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Sarah Koenig made me like public transit again. I obsessively listened to her Serial podcast back in 2015 on my daily commute – and haven’t been able to shut up about it since.

In that first season, Koenig investigated the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, a high-school student in Baltimore. When I got to the end of the 12 episodes, I sought out other true-crime podcasts. And that soon morphed into a burning need to watch true-crime shows: the good, the bad and the cringey. All of it. I finished the first season of Netflix’s Making a Murderer in a single day.

I’m Samantha McCabe, a content editor at The Globe. I’m a true-crime fanatic. I’m also a feminist. And I’ve struggled with how to reconcile those two identities.

At some point during my years-long true-crime spree, something shifted. I began to feel like I was contributing to the capitalist glorification of violence against women, like their horrifying tales had become my entertainment. Every time I was gripped by a plot twist, I felt an accompanying twinge of guilt.

This conflict isn’t limited to true crime, either. There are plenty of fictional shows that portray violence against women, such as You, starring Penn Badgley as Joe, a woke-art-guy-turned-stalker. I admit that I watched the first season to its ghastly conclusion, completely riveted. But as Manisha Krishnan observes at Vice, “[You] manages to romanticize stalking, while simultaneously creating empathy for the perpetrator, Joe, and frustration with the victim, Beck.”

I wasn’t lusting after Joe’s psychopathic behaviour, but I was entranced by the show, and let’s be honest – it’s a show about violence against women. And as I’ve already confessed, I’ve been drawn to similar tellings of real-life versions of such events. What does this enjoyment say about me?

Does consuming entertainment about violence against women – whether true or not – fulfill some kind of twisted desire to feel shock and horror? Or does it force me to confront truths about our society that make me uncomfortable?

These stories are achingly real, even in their fictionalized form. So why shouldn’t we face facts and be aware of them? That argument isn’t so compelling, however, when you consider the fact that minorities, including women of colour, with disabilities and in lower economic classes, as well as LGBTQ and non-binary people, experience violence at a far higher rate than their white, middle- to upper-class counterparts, according to a government report on gender-based violence. Where are their stories?

As is too often the case, they’re not told often enough. And, yet, we tune in. “Bleakness has become quite the commodity,” writes Tirhakah Love at Datebook. “Generally, the more bloodthirsty or controversial, the better the show performs … What’s fascinating about the popularity of these kinds of stories … is that they speak to some of our darkest impulses while reminding us of the difficulty in processing extreme tragedy.”

It can be difficult, but as Johanna Schneller wrote recently, there’s something to be gained from watching shows that make us uncomfortable. Schneller writes, “I believe in bearing witness, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. So not only do I urge you to watch, I’d argue that you must.” Her point? Awareness is the first line of offence.

I can’t possibly suggest that every piece of content involving violence against women (or against anyone, for that matter) is a valuable lesson. But there are some.

For instance, the first season of CBC’s Missing & Murdered podcast, hosted by Cree journalist Connie Walker, revives the cold case of an Indigenous woman murdered in B.C. in 1989. The award-winning project weaves details of the case with the continuing Canadian issue of violence against Indigenous women and girls, something Walker sheds light on with sensitivity and knowledge.

Turning to books: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara was edited and published posthumously after she died suddenly in her sleep in 2016. McNamara spent years studying the unsolved, decades-old murders and rapes of the Golden State Killer, resulting in a beautifully written book (now being made – you guessed it – into an HBO docuseries). The best part: After the book was published, police did catch the man they believe is the Golden State Killer, a 73-year-old U.S. Navy veteran and former police officer. Upon finishing the book, I dove into comparing McNamara’s investigation with that of the police, an incredibly interesting exercise.

And, like most of my trains of thought, this brings me back to Serial. The third season places Koenig and her team in one Cleveland courthouse for a year to look at the systemic issues within the American criminal justice system. They aim to tell “the extraordinary stories of everyday cases,” and do so with compassion and acumen.

So where does all of this self-reflection leave me? With this simple approach: Read, watch and listen to things that educate me, things that make me aware of society’s failings, things that make me want to do better. Seek out media with a diverse team working behind-the-scenes and diversity in front of the camera, too. If I’m entertained along the way, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, entertainment, even when it’s ugly, can be eye-opening.

What else we’re thinking about:

This ProPublica piece captured my attention a few weeks ago, and after a heartbreaking weekend of gun violence in the U.S., I found myself returning to it again. In response to mass shootings, some schools and hospitals are installing microphones specifically designed to sense aggression. ProPublica test-drove the technology and found that not only was it ineffective but dangerously faulty. The piece, from writers Jack Gillum and Jeff Kao, is a reminder of the often disturbing give-and-take between safety and privacy and a brilliant example of multimedia storytelling.

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