In the past few years, Netflix has introduced its audience to a brand new genre of serial killer docu-series and biopics. These projects serve only to boost awareness and ensure that the public is regularly alerted to the incidence of crimes. However, it is incontrovertible that this approach has garnered a great deal of interest from a particular demographic of people who have a propensity to be infatuated by criminals.
The Netflix original “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is the most recent documentary that has acquired critical acclaim and a large fan base. The programme left viewers uncomfortably shuddering but also unable to turn away from a repugnant event in true crime history that had been recreated in a vivid form that is both emotionally and unnervingly captivating.The popularity of true crime has been expanding for years, and the abundance of exaggerated serial killer biopics has only contributed to intensifying society’s infatuation with murderers.
The audiences are typically split into two groups: one that is vehemently opposed to these remakes, and another that is enamoured and enthralled by the criminals. The casting of attractive actors as serial killers, such as Evan Peters as Dahmer, fuels the latter category with fascination, which culminates in empathising with and romanticising his heinous crimes. We encountered the worst of this scenario when The Ted Bundy Tapes documentary and Zac Efron’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, two significant Bundy-focused productions, were broadcasted during Netflix’s Ted Bundy era back in 2019.
According to studies, this mental state in which a person yearns for and fetishizes a criminal is called Hybristophilia. It is a form of paraphilia in which an individual gets titillated over someone who executes a vulgar or vicious act. The individuals in this unfortunate trance argue that the criminal is interesting by nature,that their actions are defendable, or that they are not as monstrous as they are portrayed.
The murderers’ attractive qualities, which they employ as a lure to draw in victims, are the cause of this odd attraction. Many experts believe that infamous serial killer Ted Bundy triggered this behavior.The notorious criminal was accused of raping and murdering more than 30 women. When he was alive, people who interacted with him claimed that he was charming, exuded confidence, and knew how to appear in a dominating manner. All of this resulted in a magnetic aura about him that managed to allure women even after he was imprisoned. He would receive letters including nude photographs, and some of them even contained marriage proposals.
At Bundy’s prosecution, women would arrive in the courtroom with their hair parted straight through the middle and hoop earrings, presuming this was the fashion of his victims. Several of them even dyed their hair brown to resemble the colour of the slaughtered women’s hair. In 1980, while still on trial, Bundy married one of his devotees, Carol Ann Boone. In order to be near him throughout his trial, she relocated from Washington State to Florida, got married to him, and gave birth to his daughter. Boone asserted Bundy was being coerced and always considered him to be innocent. She even testified under oath in support of him during the penalty phase of his ultimate trial in 1980. It is utterly infelicitous that due to their attractive physical attributes, women frequently become fixated on these gruesome individuals.
Netflix latest true-crime blockbuster- Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story– has broken viewing records. The series follows the horrific true story of serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, who murdered and dismembered 17 men. He was also involved in cannibalism over a span of 13 years.
As a child, Dahmer was described as timid and rather quiet by his teachers. Apart from facing insecurities as such, Dahmer was also supposed to have normalised violence at an early age as he witnessed his parents fighting violently every now and then. When he reached puberty, he discovered he was gay and kept his identity hidden from his parents. Jeffrey Dahmer was also an alcoholic during his teenage years. He began drinking to cope with the chaotic relationship of his parents at home. And due to his drinking habit, he was kicked out of the military service later during the years.
On 22 July 1991, a distraught young man with a handcuff dangling from his wrist approached two police officers. He said that some “freak” had tried to restrain him. The three men headed back to the aggressor’s apartment and were greeted at the door by the tenant, Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer tried to talk his way out of the situation, but the appalling stench of death gave him away.
In Dahmer’s bedroom, an officer found polaroid photos of nude male bodies in varying stages of dismemberment. The background in the photos indicated that they had been taken in the very room. Dahmer was immediately arrested. The police then searched his apartment and discovered a fridge filled with human body parts, several painted skulls and a human skeleton hung from his showerhead.
Dahmer confessed to the murders of 17 men and engaging in necrophilic acts with their corpses. He also admitted that he had experimented with cannibalism, by eating the body parts of his victims. Dahmer’s trial began and despite persuasive arguments from both sides, he was declared sane and received 15 life sentences. He was beaten to death by a fellow prison inmate.
Born in 1960 and formerly known as the Night Stalker of Los Angeles, Richard Ramirez has been a subject of several movies and a true crime docu-series on Netflix, based on his unthinkable crimes. Ramirez was a notorious killer, rapist and burglar who murdered countless lives in the 1980s.
According to reports, his cousin Miguel Ramirez, who was a Vietnam War veteran, often bragged about his war crimes and showed pictures of women he had allegedly raped and killed. Miguel passed on some of his military expertise to his cousin, including stealth killing and how to properly conceal oneself in the dark. Richard even witnessed his cousin’s fatal shooting of his wife over a heated argument. Since then, Richard began breaking into houses and continued to commit crimes.
