The crime gene

For my thirtieth birthday, Al bought me a genetic testing kit – you can send it away and find out what percentage of Neanderthal DNA you carry, for example, and you can also discover all the hideous genetic diseases you might unwittingly pass to your children.  I know it’s not the most romantic gift, but I am super psyched about it.  And although I haven’t sent in my saliva sample for testing yet, I know one malignant gene that I definitely carry and will in all likelihood pass on to my poor, unsuspecting offspring: the crime gene.

Don’t let the term “crime gene” alarm you: I’m not a criminal. I just enjoy watching TV shows about them.

I come by this predilection naturally, I’m afraid. My mother carries the crime gene, and so did her father.  When I was growing up, I only remember my mother reading true crime books, thick paperbacks with titles like Bitter Harvest, The Stranger Beside Me, and Dead by Sunset.  In the evenings, my mom would always tune into TV shows about criminals: America’s Most Wanted, 48 Hours Mystery, even COPS.  When shows like Forensic Detectives and Cold Case Files started to crop up, these were added to the Early household’s TV repertoire.

Since I was raised by a true crime aficionado, watching shows about murder before bedtime always seemed pretty normal to me, although I do remember asking my dad one time to please not kill me and my mom, since I had seen a show in which the dad did just that. My dad, a bit taken aback, assured me that he wouldn’t kill us, but he couldn’t make any promises about our dog, Max, who was severely misbehaved.  Fair enough.

Bad dog

As I got older, I never got into true crime books but I would watch the occasional crime show on TV, although I preferred Law & Order SVU to true crime.  And, by the way, I don’t trust people who don’t love Law & Order SVU.  Love me, love Benson and Stabler.  The older I get, though, the more and more intrigued I become by true crime.  And I think I’ve hit the true crime jackpot in Joburg.

Here in South Africa, there is, to my delight, 24-hour true crime programming.  We get a channel called, simply, Crime, and also a channel called Discovery ID: Investigation Discovery, which, as far as I can tell, is 99% crime shows, and 1% shows about animals on an African game reserve.   Here are the programs that I’ve watched on Discovery ID so far: Nightmare Next Door, Murder Shift, Who on Earth Did I Marry?, Forensic Detectives, On the Case With Paula Zahn, Disappeared, and True Crimes.

You’d think I’d have trouble sleeping after watching these shows about horrifying crimes – today I saw one about a lady whose husband decapitated her for the insurance money – but, no.  I find these stories fascinating without feeling personally threatened by them.  In fact, one of the hypotheses about why women enjoy the true crime genre more than men do, on average, is because women may pick up useful survival tactics from stories about murder and rape.

But although women are typically more likely to be carriers of the crime gene, men are also susceptible. And I’m starting to think this fascination with true crime might not be strictly genetic after all.  In fact, it might be catching.  To wit: for the last two nights, my husband has requested that we watch crime on TV.  Uh oh.  We’d better get Al tested, too.


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