How do we make podcasting futureproof? What needs to be done to challenge the industry to innovate and produce daring content? In this new column titled “Revelations”, Meera Kumar pokes and prods the audio industry and its creations to reveal the shows worth listening to and their place in the zeitgeist…
For the sake of my humanity and the industry’s creativity, there needs to be a one-year blanket ban on the production of true crime podcasts.
This may seem counter-intuitive. Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was just watched for 196.2 million hours in its first week. And Serial’s update on Adnan Syed’s release recently made its way to the top of the Apple Podcasts and Spotify charts – almost eight years since they last reported on the subject. With those commercial successes in mind, it’s going to be nigh impossible to convince the streaming giants and producers eyeing up those ~24.5 million Dahmer viewers (of which I am one) that my proposed ban is a good idea.
But, hear me out.
Every production company has a hand on the teat of this cash cow, trying to milk the true crime genre for everything it’s worth. There’s a steady flow of new podcasts – as well as TV shows and YouTube channels – dedicated to feeding our fascination with the macabre and the taboo in a socially acceptable form. I am not immune to the morbid curiosity – I too rubberneck on the M25 when I spot a crumpled bumper. These shows allow us a peek into an experience that we hope we’ll never have ourselves. From a safe virtual distance, we are free to indulge in and analyse the darker sides of humanity. So, when we get home, we put on our headphones, hit play, and choose to feel fear, adrenaline, and sadness in a controlled environment.
It’s an obsession that is honoured quite accurately in the Hulu show Only Murders in the Building. The first time I listened to Serial or Dirty John, I would try to analyse the psychology of the suspect, think about how I would protect myself in real life, and feel sickened at the events that ensued.
Whilst watching Dahmer last week, however, I realised that the genre has lost its impact. I was watching another human being trapped by a killer, and I felt almost numb to it, as though my tolerance for the graphic detail of a serial killer’s routine had increased. I felt more uncomfortable with my own lack of fear than I did with the storyline itself. (That’s not to say that I think Dahmer’s actions aren’t horrific and unforgivable, and the dramatisation of his crimes and his victims isn’t ethically questionable.) But my thoughts were limited to, “serial killers do slightly different versions of the same thing” and “I feel awful for the people who experienced this then and have to relive it now.”
Could my desensitisation be down to the nights of insomnia that I’d spent consuming video after recommended video of YouTubers applying make up whilst recounting the sickening details of a murder in their latest vodcast? Maybe it’s easier to digest the details of one person eating another when you’re watching the narrator apply Fenty foundation with their new beauty blender.
This vodcast format is creative in its juxtaposition though, I’ll give it that. (And wildly successful – true crime podcasters like John Allen have racked up millions of subscribers on YouTube and then seen that success spill over into the downloads of their podcasts.) Despite the fact that we’ve built successful shows using beautiful sound design, Emmy-award worthy cinematography and hot actors, this creativity is increasingly what’s missing. Something far more important that is often also missing is care when retelling these traumatic events. (Side note: Serial itself is receiving more and more criticism for inaccuracy.Undisclosed explores the story in more depth).
These days, both the audio and visual industries are so keen to push out money-making series as fast as they can that they’re starting to feel repetitive and detached from the reality on which they’re based. Honestly, it’s no surprise to me that the podcast industry hasn’t produced another hit like Serial – a dilemma that Nick Quah ponders in his recent Vulture article. But maybe that’s partly because people are so oversaturated with true crime across mediums.
So perhaps a ban on true crime production will give the podcast industry a good 12 months of planning for the next great true crime show – and then maybe they’ll come out with something worth trading eight hours of my life for and potentially more popular and innovative than the repetitive film/TV offering. By that time, maybe I’ll feel something too.
Listen to Meera’s Podcast Recommendations:
I’ve swapped out true crime for some true-crime-adjacent content:
Alice Isn’t Dead
For those needing a break from the stabbing and gutting, the ever-popular Alice Isn’t Dead is creatively made up of fictional audio diaries.
Sweet Bobby is a live investigation into catfishing and a less gory places to find drama.
Meera is an award-winning Producer and Content Development Exec. She was selected as one of the Rising Stars of 2022 in the British Podcast Awards, was named Best Entertainment Producer in the 2022 Audio Production Awards, and has won two Lovie Awards. Meera has produced stories for the BBC, Sony Music, Universal, UK Parliament, Waitrose, and other well-known brands. Meera is Ambie nominated, and has had her work featured in The Guardian and The Times and selected as one of Spotify’s Best Episodes Of 2021.