Ramirez committed his first known murder which was a raping and stabbing of a 79 years old widow. Most of the deaths occurred in the Los Angeles area and took place during home invasions. His victims, some of whom survived, were often sexually assaulted and beaten, and Satanic symbols were found at many crime scenes. The Night Stalker became known and created a panic among the people. Eventually, a fingerprint was discovered that led to Ramirez’s identification.
A self declared Satanist, Ramirez made various references to Satan during his legal proceedings. He drew a pentagram on his palm and shouted “Hail Satan!” as he entered the courtroom. Ramirez was found guilty on all counts, including thirteen murder cases, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults and fourteen burglaries. He was sentenced to death, with the judge stating that his crimes showed “cruelty, callousness and viciousness beyond any human understanding”. Ramirez never showed any remorse, and, after receiving his sentence, he stated, “Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland”. While on death row, Ramirez was diagnosed with cancer and died in prison.
The Romanticisation of Serial Killers
The depiction of these despicable individuals who have committed brutal and insane crimes with generally lovable actors adds to the romanticization of these serial killers. Several social media networks have seen an escalation in the consequences of this. In addition to the actors that play these criminals, the criminals themselves are also gaining popularity. On Twitter and Instagram, Ted Bundy fan pages have become extremely prevalent, and countless fanfiction accounts all over the world regularly publish writings that revel in delusions of becoming the victim of a notorious murderer. Since these crimes have obtained so much publicity, they have become trendy, which inevitably glorifies murderers.
Companies like Netflix have tailored their marketing strategies to take advantage of the fact that the majority of true crime viewers are female. In the 2019 movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, he was characterised in the screenplay as a captivating figure who radiates sex appeal. His character was misrepresented by this demeanour, which entirely opposes the horrifying severity of his crimes.
Soon after the film’s release, young girls began to post videos on TikTok of themselves mimicking Bundy’s victims, wearing makeup to create the appearance of bleeding scars and bite wounds on their bodies. This demonstrates the damaging repercussions of utilizing serial killers as sex icons. Therefore, people’s perspectives of the brutality are twisted in order to standardise them and generate profit for Hollywood.
Consequently, when these individuals’ physical features are remembered, people forget the atrocious crimes they have done. This is actually detrimental for survivors or anyone who has directly experienced trauma inflicted by those who go about preaching feeble reasoning.
The Dahmer series drew viewers who desired a more gory show because they were “unbothered” by how the TV series handled Dahmer’s murders. It is dehumanising to belittle the victims’ deaths. Although the violent portrayal of the victims’ deaths may not have seemed explicit to those watching,it conjured up the agony that the relatives of the victims suffered at the time of the incident. One of Dahmer’s victims’ family members even recently highlighted how the show is ‘’retraumatizing’’ them.
These homicide victims all had their lives forcibly snatched away from them. The followers of these serial killers do not clearly comprehend that by encouraging those crimes, they are devaluing the lives of the victims.
Along with deceptive marketing, the majority of Dahmer’s victims were LGBT males who were typically poor, African American, Asian, or of Latino descent. The fans’ romanticization of Dahmer significantly undermines the challenges faced by a group of individuals who already confront difficulty getting their concerns recognized by the media. The communities impacted by serial murders strain to raise attention to the plight that besets them as a result of idealising serial killers.
Similarly, the press’s spotlight on serial killers tends to concentrate primarily on the perpetrator, giving them the opportunity to relish the limelight and bump up their vanities whereas the victims vanish into anonymity. In the case of Ted Bundy, for example, it is apparent from the movie adaptations that Bundy was delighted with the public’s attention, which boosted his popularity.
The sensationalization of serial killers has also been encouraged by media outlets. When news organisations start to nickname criminals and promote them as booster pack figures, it can have fatal consequences since these offenders generally desire praise and attention for their acts. Although giving a serial killer a catchy moniker might improve newspaper sales or cause folks to keep up with the news for a change, it comes with the risk of posing a threat to the situation. Moreover, by strengthening their infamy and reputation, these nicknames enable serial killers to accomplish their objectives. Media sources should be more cognizant of what they publish if they want to prevent pushing the narrative that serial killers should be romanticised.
It is essential for the audience not to forget that regardless of their appearances on the silver screen, serial killers are dangerous criminals who torture, rape and brutally kill their victims. Hence, their appearances should not be romanticised because it undermines the horrifying, unforgivable, and violent crimes they committed.
Thus, the industry can continue to cast Hollywood favourite actors to play the faces of serial killers, but this does not in any way define the real criminals and the true stories they are based on.
Written by: Ruby and Isabel
Edited by: Caitlin