I'm so addicted to the crime channel it actually cheers me up

I am addicted to the crime channels on DStv. Oddly enough, they have a tendency to cheer me up hugely. I suspect I am not alone in this. There are two sides to this warm fuzzy feeling. The first one is the moral superiority it allows us to feel, and the second the vicarious delight we feel in watching someone getting what they deserve.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying crime is good, or a solution to anything or that it doesn’t have the most tragic consequences. Of course it does. But seen at a distance, these programmes really can make you feel so much better about your life.

Whatever you’re watching, the people featured in them have chaotic and horrible lives: families fight brutally, or partners do dreadful things to each other, people lie, cheat and steal – and kill. Whatever’s going on in your life pales in comparison to a murder trial, a life behind bars, being on the run, or part of a family as hugely dysfunctional as those often depicted in these programmes.

What problem?

We all have our problems, but your debt crisis, the peeling paint in the bathroom, the crazy boss, or the baby’s eczema just seem so trivial when watching these channels. And it’s so much cheaper than therapy, even with DStv Premium rates being what they are.

OK, there are the programmes that I find to be real downers – I can’t watch the serial killers calmly describing their crimes, or the ones that have to do with motiveless violence. These are people who are beyond redemption as they are too damaged to be helped. I don’t particularly care how their minds work, how they got to be that way, or how they see the crimes they have committed. These are people who should be born with warning stickers on their foreheads.

What does fascinate me are programmes that depict apparently normal people in difficult situations, who just lose it one day after being pushed too far – and actually do the things the rest of us have all dreamed of doing at least once in our lives.

Life is tough. Relationships are tough. Working is tough. And then of course there is money and all the pressures a lack of it brings. Or sometimes too much of it.

It’s enough to make anyone snap

I mean, how does one stay calm if you find out your partner is a cheater (everyone knew except you), or your parents have cut you out of their will at your brother’s insistence, your best friend has betrayed you, or your business partner has stolen all your money leaving you high and dry? Few people go through life without experiencing at least one crisis that’s enough to drive them over the edge.

But boringly (possibly also wisely, as I will show just now) most of us might shout and scream,  damage a few of the other person’s possessions if we’re feeling really out of control, or go on a drinking binge. We might even slap someone. But that’s where it stops.

Women who kill

But then, on the crime channels, are the stories of people who didn’t stop there. And the most popular of these programmes, judging by the number of reruns, are the ones where women just snap one day and kill their partners.

Why is this so fascinating? Is it because in our society still might lurk the archaic idea of women having to be quiet subordinates, the caregivers, the nurturers and it makes for great TV when someone breaks the mould?

There’s a reason why some guns are called equalisers.

Interestingly enough, many female killers tend to avoid the kind of violence frequently found if the perpetrators are men. The women often use poison, or pay someone else to commit the crime. These are premeditated murders, and few of us would have difficulty distancing ourselves from something such as this. Often they are also committed to rake in life insurance.

This is partially where the feel-good factor comes in. We all feel so infinitely morally superior to someone who is prepared to kill so she can buy a few nice handbags and go on an expensive holiday. But remember, we only see the programmes about the people who got caught. The disturbing thing is how often it becomes apparent that this is not the first time they have done something like this – and last time they got away with it. If they had stopped there, they probably would not have been behind bars.

In watching someone snap under real duress, we can live out our punishment fantasy of those who have harmed or hurt us. And fantasy is alas where it should stay, unless you fancy a life in prison, or a life of endless regret. Remember, fury knows no logic or self-preservation.

But there are times you really feel you could take a frying pan and whack someone over the head.

In the meantime, however, it’s enough for me to watch someone else do it. Thank goodness for that.
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