Is the growing obsession with true crime getting dangerous?
By Madison Sciba
True crime podcasts have become the most popular genre of podcasts on Spotify, with many true crime podcasts ranked in Spotify’s top 10. Recently, the new series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story quickly rose to the top of Netflix’s popularity list, eventually becoming Netflix’s number one show across the world. This caused an influx of interest in the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer, but not in a good way. This past Halloween saw people actually dressing up as the man who killed 17 men between 1978 and 1991. To glorify or emulate someone who committed such atrocities is wildly unacceptable. Netflix is being blamed for profiting off the horrors that Dahmer caused, while many of the families of Dahmer’s victims are speaking out against the show. Which raises the question: Has society’s obsession with true crime gone too far?
Unlike the new Dahmer series, most true crime documentaries are meant to bring awareness and knowledge to a crime or event. Another Netflix original is the docuseries Keep Sweet, Pray, and Obey. This docuseries focused around the events and experiences of former members of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist fundamentalist branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormonism. The series focused on the experiences of the children, many being young girls, who were exploited and mistreated in the FLDS church, specifically by the church’s “prophet” Warren Jeffs. In this series, unlike in Dahmer, it is not a dramatization of the ongoing events in the FLDS but includes interviews by actual victims and survivors who are now able to tell their stories. It told of women who survived child marriages to much older men, women who lost their children and families to the church, and of men who lost everything because they dared to question the “prophet”.
These docuseries and documentaries, like Keep Sweet, are vastly different from the dramatizations of crime as was such in the Dahmer series, as well as many others. Another Netflix show, Netflix: Unsolved Mysteries strives to bring awareness to cold cases (unsolved crimes that are no longer being actively investigated), again involving the family and friends of victims, hoping that bringing their loved one’s case into the public view will help solve it. Such is not the case of drama series and movies like the 2019 film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a dramatized telling of the crimes and trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. He was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering women in the 1970s. Bundy gained many female fans following his arrest in the 1970s, and then gained even more after the airing of the Netflix film. For years deranged admirers have proclaimed love for the charismatic killer, and the numbers of fans only increased after the attractive and popular actor Zac Efron portrayed Bundy in the film. Behaviors like this and like those who dressed up as Dahmer as a Halloween costume is unacceptable and disgusting. It is unknown exactly how many women Bundy murdered. He was an evil man who targeted and victimized vulnerable women, and he should never be admired.
This is why there is a fine line in true crime between what is acceptable content and what is not. Documentaries and docuseries that aim to bring awareness and involvement of victims and their families bring a larger sense of realness to true crime. Recreated dramatic films and series tend to distance the viewer from the reality of the crimes and almost glorify the villains by using attractive actors in a traditional Hollywood style setting. Most true crime podcasts have the goal of bringing awareness to crimes as well as to personal safety. One of the most popular podcasts, Crime Junkies, aims to tell their listeners of unknown crimes while the hosts frequently bring up what us as individuals can do to try and prevent these horrific things from happening to us. Through their “Crime Junkie Rules'' of “Be weird, be rude, stay alive!” hosts Ashley and Britt encourage listeners to learn from these horrific stories and to do their best to stay safe and out of danger.
Netflix: Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Keep Sweet, Pray, and Obey
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Crime Junkies on Spotify by AudioChuck: https://crimejunkiepodcast.com/
Madison Sciba '24,