If I was a more dedicated podcast listener, I am certain I would be a nutter for true crime, a genre with which I share many core values: a zeal for prying into the lives of total strangers, a generally melodramatic way of talking, an overactive imagination which crafts grand, paranoid narratives from the most quotidian of events. (These are also the traits of anyone who did theatre in high school.)
TikTok, apparently, agrees. When Serial exploded the genre in 2014, the power of amateur sleuths – and the sway they possessed over the real-world results of justice – was still a novelty. Now, nearly a decade on, new mysteries sweep through TikTok at dizzying pace. Everyone from awkward boyfriends to supposedly nefarious fiances are held to account on the platform by users conducting their own frenzied investigations, hoping to catch their suspects cheating, philandering and premeditating. The jurors: a million deranged zoomers. The tone: nothing short of fever pitch – the type that accompanies all good conspiracy theories.
All of this can be ugly. But it can also be funny: as in a video which has made the rounds in the past month where one true crime obsessive shows off their fastidiously arranged binder containing fingerprints, handwriting samples, locks of hair, medical records – in case they, you know, get murdered and someone decides to start a podcast about it. See above: theatre kids.
They’ve labelled this a “5 things in case I go missing binder”, which is a very dry way to describe your own kidnapping. Like all TikToks, the video makes it look somehow sane and easy to collect all the things that would be necessary in a murder investigation. But I wasn’t so sure. *In an extremely true crime voice* I knew I had to investigate, and by investigate I mean assemble my own assortment of personal data in the unlikely scenario that I am murdered. (If you are reading this, please do not murder me.)
I make a quick decision to forgo the fingerprint samples, as I have not had access to an ink pad since I was seven and deep into my spy era, when I would subject everyone around me to spontaneous and annoying “forensic” “inspections”. This says a lot about me.
Moving onwards: a lock of hair. Luckily, I am able to unearth a pair of barber scissors from the back of the toiletries cupboard. I grit my teeth and lop off one measly bang – then I realise, via a very unscientific Google search, that you are meant to rip your hair out from its roots so that a DNA sample can eventually be procured by a bored 20-year-old scrolling through TikTok.
Because I have the pain tolerance of a toddler, I opt out of this cruel and unusual punishment and instead sticky-tape the chunk I’ve already chopped off to a sheet of A4 paper.
Next, a handwriting sample – easy enough, though I am convinced my carpal muscles have atrophied to the point that merely holding a pen could give me an immediate RSI. As usual, I am being melodramatic.
I am not, however, being melodramatic when a bolt of fear strikes me at the thought of attaining my medical records – the fourth requirement in this binder. For posterity, I phone up the last doctor’s office I haphazardly looked up. They put me on hold for 15 minutes and the line goes dead. I apologise to all future podcasters who are now unaware I had asthma from the ages of five to 12.
At last, my binder is almost complete. The final piece is a list of everyone I know and their contact details because, according to the TikTok, “my friends and exes are the first people they need to bring in for questioning”. Personally, it seems like the primary suspects should be my enemies, but what do I know?
I reach out to an ex and tell him I am including him in my file. “If you were to murder me,” I ask him, “how would you do it?”
Perhaps, I think, he will reply with something ludicrous: a sensational homicide plot straight out of a slasher. Or maybe he’ll be cautious, or even outraged that I could implicate him in such wicked deeds.
Instead, his response is entirely unblinking. “Slow poison or choking,” he texts back instantly, as if he has stewed on this many times before. This is when I know the binder has gone too far.
Michael Sun is Guardian Australia’s editorial assistant for features, culture and lifestyle. Twitter @mlchaelsun