Humans have always loved fear. We can see an example of this in 1938 when War of the Worlds was released and grew in popularity because of the panic listeners felt.
It’s no secret that the most entertaining horror to humans is real horror, and we can see that today with the rising popularity of True Crime.
Now, True Crime has always been popular, but it’s been published in different forms. For example, before youtube and other platforms came into existence, the only method to access true crime stories was through the news. But nowadays, a simple crime report won’t do it. With platforms such as Youtube and Spotify, it has given the ability for creators to make their True Crime videos as “creative” and “entertaining” as they want to please their audience and make a profit. Youtubers such as Stephanie Soo even go to the extent of eating while talking about brutal crime.
But the question is, are youtubers like Stephanie Soo getting out of control with the content they make, and where should we draw the line to what’s ethical or not in true crime?
Stephanie Soo: Who is She?
Stephanie Soo is a 26 year old True Crime Youtuber. Her Youtube Channel has garnered over 2.7 Million Subscribers and 500 Millions Views. With the type of content Stephanie makes, there’s no surprise that she’s scoring these numbers, but at what moral cost?
Now if you’re wondering what content Stephanie exactly makes, well you’re in for a ride.
Mukbang, or Eating Show in English, is a viral phenomenon which showcases people eating food while talking about gossip, their daily lives, and other light hearted topics. Stephanie, along with being a true crime youtuber, is also a Mukbanger.
Stephanie, instead of talking about light-hearted topics during her mukbangs, talks about full on brutal murder while munching on whatever’s trending in the mukbang world.
Yeah. This doesn’t seem to be sounding good, does it?
Before we dive into Stephanie, let’s briefly talk about respectful true crime to set the picture.
Respectful True Crime
Boundaries should always be drawn. When boundaries aren’t drawn, people get hurt. This is true for true crime as well.
There are boundaries for true crime, even though the majority of popular true crime creators don’t listen to them today.
True crime should be fully victim focused. It should be benefiting the victim, no one else. If creators start a true crime channel just to earn money and not take cases with full seriousness, it’s extremely exploitative of the victim.
An example of true crime done right is the Red Justice Podcast. The Red Justice podcast is a true crime podcast which focuses on bringing awareness to cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous people. This podcast also brings awareness to the erasure of Indigenous peoples in the American media, and the numerous social and political injustices that Indigenous people have to face.
No makeup, no slurping, no jokes. Just the victims. That’s how true crime should be.
If creators stick to this one guideline of focusing on the victims, then they wouldn’t cross any boundaries with their content. But unfortunately, in today’s true crime, the victim seems to be the last person most creators think about.
The Beginning of Stephanie Soo
When she first started her channel, Stephanie was not a True Crime Mukbanger, she was just a mukbanger. Her true crime career really took off when she made a video of her eating Ted Bundy’s last meal while talking about the case.
In an interview with NPR, Stephanie acknowledged that her Ted Bundy video was problematic, and she also states that she was “uncomfortable” while recalling the video.
The video includes Stephanie, whether it was intentional or not, glamorizing and sympathizing with killers (which, by the way, is why she felt uncomfortable recalling the video).
But the fact that this video blew up shows how the general public doesn’t find a problem with any of this. Something which is crazier is that this video is still up to this day even after Stephanie acknowledged that it was somewhat problematic. All of this has allowed Stephanie to continue to exploit victims without consequence.
The Problem with Stephanie Soo’s Content
There are so many layers as to why Stephanie’s Soo content is insensitive. Let’s start by talking about her thumbnails.
Stephanie’s thumbnails consist of three things: an image referring to the case she’s going to talk about (usually of the victim or killer), the huge pile of food she’s going to consume, and then her face above the food, usually in a scared, sad, or shocked expression.
If this description wasn’t enough to enrage you, check out her thumbnails.
In one thumbnail (second thumbnail from the top), which we can’t share due to copyright reasons, we see Stephanie on the right with a fake knife through her head and her cousin on the left of her smiling. Behind them is a serial killer who terrorized multiple people and under all of this is ramen noodles and cheese.
How could Stephanie so easily decide to dress up with a fake knife through her head while talking about murder? It doesn’t take an expert to realize how insensitive that is towards the victims and their friends and family. And how distracted are they from the case that her cousin could be smiling? These are victims, they’re real people. They’re making an absolute joke out of their deaths by adding all these elements.
On top of that, her video titles are unbelievable. For example, this video is titled, “The Beast of Jersey – Broke Into Houses to Watch You Sleep? | Spicy Ramen + Cheese Pull Mukbang.” Yeah, because cheese pulls and ramen are as important as people getting stalked and murdered.
Her actual content is even more infuriating. Throughout the video, Stephanie and her family make light-hearted jokes. This is an attempt to keep the mukbang essence, but by doing this Stephanie is completely disrespecting the victim. A true crime video should never be something that is lighthearted for obvious reasons. For god’s sake, they’re talking about someone dying in a horrible and disgusting way. How can they just sit there, make jokes, and slurp on ramen?
Let’s bring back the interview between Stephanie Soo and NPR. Stephanie was uncomfortable recalling her first viral true crime video, this most likely means that Stephanie Soo knows that her videos lack morals, and with countless viral videos calling out her content, there’s no way she hasn’t seen even one with a logical argument. Stephanie is choosing her money over her morals, like most true crime youtubers.
Why Stephanie’s Content is Exploitative
Now, I’ve stated that Stephanie is exploiting victims. You must be wondering how.
But first, let’s look over the definition of exploitation.
According to Merriam Webster, the definition of Exploitation is, “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.”
Stephanie is using the stories of victim’s for personal gain (aka money). But what will the victim get out of her mukbang videos? People are merely watching these videos to be entertained, they don’t actually raise awareness. We know this because Stephanie has to incorporate so many elements into her videos (food, bright colors, costumes, etc) so that she can get more clicks.
If these videos were truly about raising awareness, then much more of the attention would be on the victim, not on food, jokes, or some other third party topic.
Stephanie is making use of the victim’s stories unfairly. She’s using their pain and story to make money while they gain almost nothing. This is exploitation.
True Crime is Rotting our Morals
Why are true crime creators using real people’s pain for others’ entertainment? Why do most people not understand how immoral it is to be consuming this type of true crime?
It’s said that audiences enjoy “contained fear,” which is why true crime is so popular. But why are people eating while talking about murder? Why are they not taking their deaths seriously? And most importantly, why isn’t fiction enough?
True crime has made the general public feel like it’s ok to get entertainment out of real life tragic stories. Let me say, there’s nothing wrong with watching a horror movie to feel some thrill. But when you’re entertained by something that’s happened in real life, something that has broken hundreds of families, that’s when the line is crossed.
Today’s true crime dissociates its audience from reality and exploits victims. It’s safe to say true crime is not only unethical, but it’s rotting our societies basic morals.
Sehar Sarang is a writer, founder, and activist. Her blog, Open Your Ears, focuses on bringing awareness and justice to solved and unsolved crime cases. She is also the Assistant Editor in Chief of SeaGlass Literary, a youth literature magazine focused on amplifying the voices of younger people. As a freelancer, Sehar specializes in writing about social issues related to women, people of color, and other marginalized communities. Outside of writing, she is the founder of two non-profit organizations, and is currently running a campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccinations in India’s impoverished communities.