I’ve been listening to an awful lot of the world’s favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder, recently, and it’s got me really thinking about how I became a murderino – a fan of the true crime genre.
As the ‘fan cult’ around this show helps to prove, one needn’t be a statistician to note that the average true crime fan is a woman. And as my own murderino experience helps demonstrate, that’s not exactly surprising.
Why? Because the implicit message of the true crime genre is men are bad, and probably about to kill you. In a world where men get four days for rape and women face 20 years for licking ice cream, someone has to get this message out.
I have a feeling this message often makes its way from mother to daughter, but in my case it was mother to son. My murderino mother, probably seeing my baby gayness and my sister’s utter lack of interest, passed on her love of the genre to me from an early age.
My mother and I never got much of a chance for one on one time, but her extremely early morning routine would often overlap with my insomnia, and together we would watch true crime shows and the Lifetime-style movies they often inspired.
We never really discussed it, but there was a lot of meaning exchanged in our helpless sighs and raised eyebrows – a kind of empathy sharpened by an awareness of the worst the world had to offer.
At 10 my mother finally relented and let me watch her favorite movie, The Silence of the Lambs. Is 10 too young for Silence of the Lambs? Not for a murderino! As I grow older and saw more of the not-so-true crime thrillers my mom was interested in, we talked a little bit more about psychology and criminology, which helped illuminate even more why people and in particular women are interested in these genres.
Because the question is why. Why do men do these things? Why does society facilitate them? Why do we have to warn each other instead of becoming a safer society?
Women (and a slice of gay men like me) are drawn to true crime because little by little it helps us address these questions. After untold millennia of human development, we can travel the solar system and beat diseases, but we’re still coming up with ideological and judicial reasons to rape and kill women and the men who remind us of them.
For us, these movies and shows don’t ‘make men look bad’ – they’re examinations of the real bad things men do literally every day. Vigilance about the signs that you might be in the first act of a true crime movie is a little piece of mind we can give ourselves and others.
Because on the flip side, you have me being told by all my female friends that I’d just have to put up with it when my first boyfriend hit me. You know those 15-year-old girls didn’t come up with that advice themselves; that is the lesson their mothers and society have passed on to them.
Can being a murderino keep you safe? I don’t know. Actually, no. But I’m pretty sure it made me the kind of person who won’t just put up with the patriarchy.
My first boyfriend got arrested for beating up his next boyfriend. He didn’t beat me, but probably only because I dumped him the first time he hit me. In a healthy society, he could have gotten help for his anger issues when they arose – and in a truly healthy society, they may not have arisen at all.
We like true crime because we like the idea that the genre could disappear someday, and we know the study of this topic can help get us there. We aspire to transcend from warning each other about how dangerous men can be to a society that produces better men.
“Stay sexy and don’t get murdered” is flip and scary, but it’s very real. There’s a bigger taboo against an interest in true crime than against, you know, killing women. We’re here to try and turn that around.
So hey mom: thanks. Men are scary, but you helped give this one critical thinking skills. Being a murderino from early childhood might have made things bump a little louder in the night. But it also helped me see them as natural phenomena that could be challenged and understood.
And super thanks for giving me a low tolerance for men’s bullshit.
Stay curious and don’t get patriachied.
PS yes that is an artificial limb designed to conceal a firearm, because that is a thing we’ve decided needed to exist. (Photographed on display at House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin.)