?鈥
 
I think the nationally televised Ted Bundy case in the 鈥70s kind of started our grim fascination with true crime. Here was this seemingly normal person who did these horrible things, and it was all over television. More recently, in the research I鈥檝e done, there was a resurgence when the 2014 podcast Serial came out, and, together with the 24-7 news cycle, social media, etc., it really took on a life of its own.  

Not only has the genre gained popularity through television and books, but we鈥檝e also seen a wave of popularity in amateur crime-solving on social media. What is your insight on that?鈥 
Honestly, these web sleuths kind of cut both ways. We have seen cases basically solved 鈥 or at least a ball get rolling 鈥 because of this. But, we鈥檝e also seen the result of what amounts to fear mongering. Females largely make up the true crime audience, and the genre has kind of caused us to be more afraid of rare things like serial killers and less afraid of more likely crimes that we should be more afraid of. Not to mention the unhealthy promotion of living in fear in general.   

How do you feel this is impacting criminology and the criminal justice process?鈥 
Again, this one works both ways. There are several examples where cases are being basically tried in the media, lacking due process. The accused is basically deemed guilty before they walk into court, and, unfortunately, they are not seeing their unbiased day in court. However, we have also seen the genre shed a light on injustices in our justice system, highlighting flaws and disparities and exposing problems that sometimes exist in law enforcement and other parts of the system.  

qaIs it impacting crime itself?鈥 
Crime has just changed in general, not really anything associated with the influence of true crime. For instance, sex offenders are now operating more online, etc. We do see some copycat behavior, but not so much with serial killers. That tends to happen more with mass shootings. There is actually a movement to not publicize the names of images of mass shooters, rather focus on the victims. This is often a criticism of the true crime genre as well, which can be accused of glamorizing the killer and not talking enough about the victims.  

What can we do to be smart viewers, consumers and members of society in this regard?鈥 
I would say educating oneself on what the dangers actually are. Also, understanding law enforcement practices and the actual rights of a U.S. citizen. Sometimes I hear the podcasters screaming about transparency and their right to know things and how things should move faster, but a lack of due process, evidentiary hearings and things like that could actually lead to some of the injustices that they are fighting.  

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