In Context: The Rise of True Crime

On streaming sites like YouTube, Netflix and Hulu, there has been a rapid surge of content in the true crime niche.

One true crime YouTuber alone named Kendall Rae has amassed over 2.9 million subscribers, and has over 444 million views. But, Ms. Rae did not start in true crime; back in 2012, when Ms. Rae created her channel, her typical genres were makeup, art, and vlogging.

Like many other YouTubers, Rae found a demand for true crime content from the public media not only in the United States, but across the globe. YouTubers such as Ms. Rae herself, Bella Fiori, and Eleanor Neale also started in a different genre but now produce true crime content due to its demand. Some YouTubers like Bailey Sarian continue to produce makeup content as they simultaneously relate true crime stories to the public.

When midterms were wrecking my sanity in 2018, I clicked on a YouTube recommendation titled “The Abduction of Shannon Matthews” by Eleanor Neale.

In that moment I was sucked into what I call a “true crime vacuum,” and became educated on real crimes committed across the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia (among other countries).

As the stress of academia dwindled, I was simultaneously being entertained and learning about child abduction, human trafficking, missing persons, domestic violence, and other subjects that deserve more fervent public attention.
It led me to the conclusion that entertainment and education are not on opposite ends of a spectrum, but do in fact go hand-in-hand. These YouTubers within the true crime genre relate solved and unsolved crimes that not only keep these victims alive in people’s minds but also creates awareness for social movements.

Seeing statistics of domestic violence is upsetting, but hearing the stories of women such as Suzanne Morphew, Shannan Watts, Donnah Winger, and more recently Gabby Petito, can be even more jarring. Other cases that are often getting public media attention within this genre are hate crimes, which are too often dismissed by the big networks like CNN and Fox News, such as the stories of the likes of Kendrick Johnson, Alonzo Brooks, and Kedarie Johnson.

During the Black Lives Matter movement, many of these true crime YouTubers increased their content on hate crimes while also being vocal on social media.

Ms. Neale, who is from the United Kingdom, tweeted, “Today is the first day since George Floyd’s death that I’ve noticed a decrease in BLM campaigning and protest content on my timeline. I know regular lives have to resume at some point, but please stay vocal for those [whose] lives were senselessly taken and can’t resume like yours.”

Though true crime still occupies a small niche in comparison to other genres within YouTube or Netflix, this increase in advocacy brings the victim’s families comfort, and keeps the victims’ stories alive. Therefore, watching true crime in my spare time is always a fulfilling hobby where I get to relax, but also be another person who knows these victims, and thinks of them every other day.

Many viewers refrain from true crime on the basis that it is scary or would not let them sleep at night. I strongly advise caution when it comes to true crime because, as I mentioned, hearing the upsetting violence that takes place in the real world can be triggering. However, if “scary” is not a problem, I highly suggest giving true crime a chance; it resembles any documentary/crime drama one may find on Netflix or Hulu, and the main goal is to be educational, and entertaining not frightening.

YouTube is my preferred source of true crime, but it is not the only one. This rising demand for true crime content has been seen in other streaming websites like Netflix and Hulu.

On Netflix, there are dramas like House of Secrets (2021), Unbelievable (2019), American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020), and Lost Girls (2020) which focuses on the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, from New Jersey, in New York. These dramatizations emulate the real-life situations of victims. In this month of October, while we continue to push for social justice and progress, I recommend true crime to anyone looking for a new hobby.

There is a wide variety in the genre, such as solved or unsolved crimes, dramatized docuseries or detailed true accounts of the events; there are short videos as well as long ones, and are available on multiple streaming platforms. Kendall Rae’s Mile Higher and Savannah Brymer’s Killer Instinct are two amazing podcasts that relate these stories over Apple Podcasts and Spotify as well.

There is also the misconception that in order to advocate for victims one must take proactive action like protesting to consider oneself an activist/ally.

However, the simple act of willingly educating ourselves on the stories of these victims can not only spread public attention, but also cultivate empathy for victims such as these. Hence, it is key that we stop letting victims become one point in an extensive graph of many, and personify their lives and injustices within our own everyday lives.