By Nico Cassar
Serial killers are popular in 2022. True crime is a controversial genre that has exploded in popularity recently, through podcasts, TV series, movies and books. Opinions at Harbord Collegiate Institute are divided on whether true crime is okay as entertainment or not.
Grade 9 students and Harbord staff were asked their opinions on the fictionalization and ethics of true crime, as well to its appeal, and positive or negative effects. “Fictionalizing true crime makes it normalized,” said student Ginger Fagerstroem.
Multiple students say it is unethical to commercialize true crime. “It just seems wrong to profit from people's real trauma…it's not fiction,” said Madison Cheung. Anna Michelle Matkivska disagreed, and said as long as “If it's for a good reason, to spread awareness about a certain subject, that's show-cased in a show or documentary.” In the right context she thinks it's acceptable, as long as the creators have good intentions.
When asked if the media glamorizes true crime series, Matkivska said movies often add story points that aren't true, in order to add drama. Reiko Smith said the serial killer Jeffery Dahmer has been glamorized in the media recently. She refers to the Jeffrey Dahmer Tiktok challenge, where people look at crime photos and discuss Dahmer. According to Variety, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has been viewed for 496.1 million hours. Some students said that documentaries are better because they aren't filtered or fabricated.
The media embellishes a true story to make it more entertaining, and therefore more acceptable. Fagerstroem said, “(Turning) a mystery into a murder mystery.” Cheung expressed difficulty separating “Fiction from reality, especially when it's over-exaggerated in TV series.” On the other side of the argument, Naomi Tyson doesn't think there is a problem with fictionalizing it as long as it's only minor details.
Smith said people like true crime because “It's the same way people like scary stories. It's high adrenaline situations.” Teacher-Librarian Ms. Joseph said, “There's an element of risk in your mind while going through it, so I think the thrill is what brings them back to it.”
Many students say that true crime media can be positive if done correctly and with respect, without sensationalizing the subject. An accurate retelling from a victim's perspective can be important. The 2019 series When They See Us tells the story of five Black and Latino men persecuted for a crime they didn't commit. “It told a story from their point of view, as opposed to the story being told constantly from the point of view of the lawyers, and all the money and the people who were lobbyists in New York City,” said Ms. Joseph. In this instance, the drama series was faithful to reality and was still entertaining.
Does the good outway the bad? Part of true crime is that it is real life, but that doesn't mean it's okay to sensationalize and exploit the victims. The majority of students agree that filmmakers have a responsibility to accurately portray reality, and that true crime should be both ethical and entertaining.