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COLUMN: True crime cuts deep in gruesome Netflix series

Is our obsession with the macabre growing? Popularity of new series about Jeffrey Dahmer should cause some self-examination, says columnist
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Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is now airing on Netflix.

I was asked a question recently that left me with many more questions than answers.

I had just started watching the Netflix series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and a relative asked me why I would ever want to watch something so horrible.

My only answer at the time was: “Well, I’m not sure other than I love true crime stories. I’m not alone, though. Dahmer is the most watched Netflix show right now in 60 countries around the world.”

In that one sentence, I needed to do a lot more questioning of myself and society, in general.

Why is it so many of us are obsessed with horror and true crime?

It seems a relatively new passion — if that’s the proper word — given the number of true crime documentaries, podcasts, books, court channels and Dateline-esque television shows. I know there’s always been interest in stories about Jack the Ripper and the like, but I think what we are experiencing now is a bit different. The interest seems deeper and darker.

Since the Dahmer series launched Sept. 21, more than 196 million hours  were watched. Some viewers reported PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Others found themselves unable to get through some scenes. Yet, still in droves, we watched.

For myself, part of my interest could have been my career as a journalist. I remember the case. Who could forget? I can remember reporting on it as the investigation went on with all its gory details and following it through to his own murder in prison. If a serial killer who is also a cannibal doesn’t get one’s attention, what would?

As the series progresses, it is also a fascinating study in the ultimate dysfunctional family, early warning signs and missed police opportunities.

Stepping away from this particular series, which features great actors and is well crafted, why are we drawn to this type of reality?

British psychologist, Emma Kinny told the BBC: “It is clear that there is a growing obsession with true crime. Part of it may be the addictive nature of streaming services. I think for anybody who’s watching this kind of stuff you really need to know why you are watching it. You don’t want to desensitize yourself too much. Life is best spent around good people doing good things, exposing yourself to the best things in the world that you can expose yourself to. We should never be desensitized to horror.”

It seems as if more people got into this kind of programming during COVID. It is just a guess on my part, but maybe we were cooped up for so long that we literally had more time on our hands to watch the different shows. 

In a weird way, reality was so scary that escapism, in whatever form, gave us some comfort. Anything that kept our minds off the pandemic was a bit of a relief. The same can be said, of course, for any upsetting news, whether it’s the current hurricanes or the ongoing war in Ukraine or whatever personal demons keeps you up at night.

If you are watching true crime, for example, you know the outcome. Usually, the bad guy is caught in the end and justice is served. Maybe, that gives us some comfort?

I’m sure psychologists around the globe are studying these trends.

Perhaps, like most things, moderation is the key. Don’t go down the rabbit hole. A balanced entertainment diet as it were. Some crime, a bit of romance, a little home reno, and a few musicals

Soon enough, we can overdose on the sweetest of Hallmark movies — one after the other.

I wonder how many of those it takes to drive out the darkness?

I think it may be a good idea to find out.


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About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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