Chief among the memories of my childhood was my mother’s obsession with the TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street,” which was a police procedural that followed a cadre of homicide detectives in 1990s Baltimore.
The 1997 episode, “Subway,” in which a young Vincent D’Onofrio for most of the episode is trapped between a Subway platform and a train, sticks out prominently as a major prime time event in our house. My brothers and I lovingly ribbed our sweet mother for her love of such a super-serious show with such a gruesome subject matter.
But, what gives? My mother is a pacifist, a bleeding heart, and somewhat innocent — she once said the sound of electric guitar makes her feel physically ill. Yet, the murder, mayhem, torture and violence encountered on the streets of Baltimore in “Homicide” consumed her. And the similar themes in “Law and Order” and now, in British crime dramas on Netflix, likewise draw her attention. Why is a person who has devoted her life to kindness and radical pacifism so fascinated by these darkest and most disturbing tales?
I’ve considered this when I peruse my own subscribed Podcasts, my Netflix list and choice in reading materials: “Forensic Files” — a true-crime series of murders solved by forensic science — “Criminal Minds” — a (melo)drama based on the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit — “Sword and Scale” — a Podcast with the catchphrase “the worst monsters are very real” — “Making a Murderer,” “The Keepers,” “Heaven’s Gate” — a fascinating Podcast that explores in-depth the suicidal cult — “Serial,” “In the Dark,” “Law and Order” (the original series and its many related spinoffs), “Mindhunter,” “Manhunt: Unabomber” — I love it all. If it’s true crime, if there’s murder, mystery — I’m into it.
I recently — late to the party, I admit — discovered “My Favorite Murder,” a Podcast in which two women, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff, recount in gory detail — with a healthy dose of levity — various murders: famous, infamous and unknown alike. It takes a few episodes to get into the groove of the show — the two bring a BFF sensibility to their episodes, interjecting in the midst stories like that of "the Cleveland Torso Killer" with gasps, outbursts and catchphrases, including their signature: “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.” Their informality, coupled with their humor, feel like a night spent trading horror stories with girl friends and a bottle of wine — or, like the quintessential all-girl slumber party ghost story. It’s spooky, it’s creepy, it’s fun — and it’s … undeniably female.
When the two read emails from fans, they default to the female pronoun, knowing their fan base is feminine. Their audiences at live shows are mostly women — the two even humorously "apologize" to the boyfriends and husbands who've been brought along. I even spotted recently in Carbondale on the door of a women’s bathroom stall, scrawled in Sharpie: “Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.”
True crime and a fascination with murder — is it a chick thing?
I checked the traffic stats for thesouthern.com, and my suspicions look to be about right.
On all of our website content, 51 percent of our readers are female — about even with the population split. They are mostly between the ages of 45 and 54. On our content tagged crime, that jumps to nearly 57 percent female, with the majority of those readers aged between 35 and 44.
Social science has attempted to explain this. A study published in 2010 by Amanda M. Vicary and R. Chris Fraley draws the conclusion that women may be attracted to true crime books because they get some sort of training from the content. Feeling that they are at risk of being victims of such crime, they may learn something from true murder stories about how to escape, or how to protect oneself.
So, are we looking for real ways to “stay sexy” and not “get murdered?”
Perhaps. Maybe it’s just a healthy distraction from our day-to-day troubles — something so dark, so bad, it transcends the daily grind.
Either way, if you spot me with headphones on, I'm probably immersed in some kind of true crime drama. And, when I’m home to visit mom, we pull out the DVD box set of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and get lost in another whodunit on the streets of 1990s Baltimore.
ALEE QUICK is digital editor of The Southern. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-351-5807. Follow her on Twitter: @the_quickness