Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why are crime TV series so popular?

I found this interesting article two days ago and was happily surprised that the author used a picture of Alex to punctuate his words.

By Robin Oatley

CSI ratings show that it’s a very popular series. The same goes for Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Criminal Minds, and dozens of similar shows. What is it about these series that make them so popular?

First of all, let’s assume the general public does not like crime. With this assumption in mind it’s at least a bit peculiar that we all tune in to shows containing so much violence. So what is it about violence that makes us want to watch it on TV? Let’s face it; very few people would like to stick around when they see someone get murdered. Maybe it’s not the violence then, but the crime fighting aspect that makes us watch. After all, we all have a built in sense of justice, proven by all those studies where people would rather let no one have any reward at all than letting someone else (who did not deserve it) receive more of the aforementioned reward. This built in sense of justice could be the basis of our desire to watch the bad man go down.

This sounds like a good explanation, but it doesn’t explain why we keep on watching even when the bad guy doesn’t get caught. Which, in fact, happens more often than one would expect in the perfect world of a TV series. So although this may be a part of the puzzle, it can’t be the entire story. Is it then our desire to feel good about ourselves by seeing someone else has it worse?

Kathryn Erbe as Alexandra Eames on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Kathryn Erbe as Alexandra Eames on Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

I admit this theory seems to be very mean and there are very few people who would admit they actually feel better about themselves when they know there are people out there who have it worse, mostly because this isn’t a conscious process. But whether you accept it or not, seeing someone on TV in distress makes you think to yourself: ‘thank God that isn’t happening to me’. Of course it’s great if the bad guy gets caught, but it isn’t absolutely necessary for you to feel better about your life. You already feel better just by knowing things could be much, much worse.

So are these factors all? Is this the secret formula? It explains why one would enjoy the episodes, even when the bad guy escapes. This doesn’t explain why there is such a need to make such creative episodes though. Creative episodes in this context meaning very interesting/abnormal deaths, for instance. So why is there a need to make these? The obvious explanation is that is prevents boredom. But why do we get bored with watching ordinary crimes over and over again? Is it perhaps because we like to have puzzles to solve? Over time the human mind has grown to solve puzzle and to see through intricate situations. These skills are of course very useful in society (after all, knowing what someone else is up to could give you quite the advantage), so it’s only logical that we would want to stimulate our ‘puzzle-solving’ skills.

So it seems it is a combination of us trying to satisfy our sense of justice, our desire to feel good about ourselves and our urge to have thorough knowledge of someone else’s intentions that makes us so addicted to crime series. Combine this with good marketing and skilled actors and you have a success formula that has worked and will continue to work for years and years and years.

go here to the poll

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