Around every September 11, I spend hours sitting before my television watching documentaries about the terrorist attacks on America.
Every other day of the year, you’ll find me consuming a wide variety of true crime stories, on podcasts, on television, or in books.
I get a lot of comments about how heavy that must be, or how that might affect my anxiety or dreams, etc. Or even, how morbid it is to consume the darkest moments of people’s lives as entertainment.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not for everyone. And what I’m about to say is probably relatively controversial; you don’t have to agree, but I’m going to put it out there for consideration anyway.
When I’ve reflected on how or why I am drawn to these types of stories, I’ve found it’s for at least two reasons.
For those of us that can, I think we have an opportunity to almost do a service to the victims and those impacted by crimes.
Observing these stories, we learn about their loved ones. We bear witness to the life of those who have passed on, but also to the pain and grief of those affected. Giving them an audience and a space to tell their own story, and holding space for the story of their loved one, is cathartic to many, and the value of that cannot be understated.
(I’ll add for the sake of adding: not all. There are many cringey shows and podcasts out there that only strive for salacious reactions. But setting those aside for more respectable sources that offer truth and justice, as well as honor and respect where it’s due, and no mercy where it’s not.)
And in many cases, we know the absolute value of justice, and often demand it. The true crime audience has brought numerous criminals to justice, refused to let cold cases be forgotten, set free the wrongfully convicted, and saved innocent lives. We’ve gone beyond the CSI/Law & Order effect of the early 2000’s and moved into real knowledge of investigation, criminal profiling, the legal system, forensics, DNA, and the like, and it’s created an army of armchair detectives that have led law enforcement to solve crimes, identified Jane and John Doe’s, and helped get innocent men and women the evidence they need to have their convictions overturned.
So this year, when I’m watching the documentaries about 9/11, or when I’m listening to yet another season of Truth & Justice or Jensen & Holes, or watching another episode of Dateline or Web of Lies, please understand, this is not my entertainment, exactly.
Something about me, the way I was made, the way I’m wired, it was made for this. It was made to bear witness to these stories. To hold them in my heart.
And I don’t take that lightly. When it was appropriate, I’ve gone as far as to write to lawmakers. I’ve prayed for and wept with countless families as they’ve bravely shared their dear, lost loved ones with me through the screen or over a microphone.
Their lives matter, even after they’re over. Their loss matters. Justice for them matters.
So the next time someone asks “how can you watch/listen to/read that stuff?” I’ll probably just give them this URL. And tell them, it’s because these stories, they matter.