I can be a picky listener, viewer and reader when it comes to true crime. Whether that comes in the form of a podcast, television show or documentary or reading an article or a book, I always come to the oversaturated true crime genre with a healthy dose (or twelve) of skepticism.
The reason for that skepticism — and it doesn’t matter who is the one delivering the true crime story, as I’ve seen this occur with laypeople, seasoned journalists and everyone in between — is that often in the true crime genre, I’ve seen people give police, prosecutors, judges, juries and so on, the benefit of the doubt. There’s a presumption that they are the “heroes” of the story and therefore, there’s no baked-in skepticism of police procedures, prosecutorial actions, bias from the bench, the jury box and so on.
Similarly, especially in the year 2021, if you’re hosting a true crime podcast, show, documentary or writing a true crime story, there’s no excuse for perpetuating outdated material, like the so-called validity of a polygraph test. Or blood splatter analysis. Or handwriting analysis. Or bitemark analysis. Or any number of proven junk science measures that still pervade our criminal justice system.
Finally, aside from those two items, something I very much disdain within the true crime genre is any iota of sensationalizing. Yes, there is an appetite for these whodunits, these mysteries, these inexplicable murders and everything in between, which is why the genre is oversaturated, but that doesn’t mean those presenting such stories need to sensationalize it. In fact, often times, those stories speak for themselves, with no sensationalizing needed.
I can’t remember the name of the podcast now, but I tried one true crime podcast out recently and “noped” out after barely finishing one of the episodes. And that’s because the two hosts checked all three of the aforementioned boxes in the negative: a propensity to trust the police, the prosecutors and the “system” overall; giving credence to junk science; and sensationalizing the storytelling of the case at hand.
All of that is to say what I don’t like about the true crime genre, but what I do like is that these stories are told at all. That the victims involved get to have another day in court, so to speak (and sometimes, literally). That often, these true crime stories being told at all can lead to real justice being done by exposing the flaws in the system, as the In the Dark podcast did for Curtis Flowers in one of the most remarkable feats of journalism I’ve ever heard.
And yes, morbidly, I’m fascinated by the why and the how of these crimes. How do our fellow human beings get to a point of doing such a crime? Perpetrating such brutality? Or that our society got to such a point that we allowed an innocent person to take the fall for it? Whatever the case, there’s obviously a morbid curiosity factor driving some of the attraction to the genre, as odd as that seems. That’s what makes walking the line between our natural, morbid curiosity and sensationalizing so difficult to balance out sometimes.
One of the podcasts I’ve sunk my brain into lately, which I feel is pulling off telling these stories well is The Generation Why Podcast, which I’ve mentioned a few times lately when reviewing the cases they’ve presented. For laymen, Justin and Aaron are appropriately skeptical of police and prosecutors, they realize and note junk science when it’s being used and as best I’ve been able to gather, they don’t sensationalize anything. They are just trying to tell these stories, and where applicable, poke holes in official narratives.
I appreciate them and their efforts. They’ve been doing this for nearly a decade now. From what I’ve been able to tell, they do some research similar to what I might do starting off: They Google. They watch YouTube videos. They learn about the case and the people involved. And in some cases, it seems like they go the additional journalistic step of reaching out to the families involved and talking to them to learn more about the victims or the case.
From there, they map out the case from beginning to end (if there is an “end”) while offering their perspectives and theories along the way. Or interpretations, of say, a 9-1-1 call or the actions of a would-be suspect. Or the actions of the police (or inactions, as it were sometimes). I don’t always agree with how they view or interpret what happened. For example, I listened to the July 18 episode, “The Murder of Jamie Gough,” and I disagreed with Justin (I believe), who said he didn’t want to wave the banner of Mike Hernandez (who killed Gough) as the flag-bearer for why we ought to re-think charging children as adults. However, those are precisely the cases in which you do wave that banner! For the unpopular cases. Otherwise, there will never be a “pure, good” case in which to do it. The principle is the principle regardless.
But that’s okay! It’s okay for me to disagree with them about their personal interpretations. As long as they aren’t turning me off with the aforementioned three issues I’ve seen in other true crime material, then it’s all good, and they haven’t and aren’t!
That simple, but engrossing format they have honed for years now has me hooked. I’ve knocked out a few episodes since only discovering them, somehow, within the last week or so. If you’re like me and both have a healthy skepticism toward how true crime is presented and also hadn’t yet heard of this podcast, then I highly recommend giving it a listen! It will satisfy your concerns and get your mind rolling to analyze and examine the cases just as Aaron and Justin do.
Here is a link to their website.