The Secret Obsessions of True Crime Tumblr Bloggers
Secret obsessions of true crime Tumblr bloggers
Nicole goes by niknik-1998 on Tumblr, inspired by Parkland School shooter Nikolas Cruz. She lives in Great Britain and will be 16 in one week.
Her blog consists of memes about serial killers, school shooters and other murderers. A large block of text reading Don’t Condone overlays a video montage of the Columbine shooters. Nicole started the blog in February of this year after her clinically diagnosed depression became too much. She says the community welcomes her and is open about mental illness. She wants you to know she does not condone their crimes.
Olivia goes by truecrime-at-night on Tumblr. She’s seventeen and from Alabama. Olivia uses her blog to catalogue true crime and plans on studying forensics in college next year. Olivia told me she often comes across “fangirl” blogs and meme blogs while scrolling on her TCC (True Crime Community) feed.
Over the phone, she recounted a story about a 15-year-old girl on Tumblr who got deactivated, reactivated and deactivated again by the TCC community earlier this year after posting a gruesome fanfiction about being tortured by Ted Bundy. She wants you to know she thinks this behavior is disturbing and is normally carried out by minors.
If you are anything like me, you are probably stunned that these communities exist. Why are they doing this? Why true crime? Why Ted Bundy?
According to the famous 2010 Social Psychological and Personality Science study, women are more likely than men to find interest in the true crime genre. The study found that a lot of women subconsciously read about true crime to learn defense tactics, and because they can relate to female victims. The study concludes on a positive note: if women continue to consume true crime they can possibly prevent themselves from falling victim to these killers and assailants.
Media sensationalism around serial crimes is nothing new, but this year saw a full on explosion of true crime — Ted Bundy in particular. At the beginning of the year, Netflix released a Ted Bundy docuseries. Two days later, a Bundy biographical thriller premiered at the Sundance Film Festival which stars Disney Channel veteran Zac Efron as Ted Bundy.
From High School Musical to Baywatch and now to Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Zac Efron blows young girls away with his groomed physique and confident smile. But now, girls who grew up swooning over Troy Bolton will associate him with Ted Bundy.
David Schmid, the author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture, believes that these Tumblr blogs represent the creative consumption of violent popular culture. Schmid told me that setting up an account and connecting with like-minded individuals allows these girls to alleviate their fear of being a victim of violent crime, while also serving as a mindful outlet to discuss their fascination in true crime.
According to Schmid, these blogs serve as a way to “take the ultimate boogeyman and turn him into something that is not as threatening.”
He reminds me over the phone that portrayals of violent crime against women are abundant in popular culture: video games, television shows, movies, books and even in our real lives with the #MeToo movement. There’s no way to avoid depictions of male-on-female violent crime so why not find the humor in it?
That’s what Nicole decided to do, yet she faces public criticism every day that does affect her mental health.
Over the phone, Nicole admitted something personal to me. “In February, I was barely going to school, having mental breakdowns everyday,” she said. “I just thought ‘if I have something I can just vent on, even if it is just memes, to help me release my emotions…’”
Schmid believes that “consuming this type of culture and especially then doing something with that culture that’s more creative or agent-oriented is allowing these individuals to claim these narratives for themselves.”
Schmid told me the temptation to condemn their activities stems from a societal need to see only the negative consequences of people’s actions. “That fear of violent crime has been used as a way to discipline and control women, and we still see that today, obviously,” he said. “To some extent, this taking of the serial killer and doing something else with it is a refusal to be controlled by these narratives.”
At this point in my conversation with Schmid, I empathized with these girls. Felt for them. I was still trying to soothe competing voices in my head when I remembered a name: Adam Lanza, who was responsible for killing 20 first-graders when he brought his mother’s gun to Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
I recalled Nicole telling me about people outside of the TCC community getting harmed in “real life” because of the amount of inside bullying and harassment.
“He actually had a Tumblr blog and then he also shot up a school,” Nicole told me. “It’s deactivated now, of course, but I remember seeing one of the old posts that he reblogged.”
His blog catalogued memes and facts about the Columbine shooting, much as Nicole’s blog does.
Are these Tumblr interactions the signs to look out for? Or is this just a creative outlet as Schmid suggested?
Julia Ingalls, an essayist at Crime Reads who wrote “Serial Killers: A New Breed of Celebrity,” agreed with Schmid that the media portrayal of serial killers is a mechanism of capitalism. Yet she disagreed with one thing he had to say: “I don’t know that these narratives really empower anyone. I tend to think more it’s about making a quick buck off a narrative that’s already established.” To Ingalls, the narrative lies more behind the consumption of, say, the new Ted Bundy movie and the portrayal of Bundy as an attractive serial killer rather than the consumption of Ted Bundy memes on Tumblr.
