Pop Culture Shock: Investigation: Paranoia

Published 2011-02-02T12:43:00Z”/>


Earl Parsons

Every episode is structured the same way. It starts with the victim’s biography. He was a good kid. He had so much potential.

They introduce the defendant. Sinister music is played.

They interview the cops, the lawyers, the forensic investigators. You can feel the tension in the courtroom.

They give the verdict and the story is over. The seeds of fear have been planted.

Millions of homebodies and unemployed people waste entire afternoons watching these true-crime documentaries on cable television, usually with the shutters drawn.

For some reason, watching graphic depictions of real murder set to dramatizing music has a way of making people fearful and needlessly reactionary.

The truTV and Investigation Discovery channels have helped sell more security systems and rape whistles than any sales pitch or Take Back the Night rally possibly could. The formulaic structure of these shows coupled with their terrifying subject matter place viewers into a comfortably suspicious mood, and they’ll suddenly want to spark up conversations about the “Chicago Nut Strangler” or the “Tuscaloosa Turkey Terrorist” over the water cooler.

America loves murder. Taking an innocent life is cowardly, and Americans love to feel morally superior to strangers. It’s the reason why serial killer worship has become so popular in the wake of John Wayne Gacy and the Zodiac Killer.

There hasn’t been a notable serial killer since the BTK killer and the D.C. sniper, so these shows tend to focus on murder investigations that made breaking news in their communities when they happened. This trend has extended beyond basic cable – it’s become the primary fodder of network newsmagazine shows like “Dateline” and “20/20.”

I’ve always found it ironic that the same people who complain about excessive violence in the media are usually the ones who send out chain e-mails advising people to lock their doors at night and keep an eye on their children after dark. They’ll write an angry letter when someone coughs up blood in an action movie, but they’ll listen to a forensic scientist’s analysis of a semen sample over dinner.

The world is flooded with jealous, opportunistic and insane people who will steal another person’s life for all the wrong reasons. But the world is also filled with selfless and compassionate people who would sacrifice their own lives for all the right reasons.

You can never dwell on the hearts of evil men, because you’ll only see yourself reflected back through the darkness.

Earl Parsons can be reached at

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