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Voyeurism of Violence: New Reality Shows Cross the Line

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These days, conversations about violence center on gun control, but there's a lesser evil lurking on our television screens. New reality shows romanticizing twisted relationships -- including Investigation Discovery's Deadly Women, Wicked Attraction, and Frenemies -- marry violence and voyeurism.

It's one thing to watch bloodshed rooted in history or floating in the realm of fiction, but turning actual crimes into crowd-pleasing prime time? That's another ball game.

Investigation Discovery is our country's fastest-growing network; it's a dark horse with grim programming inextricably linked to people facing death. ID is brazen about occupying this bizarre niche, with a sister website -- ID Addicts -- for those who "crave" its sinister stories 24/7.

Alarmingly, ID isn't the only network catering to nefarious guilty pleasures. A&E's new series Panic 9-1-1 bills itself as "part thriller... part true-crime show," boasting that it "takes 911 calls to a whole new level never seen or heard before on television. Unlike emergency shows of the past, viewers will live inside the calls and experience every harrowing and terrifying moment along with the caller. Every second is real."

Although it's hard to pinpoint the distinction between the latest genre and crime shows of the past (America's Most Wanted, Cops, or Rescue 911), it's clear that earlier programs attempted to add value through education, emergency preparedness, and crime-solving.

ID cultivates fear-based entertainment, but it doesn't stop there: shows like Deadly Women go a step further by romanticizing violence. Don't believe me? Watch the series trailer.

Several months ago, I wrote a piece for Psychology Today regarding morally ambiguous television.

Soon after, G4 invited me to discuss my position on Attack of the Show.

Like many television viewers, I love The Sopranos and Breaking Bad -- those dark shows that offer entertainment and drama along with deeply flawed characters and upsetting scenarios. Notably, these stories are born out of fiction, which allows us freedom to enjoy their underlying drama without feeling guilt or shame or fear that a real person has suffered so that we might be entertained.

What do you think? Are reality/crime hybrids the wave of the future now that reality television has carved out space on our screens? Or is there something troubling about programs that merge true stories with disturbing situations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.