Oxford graduate students discuss Criminology, and the societal affects of real-life crime documentaries.
In the final months of 2014, the most downloaded podcast on iTunes wasn't on politics or on current affairs, it was no grand historical narrative, and it certainly wasn't a comedy. The podcast was called 'Serial', by now downloaded over 80 million times, and it told, over the course of twelve long episodes, in intimate detail, the investigations of reporter Sarah Koenig into the murder of a single teenage girl, in Baltimore, 15 years previously. Whodunnits have been a feature of popular fiction for over 150 years: extremely popular fiction indeed, with Agatha Christie battling only William Shakespeare as the most popular author of fiction of all time. Yet, such detailed serialisations of real-life murder cases are a much newer phenomenon, and, from a certain perspective at least, a rather morbid one. Why do we as human beings seem to find these distressing stories so fascinating? Could podcasts such as Serial warp our perceptions of the realities of criminal justice? What responsibilities should such documentary makers have when presenting these cases.? And is even the very act -- the act of making the lives of such vulnerable people prime-time entertainment -- can that ever be ethically justified? The success of programmes such as Serial, and also Netflix's endlessly controversial 'Making a Murdurer', poses many questions to the professional scholar of the public's relationship with the criminal justice system -- the criminologist.