While I was discussing this phenomenon with Sheila Isenberg, the author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, she chuckled over the phone and told me we are raising all the right questions but don’t quite have the right answers.
Why are these girls posting fanfiction about a man who died over a dozen years before they were conceived?
Isenberg says it’s more complicated than we think, more complicated than what she dealt with when she wrote her first book back in 2000 about women who marry men in prison. “It’s all very complicated and the advent of the internet has added many dimensions to it,” she said. “After I published Women Who Love Men Who Kill, I realized it was part of a much bigger story about women’s fascination not just with criminals but with crime itself. Today, in 2019, women are fascinated with crime. They are the main consumers of true crime.”
Isenberg is working on a new book called Mad, Bad and Dangerous: Women’s Fascination with Crime and Outlaws. She attempts to piece together this phenomenon I’ve found myself obsessing over: why do women seek refuge in the imaginary arms of dangerous men, especially when these men are dead?
My conversation with Isenberg connected a lot of dots, but it also drew 1,000 more dots to connect. The main dot, though, was: why do I care?
This battle between empathy and disdain that I find myself fighting is a common one, I found out. Even some of the girls who are creating these memes and writing these fanfictions find themselves disgusted by it. Some people are more vocal about their opinions than others: people like Gibby-Against-the-TCC, who use their blogs to call out people like Nicole and Olivia.
“They’ve never personally come at me but I think sometimes the way they treat people in the TCC is disgusting” Nicole told me over the phone. She went on to say that Gibby-Against-the-TCC, who we will call R.F., tells people to seek help without realizing that these people are trying their best to get help.
When asked what she would say to R.F. directly, Nicole said, “Who are you to tell someone that’s not working? That’s disgusting. They’re trying their best and you’re putting them down so it’s probably going to make them feel like their efforts aren’t good enough so why even bother?”
While Madison doesn’t feel safe talking to me on the phone, she’s spent the past few months conversing with me on my cringe high school Tumblr account. One night, she and I had a long conversation about her blog. She ended up telling me, “It’s just a fantasy. That you’d be special or different. We all want to feel that way, right? My writing makes people who want it feel good and they enjoy it, that’s why I do it.” She left me with the realization that these girls are just like me: they want to feel special and use writing and memes as an outlet to do so.
So why is everyone so quick to condemn these girls rather than hear them out? Schmid told me that the temptation to condemn their activities stems from a society that only sees the negative consequences of people’s actions.
“That fear of violent crime has been used as a way to discipline and control women, and we still see that today, obviously,” he said. “To some extent, this taking of the serial killer and doing something else with it is a refusal to be controlled by these narratives.”
He then went on again about the importance of creative consumption in his swanky British accent, and then our phone conversation ended. It was at that point I realized two important things:
1.These blogs might actually be more positive than negative in the sociological scope of things
2. These girls seek refuge in this community and receive acceptance and friendship even. No wonder they were eager to share their story with me. No one’s ever asked!
Last night while I was editing this piece, Olivia texted me out of the blue (we hadn’t texted in two weeks.)
Apparently, the informational blogs and the fanfiction blogs are at a deactivation war. The Madisons (you know, the fanfiction writers) and the Olivias of Tumblr (our true crime fact bloggers) are in the midst of a gruesome internet attack: who can kill off the most blogs?
I’m not quite sure who’s winning, and I haven’t heard from Olivia since. I hope she got a new Tumblr blog and that she finds me soon.
So if the new Ted Bundy movie starring Zac Efron drives more girls onto the website to discuss how hot Ted Bundy is (Ted Bundy as played by Zac Efron, obviously), then so be it. But why do we feel the responsibility to tell them they need help? Don’t you think they already know that?
According to Nicole, they are well aware. “I wanted to be part of a community where a lot of the people in the community were accepting because they believe that what they’re doing is equally fucked up. This part of the TCC is all messed up and it probably shouldn’t exist but it does.”
When I asked Nicole if she’s ever been bullied by the community, she laughed and told me people send her messages as blunt as “go kill yourself.” Nicole wants people to know that telling her to get help solves no problems, it just makes the preexisting ones worse.
No matter how you tackle it, the romanticization of violence against women is prominent in pop culture and Tumblr is one way for people to create their own narrative.
What’s your opinion?