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True crime is the modern woman’s soap opera

True crime is the modern woman’s soap opera

True crime is the modern woman’s soap opera
February 18
11:15 2020

When I was a young child circa 2006, I used to walk home from elementary school every day. Usually, when I got home from school, my mother was going about her household business with the TV on in the background. More often than not, she’d be watching “Days of our Lives” or “All My Children, classic soap operas that had been on the air since the late ‘60s and early ‘70s

Now, flash forward to my college years. I come home to my apartment from school, start making dinner, and turn on “My Favorite Murder,” a popular true crime podcast. I stir pasta and wash dishes to the sound of two women casually discussing true crime as though it were the weather. Miles away at her home, my mother now watches “Mindhunter” and “Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer” — shows that talk about famous murder cases, fictional or otherwise.

What happened to the modern woman in this 15 year gap that changed the direction of their preferred entertainment so drastically? Or, perhaps, did women prefer this kind of informative entertainment the whole time, but had no way to access it until now? 

You have to look at the similarities and differences between soap operas and true crime content before you can understand why the latter is more consumed now. For instance, soap operas are called soap operas because soap companies were among those to first advertise to housewives watching the show alone at home. Now, podcasts and TV shows have commercials and promotional codes for companies such as Hello Fresh, a meal kit delivery service and Madison Reed, a hair dye subscription

True crime shows and podcasts also often contain the same salacious details that soap operas did: unfaithful spouses, enormous theft, rebellious teenagers and murder plots. The only difference is that soap operas tried to mimic someone’s dramatic life, and true crime, at times, seems more unbelievable than fiction. 

Soap operas were also made primarily by women, for women. Many true crime shows and podcasts are the same way, like “Serial” and “Crime Junkie.” This kind of media, regardless of content, is notable for being female-driven and centered.

The differences between the two are clear, however: soap operas are, at the end of the day, a light TV show you can watch to unwind. True crime has no such soothing qualities, and instead sheds light on some of the many horrors that humans are capable of. 

While the world has always been dangerous for women, it actually isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. Rape and sexual assaults rates have actually fallen 63 percent since 1993, and violent crime as a whole has fallen quite drastically, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the media machine thrives on the gory details of the latest so-called “Trial of the Century.”  TV ratings go through the roof when a notorious case is aired, such as the OJ Simpson trial

I argue that this decline in violent crime is, in part, due to women knowing more about crime and being more able to protect themselves in that kind of situation. 

When given a choice in “violent reading material,” the majority of women choose reading about a true crime case over other material, according to a study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal. Women are overwhelmingly picking to absorb this kind of content, not because it makes them feel safer alone, but because they can make themselves safer after learning about someone else’s tragic circumstances. 

A ’60s housewife or even a modern mother with time on her hands could watch a soap opera and think to themselves, “thank God that’s not my family,” meanwhile the young woman today watches a true crime show and thinks, “thank God that’s not me.” 

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Breck Sunlin

Breck Sunlin

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