Viewer Attraction to true crime content on the rise

Della Johnson | Staff Writer

While some cases may be chilling, student crime buffs aren’t letting them go cold.

The internet’s obsession with true crime has been prolific for years, reflected in the extensive amount of accessible content: shows, video channels, and podcasts centered around analyzing cases, solved and unsolved. Infatuation with the most immoral and violent acts is something that can be traced back hundreds of years, with even 18th century novels sensationalizing the behaviors of criminals. Today, real stories of villainy still grip the world.

Junior Jasmina Abdullaeva watches a lot of YouTube videos discussing such stories. Her love for crime stories originated in her childhood. As a kid, she watched the 2005 CBS show Criminal Minds, a series about a fictional team in the FBI solving gruesome crimes. Recently, the show has reached a younger generation due to its availability on Netflix. “I don’t really think that was the best for me,” Abdullaeva said about watching the show during her key developmental ages. “But it definitely got me into true crime.”

While the entertainment aspect certainly plays a role in the popularity of such a topic, those interested delve further into a more niche interest regarding the psychology of criminals, like serial killers. Documentaries like these take deep dives into the minds and the behaviors of the most violent offenders. Abdullaeva appreciates the modern emphasis on comprehendingnthe brain and various motives, rather than dismissing them.

“I think it’s interesting how different we see these cases [now],” Abdullaeva said. “Back then, they would just call [criminals] crazy, they didn’t know that much about mental health. It’s interesting how, nowadays, people are more invested in understanding why they did it, rather than just calling them a criminal and moving on.”

This interest in the “why” and “how” has given Abdullaeva a new interest: psychology. Whether it be doing her own research into cases or fitting the actual course into her high school schedule, she has taken steps to ensure that her lifelong interest plays a role in her future, and she recommends others do as well.

“I’m really interested in the psychology of it all,” Abdullaeva said. “I’m taking AP psych right now. If someone’s into psychology, they should really look into true crime. Almost every true crime story has a psychology factor in it. Those two correlate really well. And if someone was to get into true crime, they should look into the psychological element. ”

Another student who has incorporated this passion into their academic life is senior Emily Wolfe. Wolfe discovered true crime about two years ago, from a BuzzFeed YouTube series titled “BuzzFeed Unsolved”. Since then, the expression of her hobby in her personal life has shifted from videos online to her major in college.

“It’s funny how this interest has manifested itself in my life because I actually want to major in forensic science in college,” Wolfe said. “I’m not sure if the forensic science [hobby] came first or the true crime. I take the forensic science class and the cold case class. It’s fun how the cold case class is so much like true crime. We do a lot of research with podcasts and watching documentaries about the case we’re working on.”

This cold case class was started by forensic science teacher Randy Hubbard who has been teaching for 20 years. He started the class because of the “true crime interest” at Mason and it has since been a popular choice in scheduling among students. In his area of teaching, Hubbard watches many students get involved with research on cases, watching TV shows, or listening to podcasts.

Specific cases typically draw in certain people. For Abdullaeva, it’s the Elisa Lam case that caught her eye, where a woman was found dead in a water tank at a hotel. Wolfe, on the other hand, was captured by the unsolved cases of Jon Benet Ramsey, the death of a little girl, and Jack the Ripper, a London serial killer in the 1800s. Hubbard said that this involvement is normal, and he hopes to see it have a positive impact outside of entertainment.

“Unfortunately, the scary stories that go along with true crime are very intriguing,” Hubbard said. “It’s just human nature to be interested. I think that if students get interested in the right way, that maybe someday they will try to help a family that is looking for answers to what happened to their loved one or that at least get an idea who is responsible.”