Our Collective Obsession with True Crime

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Over the past several years, true crime’s hold on the culture has tightened into a vise grip, with new titles flooding podcast charts and streaming platforms on a daily basis. This week on Critics at Large, Vinson Cunningham, Naomi Fry, and Alexandra Schwartz take stock of the phenomenon, first by speaking with fans of the genre to understand its appeal. Then, onstage at the 2024 Cascade PBS Ideas Festival, they continue the discussion with The New Yorker’s Patrick Radden Keefe, whose books “Empire of Pain” and “Say Nothing” are exemplars of the form. The panel considers Keefe’s recent piece “The Oligarch’s Son,” which illuminates the journalistic challenges of reporting on sordid events—not least the difficulty of managing the emotions and expectations of victims’ families. As its appeal has skyrocketed, true crime has come under greater scrutiny. The most successful entries bypass lurid details and shed light on the society in which these transgressions occur. But “the price you have to pay in sociology, in anthropology, in enriching our understanding of something beyond the crime itself—it’s fairly high,” Keefe says. “You have to remember that this is a real story about real people. They’re alive. They’re out there.”

This episode was recorded on May 4, 2024, at the Cascade PBS Ideas Festival, in Seattle, Washington.

Read, watch, and listen with the critics:

“UK True Crime Podcast”
“My Favorite Murder”
Empire of Pain,” by Patrick Radden Keefe
Say Nothing,” by Patrick Radden Keefe
Paradise Lost,” by John Milton
A Loaded Gun,” by Patrick Radden Keefe (The New Yorker)
The Oligarch’s Son,” by Patrick Radden Keefe (The New Yorker)
“Capote” (2005)
In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote (The New Yorker)
“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” (2015, 2024)
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi
“Law & Order” (1990-)
“Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022)
“The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016)
“O.J.: Made in America” (2016)
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery,” by Robert Kolker

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