Over the past year there has been a proliferation of true crime documentaries released on both television and streaming services alike. From six part dramas to anthology series, they have all been incredibly popular and often part of the top 10 list on Netflix for at least a week after release, particularly during lockdown. But the question is, can they have a greater societal purpose? Or do they exist purely for our entertainment.
Crime has consistantly been a popular genre of entertainment particularly for the younger generation. And why wouldn’t it be? Being confronted with mystery and danger ultimately satiates our inner thrill seekers and sofa detectives, as well as prompting avid discussions and debates over popular conspiracy theories all over the internet, always inspiring a new meme or controversial Tweet.
I cannot see a time where crime shows will not captivate and intrigue…
But can crime shows serve a greater purpose? Can they actually positively impact the cases or crimes that they cover? Being a fan of the genre myself, I have often wondered whether new evidence comes to light, or new witnesses come forward as a result of these documentaries, so I decided to look into it, and discover whether there really is a higher purpose to these fan favourites.
Recently, Netflix series Unsolved Mysteries introduced audiences to 6 new intrigueing unsolved cases. Ranging from the tragic to the downright weird, these true stories gripped me from the first episode, and I was not the only one. Upon its release, it stirred a great deal of discussion on social media including a multitude of new conspiracy theories on each of the cases.
While mostly providing an opportunity for wannabe detectives and keyboard warriors to engage in furtive arguments surrounding seemingly insignificant case details, these discussions went a step further in the case of Alonso Brooks.
This is the glimmer of hope and intrigue which has made the show so popular with true crime fans, as it means they themselves could have a positive impact and be potentially instrumental in solving a real life crime
Following episode four, it was reported that the body of Brooks has since been exhumed by the FBI pending further investigation, after new witnesses came forward, and two major inconsistancies were found in the origional medical examination report. The episode follows the mysterious disappearance of 23 year old Brooks after he attended a house party in rural Kansas just a few miles from home. Following the release of the series, the show updated Twitter to announce that the case was recently ‘reopened by the FBI who are offering a $100K reward for tips leading to an arrest in the case’.
Furthermore, according to an interview that show runner Terry Dunn Meurer did with Variety, this was the episode that generated the most tips from the public and incredibly, resulted in new names coming forward which he claims have now been given to the FBI to further investigate. Not only this, but since the announcement on Twitter, Unsolved Mysteries has urged people to send in other cases to them to not only raise public awareness, but so that other people can follow these cases online and even be a part of the investigation themselves!
This is amazing news for fans of the show who want justice for the featured cases, and even better, this is not the first time the show has helped solve these seemingly unsolvable cases. In the previous series which ran between 1987 and 1999 over 300 cases were solved. This is the glimmer of hope and intrigue which has made the show so popular with true crime fans, as it means they themselves could have a positive impact and be potentially instrumental in solving a real life crime.
However, the same level of success cannot be attributed to The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann which was released on Netflix in 2019. I’m sure you remember the fuss that was made over it, and the avid bingeing of this six-part series despite the inevitable unsatisfying ending to what is sadly a very familiar case.
Described as both a documentary and drama on IMDb, this series was frequently criticised for over dramatising many aspects of the case, which is often considered one of the most famous child abduction cases in recent history, particularly in the UK.
However, while the show was popular upon its release, it failed to have the same positive impact that could be seen in Unsolved Mysteries. While since it’s release there has been a new enquiry opened which centres on a German man who was believed to be in the area at the time, there is no apparent link to this new line of enquiry and the release of the documentary. In fact, according to the BBC as of June this year, there are talks of the case being dropped due to a lack of clues from the public. While some may argue that the resurgence of publicity surrounding the case was prompted by the release of this popular documentary series, without proof of a correlation, the series remains just that, a series, which purely functions as a means to both inform and predominantly, to entertain.
New BBC drama Reported Missing is one such show which I think will play an important part in exposing the raw truth behind the tragedy of missing person cases
On the other hand however, documentaries can have a positive impact without direct involvement in particular cases and, on a much larger scale.
New BBC drama Reported Missing is one such show which I think will play an important part in exposing the raw truth behind the tragedy of missing person cases. The show, which is described as documenting the search for the missing from the moment the phone rings, is a tense and emotional rollercoaster. TV crews were given access to five police operations last summer in order to create this documentary series, and as a result, the show has been popular for its real and gritty portrayal of these intense and often heartbreaking police investigations.
While audiences could not get directly involved in these already solved cases, the series has and will hopefully have a broader impact on this type of crime. With a documentary on missing person cases such as this getting a prime time slot on BBC One, this will hopefully raise awareness for these everyday nightmares that often never receive a great deal of coverage from media outlets.
According to charity Missing People, someone is reported missing in the UK every 90 seconds, and there are a shocking 180,000 reported missing per year. These appalling statistics tragically don’t often get talked about, particularly on national news, which is why a documentary like this is so important and will ideally encourage the public and media alike to bring these cases to people’s attention.
Ultimately, I cannot see a time where crime shows will not captivate and intrigue, especially as more and more are released every week on numerous platforms. Although I worry that we are becoming desensitised to the horrors and evils of the world through these documentaries we see as ‘entertainment’, this is why it is so important that more and more of these shows can be seen to have had a real and positive impact on society. So next time you’re sat at home watching a crime documentary, just take a second to reflect on this. Ultimately, whether directly or indirectly, it is my hope that more and more of these popular documentaries will begin to look beyond viewing figures, and realise that they can use their platforms for a greater good.
Featured image courtesy of Markus Spiske via Unsplash.
Other image courtesy of Fred Moon via Unsplash.
Video courtesy of Netflix via YouTube.
Image use license found here. No changes made to these images.
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