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"The Staircase": Why Are Crimes Trending on Streaming Platforms?

HBO Max and Netflix show different views on "The Staircase", one of the many crime documentaries that have become a trend on streaming platforms.

Still from the series 'The Staircase'

Photo: YT-HBO Max

LatinAmerican Post | Yolanda González Madrid

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Leer en español: "The Staircase": ¿Por qué son tendencia los crímenes en las plataformas de streaming?

Domestic crimes there are millions in the world, but only a few have their own documentary or miniseries. Although it may sound cruel on the one hand, the reality is that this type of production generates a certain attraction in the spectators, who seek to investigate the motives of the crime in the minds of the accused or if, on the contrary, the justice system is capable of condemning someone by mistake. "The Staircase" is one of the most mediatic cases of recent decades, and both HBO Max and Netflix lead us down that path full of uncertainties and shadows.

Before going into context and knowing why this case was so popular in its time, we must mention that the renowned American novelist Michael Peterson is the main figure in the story, whose trial received great press coverage, in addition to the presence of the director French Jean-Xavier de Lestrade to portray the documentary. And it is that at no time did Peterson want to back down with the recordings (which he himself wanted at first), not even when he was accused of the murder of his wife or in the subsequent years that passed after his sentence.

It was the year 2001 when Peterson called the emergency number to report that his wife, Kathleen, had fallen down the stairs of the house and was unconscious. However, when the assistance services arrived, the woman had not only died but also neither the scene nor her blows gave rise to a simple accidental fall. From then on, he began a trial that had multiple situations and ended with Peterson behind bars, despite the fact that in 2011 he was released due to irregularities detected in the investigations.

Along with the case, Lestrade did his own follow-up, and together with his team, he recorded material that premiered on Canal+ in France in 2004. Years later, in 2013, he returned for the continuation and to show the latest news from the investigation. But it was not until 2018 that it arrived on Netflix with the addition of three new and exclusive episodes, thus becoming one of the most viewed docuseries on the platform.

Now, and as if a complete documentary were not enough, the filmmaker Alfredo Campos created "The Staircase" for HBO Max, an 8-episode miniseries that explores the real and the fictional between the death of Kathleen Peterson and the situations through which her husband Michael face. The cast is led by Colin Firth and Toni Colette, who adds that modern and cinematographic touch to a real event that has captured the public's attention. Is it really worth seeing? Without a doubt yes!

True Crime, a Trend that Has Revolutionized Documentaries

In terms of documentaries, streaming platforms have opted for a modality called 'docuseries', which, as its name suggests, is a documentary divided into several episodes as if it were a series. Now, when we go deeper with the subgenres, the one that stands out par excellence is true crime, why? The undeniable reality is the fact that violence and crimes -unfortunately- have been present in the identity and human condition.

The aforementioned may sound quite crude, but it should be noted that not all of us are capable of committing such atrocities and, probably, therein lies a reason why it generates so much fascination in the audience: that curiosity to know what motivated such an individual to be carried away by a dark desire. Even this interest is linked to the terror that we eventually see in the face of an accident, which, although it horrifies us on the one hand, on the other keeps us there expectantly and with the "tranquility" that it did not happen to us.

To get a better idea of the boom that has been generated through true crime, the company Parrot Analytics - which is dedicated to analyzing global trends - published an analysis at the end of last year that indicated that this type of documentary had increased their reproduction by 63% on streaming platforms between 2018 and 2021. It is worth mentioning that Netflix is the one leading this dynamic, whose catalog has a variety of themes that have become popular, not to mention that they have also had countless criticisms.

Also read: “Everything Everywhere All at Once”: A Delirious and Surreal Adventure About Multiverses

The Female Figure Always Present

According to a study conducted by Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2010, women consume 70% more true crime content than men. The reason for this statement is based on the fear they feel of seeing themselves represented in the victims, which results in the need to learn how to defend themselves and discover the patterns of the murderers in order to recognize them in a hypothetical future.

Added to this, it should be noted that a large percentage of these productions always have a female victim of crime. In addition to the case presented in "The Staircase", other documentaries such as "Pray, Obey, Kill" and "The Ripper", as well as the miniseries "The Investigation", seek in some way to give the victims a voice and also make a call for attention to the general public so that these events are taken very seriously.

In short, it can be said that true crime has created an unimaginable trend in documentaries that makes us open our eyes to the worst of our humanity. Beyond the peace of mind that the fact of not being part of some atrocious case can generate, it is important to keep in mind that neither murderers nor evil, in general, are reasons for veneration.