But anybody who writes for a living knows that if you remain silent you never get paid. So, there’s that.
What brings the subject to mind is that, in the past, I’ve rarely watched television except for a football game or a movie. And yet, in recent weeks, I find myself addicted to a certain true-crime channel that somehow keeps breaking and entering our house via the ol’ satellite dish.
In my defense (so to speak), the crime shows make it almost impossible not to watch once you’ve seen what’s known in TV circles as “the teaser.” For example, the camera glides across a remote swamp at twilight with spooky music playing, until suddenly a rundown house appears in the distance and a startling dark-red headline in jagged letters fills the screen: “BLOOD RELATIVES.”
Either that, or a person identified by a graphic across the bottom of the screen as a retired law enforcement officer says to his/her interviewer, “I was in this business for 30 [or 35, or 40] years, and I’d never seen anything as terrible as this case.”
Cut to commercial. And commercial, and commercial. Which, admittedly, is the only way they can afford to pay researchers, scriptwriters and video crews to travel into bloody swamps, or fields, or suburban lawns or wherever, and assemble this past terribleness into a coherent narrative that will hook viewers (OK, bad choice of words; I just saw one where the killer was a meat-packer) into watching for a half-hour, an hour or ideally more.
Part of the attraction is knowing that because these stories happened a decade ago or better, you’ll get to see the resolution of the crime and punishment, the bloody bow tied on the package, The End. Unlike watching crime stories on the news, which are always full of factual gaps and frustrating loose ends.
To which a devil’s advocate might respond, “But why watch stories about terrible and ugly things, when you could watch stories about sweet and uplifting things instead?” After all, doesn’t the Apostle Paul write to the Philippians, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”?
Problem is, that pretty much leaves out watching TV altogether. True, there’s the Hallmark Channel, but I have a blood sugar disorder and watching more than 30 seconds of unalloyed Hallmark sweetness is hazardous to my health.
Still: Why our ongoing fascination with crime, the more gory and outrageous the better? Answering that question could keep a team of psychiatric profilers working full-time — except that they’re all on retainer at the moment to the true-crime shows, so we’re on our own.
My guess is that one factor at the base of the fascination is the “There but for the grace of God” syndrome — if I take a wrong turn one day or my car breaks down on a lonely road, there could just as well be a serial killer waiting for me. Translation: I might have a lot of problems at the moment, but in the big picture they could be a lot worse.
On the opposite hand is the “Nyah-nyah” syndrome: Hey, I might be a mean, selfish, low-down, nasty, conniving son-of-a-gun, but at least I’m not a killer. High five, anybody? Anybody?
So, as addictions go, my true-crime-TV one could be worse. It doesn’t wreck the bank account, and there’s no hangover the next morning. True, being awakened by random noises in the night does a number on my nerve cells that it didn’t before, but so does hearing ghost tales around a campfire, and that’s as time-honored a practice as you’ll ever find.
Plus, I can stop watching any time I want. The only puzzler is, with hundreds of TV channels to choose from, how does somebody keep punching exactly the correct three numbers into our remote control, on the hour or the half-hour as required?
It’s obviously not me. And when I find out whodunit, I promise I’ll press charges.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com and is archived afterward on his website.