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U of C Prof posits rise in true crime shows linked to anxiety surrounding current political climate

By Gayathri Peringod, May 28 2019 —

A researcher at the University of Calgary says that the recent rise in the popularity of true crime television shows and documentaries is linked to anxiety surrounding the current political climate.

Sasha Reid, a Law and Society professor at the university, points to a well-documented trend that links the rise in interest in true crime shows to times of political crisis.

“The interest comes in waves, and peaks in a time and space where there is a high degree of uncertainty,” said Reid. “It’s often highly influenced by what’s going on in our politics.”

Reid suggests that the recent wave of interest in true crime may be caused by the events that transpired since the 2016 American election.

“I remember the night of the election,” said Reid. “I went to bed thinking that I would wake up to a female president. When I discovered that Trump had won, I turned to my partner and said, ‘Well, I guess we can expect to see a rise in [true crime] shows, then.’”

Since Donald Trump’s election to the American presidency, 34 English-speaking true crime shows have been released, including releases such as Making a Murderer and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.

“People tend to watch these shows more when there is large-scale political uncertainty in the world,” Reid said. “I think that the increase in these shows’ popularity can at least partially be attributed to the anxiety in the political sphere.”

Reid joked that she’s contributing to the trend — she features in an upcoming Netflix documentary about Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber.

Reid, who holds two masters degrees — one in applied psychology and child development and another in criminology and socio-legal studies — is pursuing a PhD in developmental psychology at the University of Toronto. She currently concentrates her research on the background and early development of sexually-motivated serial killers across the world.

When asked about the reasoning behind why political uncertainty and crime shows are linked, Reid likened the phenomenon to her own feelings while watching scary stories.

“These shows create an atmosphere of controlled panic — people want to experience fear that they can see, deal with and move on,” she said. “Once it’s over, they can go back to their lives. It helps them deal with the anxiety they feel about the political atmosphere, which is beyond their control.”

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