With the release of the Netflix series Dahmer, one thing has become apparently clear: American culture has become fascinated with death.
There are podcasts, TV shows, YouTube channels and websites dedicated completely to true crime. So how has actual crime become a form of entertainment? The internet and generational events are to blame because they have created a lack of empathy for victims.
In the past few weeks, a nationwide discussion has erupted. The new show on Jeffery Dahmer was grotesque not only because of the violence, but in the way it portrayed the victims and Dahmer himself. Dahmer was a prominent serial killer throughout the 80’s that tortured and cannibalized his victims.
It is not the first time we have seen serial killers be sexualized by the media. The influx of Ted Bundy content in the last few years has resulted in “Ted Bundy stans.” People are actually fans of the murdering necrophiliac Ted Bundy.
When shows portray these people in a way that makes them seem misunderstood or blame their troubled childhood, it shifts the attention off of their cruel actions and onto the “nice side” of these people.
We see them portrayed as a sort of anti-hero instead of the villain. This is problematic because the crimes they commit suddenly become justified in our minds.
This shift in portrayal has made true crime become less about spreading awareness and promoting justice and more about how much money big production companies can make.
There is a line between facts and entertainment that they are crossing. How many docuseries do we really need on John Wayne Gacy or the Zodiac Killer?
The shows that are currently being produced do a very good job at glazing over the atrocities these people have committed so you keep watching.
Another problem is the victims we choose to make famous. Think of Gabby Petito, a white woman who was murdered by her boyfriend last year. Her case turned into a nation-wide hunt that everyone became obsessed with.
While Petito’s case is tragic and she in no way deserved her fate, it’s hard to not think about the thousands of missing Black and Indigenous women that get little to no attention from the media.
According to the National Crime and Information Center (NCIC), in 2021, 35% of all missing women in America were Black, despite Black people only making up 16% of the US population.
The murder rate of indigenous women is 3 times higher than the rate for white women, yet when we look on TV, these cases never even make the news. Journalist Gwen Ifill coined the term “missing white woman syndrome,” to describe the problem.
In the United States, white women are perceived as vulnerable, fragile and valuable while women of color are regularly depersonalized, oversexualized, labeled impulsive and seen as lacking innocence.
With all of this being said, we don’t actively realize the ethical issues with this form of entertainment while we’re watching, but it’s important we start.
A solution to this problem is to be mindful of what shows you choose to watch. Ask yourself, “Why am I watching this?” If a good answer doesn’t come to your mind, maybe it’s time to switch the channel.
We allow Hollywood to profit off victims’ traumatic experiences when we watch mindlessly. It is time to start making those affected by horrible people’s actions the stars of the show, not the horrible people.