LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The true crime genre has always been around, but its popularity has soared recently — creating a true crime boom.
Streaming services like Netflix have filled the demand with documentaries and docuseries, while new podcasts pop up and dominate the charts.
One such podcast is Wine and Crime, started in 2017 by three childhood friends.
“We've always been interested in weird bizarre stories,” said Kenyon Laing, one of the hosts.
Laing, Lucy Fitzgerald and Amanda Jacobson turned the true crime comedy podcast into a business. All three now run the podcast as their full times jobs. Fitzgerald records from Iowa, Jacobson from Minnesota and Laing from Louisville.
“It’s great, you know, I have the best job on earth,” Laing said. “I get to wear my pajamas, drink wine and laugh with my girlfriends.”
Once they decided on a name, the three got to work. The interest in the podcast was immediate.
“We were on Twitter, chatting with people being like, keep an eye out, we're going to be a new podcast, we’re coming soon,” Laing said. “And suddenly we had 500 followers, 1,000 followers. And we hadn't even recorded yet.”
Now, there are even more true crime shows available. Data from the analytics company Podtrac shows we are indeed amidst a true crime boom. Using genres listed by Apple Podcasts — none of the 10 most downloaded new shows of 2017 were in the true crime genre. But in 2018, two of the ten were true crime. Then in 2019, four were on the list. The year 2020 saw the highest interest, with nine of 10 new podcasts falling under the true crime genre.
This media is not only collecting new fans, but bringing forever fans out into the open.
Michelle Bazeley and Emily Rainbolt are part of "Louisville Murderinos," a Facebook group dedicated to the true crime podcast “My Favorite Murder” that offers a space to discuss the topic with others who are passionate.
“A lot of us grew up and we had these interests and people are like, 'Oh that’s kind of weird…why are you studying murder, do you want to kill somebody?'” Rainbolt said.
The answer is no. Most true crime junkies aren’t trying to commit a murder, but rather avoid being murdered.
“You know, everybody has their thing,” Bazeley. “The stories don't scare me, they don't make me any more paranoid…I kind of like putting a name with a threat and making the unknown kind of known.”
That is a common theme among true crime fans. People want to have information so they can protect themselves.
Michael Cunnginham, a psychologist and communications professor at UofL, said interest in true crime isn’t new, it’s just newly available.
“There was a time when there were only three networks, they were limited in the amount of news they could put into the half hour slot,” Cunningham said. “Now there are multiple channels, podcast opportunities, internet opportunities.”
With the demand comes more and more media onto the market. But what is it about the terrifying, the unknown, that makes us want to see more? Well, part of the answer lies in our brains.
“This has to do with the aspects of the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, that are attuned to protection,” Cunningham said.
There is a physical component, a social component and a gender component too.
Wine and Crime demographics show 90% of listeners are women. A majority of the “Louisville Murderinos” are women as well.
“Women protect themselves through their personal relationships, and the information they have,” Cunningham said.
Rainbolt compared women listening to these podcasts to men watching survival shows like ones hosted by British adventurer Bear Grylls.
“So whenever [they’re] out in the middle of the woods, they know how to survive. Well unfortunately we're in a metaphorical…we're always in the woods, and there are possibly predators around us.” Rainbolt said. “For us, it is a survival thing.”
In addition to the survival aspect, Laing said it is cathartic to take back some of the violence. She and her co-hosts bring some levity to sad and scary crimes by taking power away from the perpetrators.
“In that way, [we] kind of empower victims and their families to be like this person is not to be revered, this person is to be reviled,” Laing said.
True crime, and particularly true crime comedy, are not genres for everyone. The Wine and Crime hosts have toed the line between recounting horrifying crimes and bringing a lightness to the listen well.
“We have gotten emails from people saying, you know, I knew this victim, thank you so much for covering their story. They were such a wonderful person,” Laing said.
These stories, that fascination with the unusual and bizarre has always been around. Now, it’s just coming out of the shadows of society, and into the mainstream.
“There's always been shows like Forensic Files or Unsolved Mysteries,” Laing said. “I just think that podcasts are the latest medium for telling these stories.”
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