Dahmer, Bundy and Gacy, all standing before a large crowd. The image is representing their fandom on social media. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.

Hearing about serial killers is always a dark and frightening thing to the average person. Usually, it can be asked “What if it was me?” when hearing about the heinous crimes that were committed. As gory and taboo as the details of the crimes usually are, a lot of us usually can’t help but stop and listen to the news. Most mainstream media seems to adopt the trend of using these evil people’s crimes as tabloid-esque content, feeding off of the internet’s obvious infatuation with serial killers, most recently Jeffrey Dahmer. It can be assumed that many of you reading this have seen somewhere on your phones or laptops recently a video, picture, or news story about the infamous serial killer, with most of the credit going to none other than Netflix.

America’s new Netflix obsession has been due for a long time, with the release of the 4th season of Stranger Things being over 5 months ago. Netflix was getting somewhat dry, and it seemed like right at the perfect time, the viewings for “Dahmer-Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story ” skyrocketed, pushing it to Netflix America’s top 10 shows for several weeks in a row. This placement, along with the terrifying cover image for the show (a black and yellow picture of Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, with bright yellow contacts behind his famous 70’s aviator-style eyeglasses), ensured that tons of people were curious enough to give it a watch. Many adults were aware of Jeffrey Dahmer long before the release of the mini-series, as he produced one of the most shocking and brutal crime scenes in America’s history. As a normal reaction, people are disgusted but also slightly intrigued by the case, hence the show’s high viewership. This is not Netflix’s first production utilizing a famous, well-liked actor for a depiction of a serial killer. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” a movie released in 2019, starring Zac Efron as the notorious Ted Bundy, also did very well in the viewing count for Netflix. It seems more and more obvious to us as well as the Netflix employees; people like watching recreations of serial killers, and the stories about them. But as more of these shows and movies started to get more attention, such as “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer,” there seemed to be a commonality. As portrayed on TikTok, Instagram, and even in person, there have been many times when serial killers have been glorified, romanticized, and sexualized for their “Bad Boy” personas. It is evident that it can be very difficult to see this happen, especially if someone in the family affected by the crime is neglected. Without surprise one of the biggest platforms this happens on is none other than TikTok. 

An early example of people glorifying and romanticizing evil can be taken from the case of Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the Night Stalker. Ramirez preyed on and terrified people in Southern California, primarily Los Angeles, for the majority of the ‘80s, and was widely known as one of the most violently evil killers in American history. The attacks were random, brutal, and often portrayed symbols indicating Ramirez’s infatuation with Satanic beliefs. After over 30 victims, Ramirez was caught in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, after homeowners began chasing him and subdued him for the police. During his trials, where he pleaded not guilty, many people were surprised to see large numbers of younger people, mostly young women, watching the trials in support, like a fan club, of Ramirez. He received tons of letters and fan mail in jail, all notifying him of his support from his followers in many different ways. Not only was Ramirez receiving support while incarcerated, but he was also having tons of publicity without any effort. 

Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer were also sent numerous fan emails, and were the sole focus of the media for their prolonged trials, both in part due to their fan clubs, and also because of the way the media played off of their personalities, creating an image that was different from other killers in history. The problem with this is that many people are left idolizing and glorifying crimes based on Netflix’s recreations, as the dramatization and depiction of, for example, Jeffrey Dahmer is incredibly insensitive to the victims’ families. People on TikTok and other social media platforms are essentially idolizing the person that killed their family member, which displays a lack of empathy.An example of this can be taken from Rita Isbell, a family member of one of Dahmer’s victims, who gave a victim impact statement that was recreated in the show. She stated, “When I saw some of the show, it bothered me, especially when I saw myself—when I saw my name come across the screen and this lady saying verbatim exactly what I said.” Netflix did not reach out to her at any point in the production or offer her any money for using her name, appearance, or likelihood. “Her hair was like mine, she had on the same clothes. That’s why it felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then,” Isbell stated in an article by Kelsey Vlamis published on Insider. The absence of consent, mixed with the high attention surrounding the killings that people once thought were buried, can definitely bring up some reasonable emotions for the victim’s families. 

The big question is: Why are some people often infatuated with serial killers? Ted Bundy was even deemed “The Handsome Killer,” and was the recipient of many letters and other mail in prison, even after gruesome details were released on his murders. Examples of this idolization on social media include TikToks of Evan Peters’ Jeffery Dahmer portrayal, tweets about the killer’s physical appearance, and one woman who went as far as to wear Jeffrey Dahmer earrings and post about it.

People are often infatuated with serial killers usually when they notice them for the “Innocent child they once were,” or with things like the absence of a parent figure or a sense of low self-esteem. In an article on Psychology Today,  Dr. Melanie Haughton, a professor in psychology at the University of Derby, states, “By depicting serial killers as complex, intelligent and interesting, and choosing attractive actors to play them gives them a sense of appeal.”  She is sharing that by creating the characters with dialogue and appearances that can be appealing, Netflix and other producers are essentially stoking the fire about the public’s interest in the villains.

Netflix has been on the hot seat for countless things, but they are sure to remain there if the choice is upheld to continue the production of serial killer shows and movies with the main actor being the focus and protagonist of the story, especially with a popular actor portraying the killer.