There is a long-standing concept within American pop culture of art imitating life. This is to say that something observed in the arts – think movies, TV, literature, etc. – actually plays out in real life. Do you believe it happens a lot? And if so, does watching true crime shows on TV have any impact on your feelings about personal safety?
No doubt we Americans love crime shows. From crime documentaries to criminal reality shows, we cannot get enough. We will watch everything from forensic investigations to tearful victims telling their stories. The question is whether all this true crime has any impact on viewers.
Vivint, a nationwide home security and smart home provider, wanted to know. So they conducted a survey among more than 1,000 true crime fans and compared the data against Google search trends and crime statistics from the FBI. They learned a lot about what people think of crime shows and how it impacts their own perceptions of safety.
Why People Watch Crime Shows
Before getting to the data relating to how crime shows impact viewers, it might be helpful to understand who watches the shows and why. For starters, the research discovered that Gen Z made up the largest group of true crime show watchers. They watched an average of 4.6 hours per week. Millennials came in second at 3.8 hours. Gen X and baby-boom viewers ranked third and fourth at 3.7 and 3.4 hours respectively.
The demographics are as surprising as the reasons people watch crime shows. Here are the top five, based on the percentage of survey respondents who cited each one as a reason:
- Curiosity – 73%
- Entertainment – 46%
- Mystery – 45%
- Storytelling – 33%
- Fascination – 32%
The fact that 73% watch out of curiosity indicates a genuine desire to know what’s going on. It is the same reason we all look out the window when we hear sirens. Curiosity explains everything from rubbernecking at car accidents to gathering down at the corner when there’s an ambulance in the neighborhood. We just want to know.
How People Respond to Crime TV
Moving on to true crime TV reactions, the research discovered that watching such shows produces definite reactions. The number one reaction is the decision to prioritize personal safety. Some 63% said consuming crime TV shows did just that. If nothing else, at least that is one benefit of crime TV. It’s never a bad thing when people make a concerted effort to be more safe.
The following four responses rounded out the top five in the survey:
- Invest in home security – 39%
- Be more fearful of surroundings – 34%
- Feel more anxious – 30%
- Take a self-defense class – 25%
It is unfortunate that watching crime TV made people more fearful and anxious. But it’s understandable. True crime is reality, even if it is dressed up for entertainment purposes. True crime stories are real stories that have happened to real people. Knowing that is enough to make some viewers fearful and anxious.
On the other hand, 54% of the survey respondents indicated that watching true crime TV helped them better prepare for unsafe conditions. A third of the respondents indicated having been victimized by a crime said watching crime TV helped them respond better during their actual incidents.
It’s What You Do With It
One thing about the survey that struck me personally was the fact that 46% of true crime watchers found entertainment value in their preferred TV programs. There is nothing wrong with that, by the way. But it does raise the legitimate question of what people do with the information they take in.
It is always possible that there are criminals out there watching TV crime shows in order to improve their skills. Just one example shows that featuring real-life forensic investigations could unknowingly offer criminals tips to get around investigations. You never know.
This is not to suggest that true crime should be taken off TV so as not to help criminals. Like anything else, the value of any information gleaned from crime TV is in how it’s used. Not only that, any kind of information – no matter how safe it is perceived to be – can be used for nefarious purposes.
Being More Aware Helps A Lot
I was also struck by the fact that 34% of the survey respondents mentioned being more fearful of their surroundings as a result of watching true crime on TV. That is bad in the sense that living in fear is unhealthy. But it’s good if those same viewers set aside their fears and made an effort to be more aware of what’s going on around them.
Being more aware is one of the greatest defenses against crime. Criminals purposely look for people who are not paying attention. They prey on victims who seem oblivious, victims who will not know they are being victimized until it’s too late.
That’s why burglars who roam through residential neighborhoods are looking for unlocked doors. An unlocked door is a good sign that a careless homeowner resides there. More importantly, a careless owner is an easier target.
Being Aware Leads to Action
Being aware leads to action. At least that’s the way it should be. When you know that you are making yourself vulnerable to crime, the chances are pretty good you will take steps to protect yourself. You will not leave yourself vulnerable if you can avoid it.
I have watched my fair share of true crime on TV. I’ve noticed how frequently victims were taken advantage of because they weren’t aware. And yet, even being aware doesn’t guarantee 100% safety. Nothing can, by the way.
Do you watch real crime TV, and if so, does it make you feel less safe? Take some advice from this article and use every bit of knowledge you gain from crime TV to make yourself safer. If you take a proactive approach to preventing crime before you become a victim, your chances of being hit go way down.