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Paul Connolly on What Draws Us to True Crime

At the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic last year, people in the United Kingdom spent at least 40% of their waking hours watching television. Streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, saw over 12 million new subscriptions as the nation tried to pacify the boredom of lockdown. With more

Paul Connolly, Irish investigative journalist
Paul Connolly, Irish investigative journalist

and more people turning to true crime documentaries, television channels and streaming services kept up with the demand, releasing new shows like Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, and American Murder: The Family Next Door.

However, do people realise that true crime documentaries affect us? Irish investigative journalist Paul Connolly and presenter of the first season of Netflix's Inside the World's Toughest Prisons, explains why there has been an increase in true crime documentaries and how these affect us psychologically. He also gives us insight into the Inside the World's Toughest Prisons Series.

Connolly believes that we should be blaming Netflix for the spate of crime documentaries as everyone these days has a Netflix subscription. As he says: "It comes after the How to Make a Murderer series. It was a long formed 10 part documentary series, which broke down to a granular level the mechanics of what makes a murderer. I think that's what fascinated people."

Why there has been such a surge in true-crime documentaries? Paul explains: "Obviously there is a domino effect when a global platform - like Netflix - puts out a series like that and does extraordinarily well then regional and national terrestrial television stations will almost copy it. That's how TV works! There is very little original content these days. For example, if something goes well on Channel 4, Channel 5 will tweak it and do exactly that same, vice versa with ITV and BBC. So that is why in television and radio there tend to be the same things at the same time because so much has already been done, but it's acceptable to make programmes with just a slight twist, especially if you think they are going to do well. "

What draws us to true crime?

He added:" The impact it has had on today's society is that people have now realised their guilty pleasure is darker than initially assumed, as people tend to love the nitty-gritty detail of murder; the darkest of all things that we sort of experience as humans. What is it about us as people that makes us interested in one thing that we are most scared about? Our greatest fear is something that inspires us to be most interested."

Criminology professor Scott Bonn, PhD, and author of Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of The World's Most Savage Murderers, research found that the public's fascination with true crime on TV is multifaceted and complex. These programmes excite and tease people, so their fascination is more general fixation on violence and trauma. Bonds says:" The actions of a serial killer may be horrible to behold, but much of the public cannot look away due to the thrill of the spectacle."

Bonn suggests the jolt of adrenaline you receive from watching can also harm your body due to prolonged exposure to true crime; these programmes can cause your stress levels to spike. He says: "The euphoric effect of serial killers on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters."

Connolly spoke about how true crime documentaries influence the public's attitudes towards crime and the police. 'There's a lot of what is called 'access documentaries' like the terrific programme on Channel 4 with really groundbreaking access, 24 Hours in Police Custody. BBC now have access to a forensics team. So in terms of access programmes, these are all the rage!'

"These shows affect people's attitudes towards police and other professional bodies like forensics and A&E workers, etc., as it offers a window into the things that they do on a day to day basis, which is very important as they are essentially the weight-bearing pillars of society. So it is crucial to know how they operate and appreciate who they are."

"Inside the Worlds Toughest Prisons"
Connolly filming "Inside the Worlds Toughest Prisons"

Inside The World's Toughest Prisons struck a chord and resonated with viewers as it took them a step closer and said: this is what prison is like. This is what it is like being an inmate.

"We satisfied a curiosity within a curiosity because we let people step into my shoes and visit a prison, knowing they could leave. Which was important for me." Connolly joked:

Our darkest fear is what draws us to watch true crime documentaries, taking us into a reality we rarely see in our lives or not at all. Therefore with Paul Connolly's experience of filming Inside the Worlds Toughest Prisons, he brought us the satisfaction of what drives people to commit crimes and do things that absolutely terrify us straight to our living rooms, shining a light on what prison is really like across the globe.

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