Source: calvinnivlac at flickr, Creative Commons
Fascinated with murder, friends and comedians Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff wanted the opportunity to openly talk about death. They started weekly podcast “My Favorite Murder” to discuss the grizzly details of crimes that interested them. Although these conversations might seem callous and unseemly to victims’ loved ones and some members of the public, the podcasts serve as a safe space for the women to confront the dark side of human nature.
In the first episode, Hardstark and Kilgariff confess their fear of being murdered, and how discussing that fear and the atrocities of true crimes eases any associated anxiety. They disclose that the process of “talking about the thing you’re afraid of” is immensely helpful. That process, they reveal, is one of the primary motivators behind the show.
Presented as a comedy, the podcast is broadcast from Feral Audio, and can also be found under the comedy category in the iTunes podcast charts. This combination of murder and humor has proven quite popular, as the podcast is regularly featured in the iTunes top comedy chart. And the show’s private Facebook group boasts over 130,000 members, or “murderinos,” as they call themselves.
So, what’s the appeal of a true crime comedy podcast? In an interview with the Huffington Post, one listener says:
“They’re honest about their fears surrounding rape, murder, kidnapping, etc. They’re terrified of those things just like the rest of us! Somehow diving into the subject helps diffuse the pain of it. It might be a weird way to desensitize ourselves from a nasty world, but, it helps!”
If that’s the case, do all consumers of true crime media have crippling fears of murder and kidnapping? Skeptics see this explanation of using the podcast as ‘exposure therapy’—wherein through systematic exposure to one’s fears, anxiety is reduced—as a justification to discuss a taboo subject matter.
Perhaps, this is not an issue of anxiety, but of the dark, unspoken desires people dare not speak.
Hardstark and Kilgariff argue that, though taboo, an interest in murder and true crime is widespread. In an interview with SBS Australia’s The Feed, the two report:
“It’s very common, but for some reason saying I have an interest in this is supposed to be a shameful thing, but it’s not. It’s very normal.”
Many listeners of the podcast report having found their “home” of sorts, a tribe where it’s okay to talk about the horrific murders that have always captivated them. Listeners appreciate Hardstark’s and Kilgariff’s candor. Another listener asserts:
“It’s a dark subject matter, but it’s treated very respectfully, and somehow Georgia and Karen manage to feed that morbid curiosity that we all share, but in a way that never forgets the consequences of violence.”
Forensic psychologist Paul G. Mattiuzzi contends that a fascination with murder is nothing out of the ordinary, and in fact, is practically built-in to people. Said plainly:
“The crime of murder is a most fundamental taboo and, also, perhaps, a most fundamental human impulse.”
Mattiuzzi maintains that the allure comes from the many questions we ask ourselves—Why did they do it? Could I do that? Was there nothing that could have stopped this?He says:
“When it’s art, all of those questions make it what we call a ‘thriller’ or a ‘mystery’. When the body is real, the ‘thrill’ may be gone, but the questions and the fascination remain.”
Psychology professor at Santa Clara and Stanford Universities, Thomas Plante, suggests:
“To deny our dark side might ultimately harm us more than accepting it and coping proactively with our inner most dark thoughts and impulses.”
Further still, the coupling of delicate subject matter with comedy or light-heartedness seems to have positive effects. Plante explains:
“Taking a light touch with dark thoughts may actually help us not act on them. Just because you have an itch doesn’t mean you need to scratch it!”
This is not to say that anyone with a passing interest in true crime secretly longs to kill, but exploring that curiosity with a “light touch” could help ease any discomfort that comes along with that interest.
Given the enduring popularity of true crime in entertainment—as seen from documentaries such as “Making a Murderer” and “The Jinx”—society’s collective fascination with murder is not going away any time soon. So, in the meantime, why not laugh about it?
—Fernanda de la Mora, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.
Copyright Robert T. Muller.
This article was originally published on Psychology Today