“Think about what sort of programme you’d like to listen to/ watch, then begin researching it”

Whenever the topic of conversation turns to television and programmes I can’t help but mention those gruesome true life documentaries, which engulf me with some sort of guilty pleasure. A documentary is something consisting of official pieces of written, printed, or other matter or a movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report and that’s what I enjoy about them. A documentary reveals a slice of reality that I would otherwise not be able to see.

Whether it’s seen on a computer, TV, smart phone or is a full length documentary or short video clip, the rapid expansion of social media means that people can see and share the most horrific of stories all the time. Stories of crime past and present, true or fictional are fascinating to me and I’m not alone. Our fascination with the macabre has always been there, even before social media. Think of the classic novels such as ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley, public hangings or the ghastly gore movies by Herschel Gordon Lewis. Humans have always had a natural intrigue toward all things peculiar and grotesque. So whether it is in the movies, in music, on television, or on the streets, death and murder, especially if it is manifestly brutish, macabre and perverse, is all the rage. But what is it that makes this subject matter in programmes so intriguing and enjoyable? Are we becoming desensitized to such violence when it transforms from fiction into the real thing?

A documentary has the quality of fiction it evokes something larger than the particular story or characters at hand, and lingers in our memory. For me Grierson’s definition is still the best: ‘the creative interpretation of reality’.  Documentaries contain an immense amount of information but can still demonstrate artistic flare which is important in telling the story. For me what makes a great documentary is access. Documentaries offer the chance to view and experience something I would otherwise never be able to see or find out myself. This is particularly true when it comes to documentaries based on real life events, in particular crimes and murder stories.

Crimes and murder stories reported on the news only show the sheer facts of the event, inevitably desensitizing us as the audience. The news reports are there purely to inform acting as an efficient information machine to generate the story as quickly and as objectively as possible. However, if we watched a documentary on the same crime being reported are reactions and experience of the case would differ entirely. Crimes and murder stories, which may make us, recoil in horror initially, when presented as a documentary they become a source of entertainment. Documentaries on crime stories allow us to delve deeper into the psyche of everyone involved, including our own and the cases become a cause of intrigue and sordid pleasure. It taps into a very human need to understand, investigate and justify how such terrible things can happen. We wonder why people kill, the person behind the crime and how their deed was accomplished.

Under the law, murder is not at all just a matter of black and white or absolute conviction just like human fascination with homicide goes far beyond the practical. Our fascination with crime stories derives from the powerful emotions they arouse when we consider the fate and fortune of the victims and the pain that remains for their survivors. We enjoy questioning the motives, our ethics and getting to know the murderers. Murder, fact or fictional, is intriguing. But I still prefer and am more affected by documentaries based on true events. All of this can be said for hour long documentary, ’12 year old lifer’ which is one of my favourite true life crime stories and documentaries.

The documentary is so profound: it’s artistic, real and a crime so tragic it lingers on your mind for days after. What’s unique about the documentary is that you find yourself sympathizing and liking the two young boys who committed the crime over the actual victim. Yes, the boys committed murder but it feels like it was something else. The boys had no prior criminal records, had no real motives and their intent was not evil. Did they do it? Are they guilty? In this case, those two questions seem to be completely separate things. Yes they killed a man but I somehow can’t view them as guilty. The boys were too young (12 and 15 at the time) were not crazy or lacking a conscience. We meet their families who sob and cry for their sons who are described as loving and caring. It’s these sorts of complexities in real life crime that I find irresistible which I enjoy these sorts of programmes so much. 

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