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Brad H. Ferguson

Attorney at Law
Criminal Defense | Family Law | Personal Injury Lawyer

Why are we obsessed with true crime?

True crime stories have always been a part of the media, from the news to the rise of docu-dramas. Those of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s will never forget the theme song on “Unsolved Mysteries” or the leathery voice of actor Robert Stack.  The fascination with unlawful behavior has not diminished over the years but has continued to rise. However, as a criminal defense lawyer serving the public for 15+ years, I can tell you that most crime is not as sensational as what the media would lead you to believe. But the question remains, why as a society are we obsessed with true crime?

We are interested in our fellow human beings.

In general, we cannot help ourselves and want to know what others are doing. We are used to our daily routines and often get bored with them. So, give us a story of someone else, especially one that is an exception to our lives, and we will get hooked.

We are drawn to what drives people to the unthinkable.

While many will not admit it, we all have a dark side or at least a grey one—one that relates to an unthinkable event’s raw emotion. For example, when you drive by a car accident on the highway, do you find yourself looking at what happened and seeing if anyone was hurt?

Curiosity always wins, and we will look every time.

Exceptional crimes allow us to explore “dark topics” of human nature at a safe distance. Psychologically we know that bad things happen to people, but no one wants them to take root in their lives.

Even the classic philosopher Aristotle said in his work Poetics that we needed tragedy in drama.

He said, “The aim of tragedy is to bring about a ‘catharsis’ of the spectators — to arouse in them sensations of pity and fear, and to purge them of these emotions so that they leave the theater feeling cleansed and uplifted, with a heightened understanding of the ways of gods and men.”

In other words, Aristotle told us that these emotions are held deep inside, and we need an outlet for them to release. Nevertheless, at the end of the show, we can turn it off and go about our everyday lives again.

True crime also has a thrill factor.

Finally, there is an adrenaline and fear factor that draws the public to horrific events. It goes back to those dark topics we mentioned above but also deals with our survival instincts.

When we are fearful, adrenaline courses through our body and releases a series of chemicals that we like. Think about the rush that you feel when riding a roller coaster. It is an intense feeling that makes us more alert and sharpens our senses.  

Reading or watching true crime can induce those same reactions in our bodies but in the safety of our homes. Yet, we also believe that we are somehow in control by understanding what happened to victims in their respective situations.  We can analyze as an “armchair detective” what the victims and accused did and did not do and therefore prevent those events from happening in our lives. Or so we believe.

Miscreants of North Carolina

As a defense attorney in Waynesville, NC, I have seen a little bit of everything. There is value in learning from past events.

To quote Tennessee poet and founding father of The Southern Review Robert Penn Warren, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.”

Humanity is what attorneys deal with daily, and we can all relate to it.  So without further ado, it is time for me to announce that in our next article, we will begin looking at infamous scoundrels, rogues, miscreants, and criminals from North Carolina’s historied past.

If you missed our earlier post on how lawyers are storytellers, you can find it here.

Brad H. Ferguson, Attorney at Law | We invite you to ask Brad legal questions here.

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