Why romanticize a killer?

Carmela Asmar, Contributing Writer

The recently released Netflix original, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has sparked a heated debate over its content. The 10-part series highlights the life, stories and crimes of well-known serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Dahmer was responsible for the grotesque murders of 17 young men in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most people would respond to the story with disgust, fear and anguish. However, those feelings are not collective amongst society as an increasing amount of individuals shockingly empathize with and romanticize serial killers. The reason is simple — desensitization, defined as “diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative stimulus after repeated exposure to it.”

When individuals sit in front of the television to watch true crime for hours on end, they begin to associate the obscene content with enjoyment. Not facing the reality of the event which has transpired, they ultimately become desensitized. Many cinematic representations portray the serial killer as the protagonist and their victims as insignificant pawns. For instance, many episodes of “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” allocated much time to highlighting Dahmer’s traumatic past, providing a rationale as to why he committed the murders — this in conjunction with the lack of substantial detail about the victims causes individuals to feel as if the characters play an insignificant role within the plot, all of which can be recognized as reasonably problematic. What is considerably worse than that of empathizing with the killer is developing a romantic attraction. This issue became a common phenomenon in the case of Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker. Ted Bundy gained a large following during his trial and several decades later as admirers refused to believe that someone they deemed attractive could be capable of such atrocities. The documentary “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” also emphasized his charisma and looks, encouraging an increase in the romanticization of Bundy. In general, romanticization has intensified with the installment of Hollywood heartthrobs to play the roles of these deplorable killers.

All in all, these aforementioned issues can have profound effects on victims and their families. Showcasing their traumatic pasts, they begin to relive the situation alongside the rest of the world. After the new Dahmer series was released, Eric Perry, a cousin of one of Dahmer’s victims, Errol Lindsey, tweeted with disgrace stating, “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge rn, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show,” Lindsey posted on Twitter last Thursday. “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” These entertainment corporations acknowledge the trauma faced by the families; however, they also acknowledge the huge profits that can be gained. Unfortunately, monetary gains are prioritized by the entertainment industry, which leaves victims’ families to grieve in the limelight. 

To mitigate the harsh effects of true crime entertainment, we must represent the lives of the victims to the same effect as the killers and pressure producers to emphasize the facts rather than dramatize the events on screen. These solutions can help remedy the exacerbated issue of desensitization while concurrently keeping us educated and entertained.