True Crime Killing Our Views

Netflix’s Jeffrey Dahmer series and true crime media receive interest and backlash.

From podcasts to documentaries to books to movies, the popularity of true crime media evokes curiosity among all generations.

True crime allows people to examine humanity’s darker sides. People are able to experience these extreme events vicariously from the comfort of their homes.

The popularity of true crime and the amount of violence displayed in news outlets demonstrates “morbid curiosity,” a common psychological trait among people. People are interested in and curious about unpleasant things, especially death, and are drawn to stories of real-life horrors; this is where the appeal of true crime comes from. In addition, true crime feeds people’s natural desire to solve puzzles and mysteries.

Freshman Zoey Moore was first introduced to true crime by stumbling upon a YouTube channel by a woman named Kendall Rae. The premise of Rae’s channel is to educate people on real crime cases around the world. After immersing herself in Rae’s YouTube channel, Moore became even more interested in true crime and began watching documentaries.

“What interests me about true crime is how the criminal got caught,” Moore said. “It fascinates me how fast, or even slow, the person [was] identified. The thought process of law enforcement catching the criminal is also interesting.”

Former Crime Scene Investigator and current Latent Fingerprint Examiner (and ENHS parent) Josh Connelly appeared on an episode of the popular documentary television program Forensic Files, which uses forensic science to solve violent crime cases. However, even with his connections, Connelly is not interested in true crime outside of work.

“I think because I deal with it every day, I need a break from it,” Connelly said. “When I’m not at work, I don’t want to think about the gruesome things I’ve encountered and still encounter all of the time.”

In particular, Generation Z and Millenials have a unique fascination with true crime and, some may say, an obsession. Generation Z is more desensitized to violence than previous generations because they grew up in post-9/11 America, where they also regularly face school shootings, riots, and wars.

With information at their fingertips via the internet, true crime enthusiasts can research the obscure sides of the topic. They want to understand why the murderer did what they did and identify the environmental factors that produced a killer. To them, a murderer is more than their crimes. Gen Z puts aside their horrific acts and sees them as human beings with troubled pasts. This shows the highly empathetic side of Generation Z.

“The younger generations have more understanding of mental health,” senior Kaden McCandless said. “Seeing how people can get to such a dark place and commit these crimes is interesting to see why they did what they did.”

On September 21, 2022, Netflix released a new true crime drama series about the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The series is called Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The Dahmer series explores the motives of Jeffrey Dahmer and how he became one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. After the series’ release, audiences had mixed emotions about the portrayal of Dahmer and his heinous crimes.

For many reasons, Connelly watched the first episode but then decided not to watch the rest of the Dahmer series.

“It’s not that I can’t stomach the shock of it, but it seems to sensationalize Dahmer and almost give him celebrity status,” Connelly said. “Obviously, there are many things that we can learn from that case in particular, like the poor response to the missing people by the police department, for one, but to create a mini-series about it and use a lot of “artistic” liberties to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know. I think it puts the killer on a pedestal where he doesn’t need to be.”

Many believe true crime series, such as the Dahmer series, glorify serial killers and their crimes.

“It romanticizes the killer and tries to give them a likable or relatable persona like we are supposed to feel sorry for them somehow,” Connelly said. “We don’t need to romanticize them; it can create copycat killers.”

Another consideration of true crime is that the media highlights the elaborate crimes of serial killers rather than shedding light on the victims and their stories.

“I think that shedding light on the killers is unfair,” Moore said. “I think the victims are the ones that need light because of everything they went through, and they were innocent people, and their lives were taken from them, which they didn’t deserve at all.”

On top of that, these productions can negatively affect the victims’ families involved in the case.

“It puts the families [of the victims] in the public eye,” Moore said. “People are in their business 24/7. Some crazy people even try to terrorize the victims’ families. People will find and expose where they live, causing other people to terrorize them more. Even on the internet, people will post cruel things about their deceased family members, which is disgusting.”

Beyond the unwanted attention, this can also retraumatize the families even if they avoid watching these documentaries.

“It makes them remember their tragic loss as it explodes for everyone to see,” McCandless said. “It can be detrimental when someone’s loss becomes a part of pop culture or is on the news all the time, which would be hard to get over the loss.”

The Dahmer series is an excellent example of true crime media retraumatizing the victims’ families by not reaching out to them before releasing content to the public.

The creators of the Dahmer series did not speak to Errol Lindsey’s family about the show premiering. Lindsey was one of Dahmer’s victims. Rita Isbell, the sister of Lindsey, said she didn’t feel the need to watch the show made about her brother’s killer because she lived through it.

“Especially with the Jeffrey Dahmer series on Netflix being as big as it is, seeing everything in live action can hurt the victims’ families and makes them think of the trauma they endured,” Moore said.

English teacher Sarah Schoenrock strongly believes that the entertainment industry must contact the victims’ families to get their consent before releasing their shows to the public.

“I don’t think creators should authorize the stories themselves without the permission of the victims’ families,” Schoenrock said. “It’s important that companies reach out to the families who lived through it and tell them about the production.”

True crime shows want to appeal to viewers and get more views by talking about the killer. It can help people understand all aspects and perspectives of tragic events. These true crime shows can also teach audiences how to escape similar situations.

“I think some media outlets do not care about solving a crime or bringing closure to a victim’s family; they are just in it for the money from advertisers or patrons to their page,” Connelly said. ”I realize funding has to come from somewhere, but many of these true crime podcasts are overly dramatic and sensationalized to get more money.”