I am a huge fan of Urban Fiction, particularly the subgenre of Urban Fiction called the Crime Drama. I’d wager most of you, dear readers, are too. I’ve seen every epidode of Breaking Bad, The Wire, Luther, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, Wentworth, Deadwood (yes, many Westerns are crime dramas), Boardwalk Empire, Power and the Sopranos. I have watched every crime, con, heist and gangster movie ever made in the U.S. and many foreign films, too. Hell, I even created a test to help determine which type of Urban Fiction character you’d be if you existed in a fictional world.
I really like crime dramas.
Why are we so fascinated with crime and the crime story? Well, I have researched this fascination – and, for some, it is an obsession – for a while and I have discovered seven reasons why we love the Crime Drama:
Fascination with the Unknown
The first crime fiction – a story entitled Three Apples, from the classic anthology, One Thousand and One Nights – came out at about the same time Giovanni Faber coined the term “compound microscope” in 1625 for Galileo Galilei’s invention, the occhiolino, or “little eye.”
Both of the underworlds – the natural, microscopic one and the grimy, unlawful one – are of similar fascination to people who live a relatively clean surface existence. Most of us hear about crime but rarely see it. We know about germs but rarely see them. We are fascinated by the unknown; by what lurks beneath the surface.
Desire for Relief from Our Fears
Have you ever walked down the street and kept looking over your shoulder due to fear and / or anxiety? Have you ever clutched your purse at the approach of a stranger or locked your car door at a stop light? Crimes happen every day. We hear about them, constantly, through the print, web and televised news. We watch crime dramas because we desire the comfort in knowing that the bad guy will get caught in the end – and the bad guy isn’t always the “criminal” either. In crime dramas – and in real life – often the real bad guy is law-enforcement. Whether the bad guy is a cop or a crook, however, crime shows play on our fears of being victims of a crime fear and strive to relieve that fear by giving the bad guy his comeuppance.
Thrill of the Emotional Rollercoaster
Crime Dramas seriously play on our emotions. In just one episode love, anger, suspense, empathy, and sympathy may all be expressed. Many crime dramas are also love stories – nothing intensifies emotions more than interacting and involving the people closest to you. A killer can be someone very close to the victim or a total stranger. We would do anything to protect the ones we love, so knowing that sometimes our protection is ineffective because the threat is someone we know intimately is frightening – and fear is a powerful emotion.
We Seek Hope
Usually, during the last couple of minutes of The Following, we see some type of closure and justice, which is not always seen in the real world. There is some offense committed and in the end, there is punishment for that offense. A crime show dives in and explores the human response to evil. This provides a sense that there are good people in this cruel world of ours; people who will do the right thing. This gives the fan of crime dramas a sense of hope in the human condition.
We Seek to Understand Our Environment
Yes, bad people do walk upon the earth and bad things do happen. Crime dramas help us in our attempts to understand the horrific crimes and cruelties committed in this world through the lens of fiction. Throughout an episode of a show such as Oz, we see the bad guy’s twisted motivations and actions. Since these offenses are fictional, the acts are seen as bearable. Murder series provide a peek into the realm of human evil without the horror that goes along with the real thing.
We Seek Thrills and Chills
Picture this, you’re watching Power with your bowl of popcorn and you notice that there are two minutes left in the episode. Our hero, Ghost, sits in a restaurant having lunch. A team of federal law enforcement agents, including his girlfriend, Angela, are closing in to catch him. The closer the team gets to catching Ghost, the faster you eat that popcorn. This is just example of how crime dramas keep you on the edge of your seat. We love the apprehension and tension as the bad guys are closing in; as our hero is close to being caught. Crime dramas allow us to live and overcome life-altering events without actually experiencing the negative life-altering experience.
We Are Law Breakers
We identify with law breakers because we are law breakers too. We watch our favorite good guy, not-so-good guy or bad guy get away with breaking the law for a while, sometimes long enough to build a huge and successful empire. We hope we can get away with defying the law for a long time too, but we live under its shadow and worry that it will take us down. We cheer watching the gangsters get away with it. We’re appalled by their duplicity. We cheer when they get caught. We’re sobered to see that crime doesn’t pay.
Jung said we identify with everyone in our dreams and our fiction. We don’t just identify with the good guys against the bad guys. We are the good and the bad guys. We are the cops and the robbers; the cons and the conned.
So, what does it mean if your idea of heaven is to snuggle down in front of the TV and soak in an episode of The Wire or to sit at the computer enjoying another thrilling episode of Street Stories: Diesel?
It means that you are a person who craves adventure; a person who desires to see justice done; a person who seeks light in the darkness in which they dwell.
This dialogue from The Wire says it best:
Man On Stoop: I’m sayin’, every Friday night in an alley behind the Cut Rate, we rollin’ bones, you know? I mean all them boys, we roll til late.
McNulty: Alley crap game, right?
Man On Stoop: Like every time, Snot, he’d fade a few shooters, play it out til the pot’s deep. Snatch and run.
McNulty: What, every time?
Man On Stoop: Couldn’t help hisself.
McNulty: Let me understand. Every Friday night, you and your boys are shooting craps, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snot Boogie… he’d wait til there’s cash on the ground and he’d grab it and run away? You let him do that?
Man On Stoop: We’d catch him and beat his ass but ain’t nobody ever go past that.
McNulty: I gotta ask ya: If every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away, why’d you even let him in the game?
Man On Stoop: What?
McNulty: If Snotboogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?
Man On Stoop: Got to. This America, man.