From the scandalous sensationalism that newspaper coverage of the mystery of Jack the Ripper wrought to the binge-worthy success of documentaries such as Making A Murderer and The Keepers, true crime is an obsession that isn’t losing its hold on the collective consciousness or slowing down in popularity. In fact, its reach has expanded exponentially and has spread into almost every medium possible. One of the most dedicated mediums of this sector is podcasting. Eleven of the top twenty podcasts on the current iTunes charts are true crime podcasts. Despite this, studies have shown that the audiences of true crime books, shows and podcasts consistently skew female. For example, a study by Kelli Boling at the University of South Carolina found that around 75% of true crime podcast listeners are women. This is despite the fact that a 2017 study by Edison Research found that 56% of podcast listeners are male. So what is the cause of this extreme gender imbalance?
Entertainment as armament
There is, of course, the unavoidable fact that the victims of the crimes investigated by these podcasts are, disproportionately, women. So what does this mean? That we are drawn this kind of entertainment as a sort primal defensive mechanism? That women study true crime rather than enjoy it? That we are most interested in the maddening inner workings, habits and tools of serial killers because we are more likely to fall victim to them than men? The popularity of programmes exposing scammers is proof that people enjoy watching content that will better protect them from future deception and tragedy. In the same vein, true crime podcasts could be seen as armament against what you hope will never happen. However, I’m not sure it’s as simple as just a comforting defence against an admittedly terrifying threat. Women not only listen to true crime podcasts, they love them. Classics like Serial as well as hits like In The Dark and Accused pull in thousands of listeners a week and many have dedicated fan bases such as My Favorite Murder’s self-dubbed “murderinos”.
So is it a kind of self-therapy? While the chances of meeting a serial killer in your local supermarket are fairly low considering the number of people on the planet, their media presence and lasting acclaim means that the fear is ever-present. True crime podcasts act as a confrontation of this fear, they dismantle our image of a powerful beast with no soul and make them human. Rather than focusing only on the gory details as the constant news cycle tends to, true crime podcasts have the space to delve deeper into the motivations and mistakes of the crime and the criminal, therefore turning the monster back into a man. Some psychologists believe, however, that true crime podcasts only amplify this fear. With hundreds of true crime podcasts out there at the moment, it could seem like they are answering an epidemic. Rather than assuaging the fears of their listeners, the sheer number of these podcasts could give the untrue impression that there is a serial killer behind every corner. A particularly cynical observer might even suggest that the fear the omnipresence of these shows creates only leads to higher listener figures. In truth, the crimes these shows investigate are rare cases- that is why they are entertaining enough to be worth exploring. The majority of violent crime is enacted upon men but our preoccupation with these rare crimes perpetuates the idea that women are the constant helpless victims.
Perhaps the key lies in the easy of relation. As the victims are largely women, female listeners may find it easier to relate to the cases than men. The majority of these podcasts are also hosted by women which may add to the easier connection. Whatever the reason, true crime podcasts are a force to be reckoned with and are definitely here to stay. As for their effect on the collective consciousness and their particular appeal for women, this is definitely an area worthy of as much dedicated research as we commit to the crimes they investigate.