The Media’s Romanticization of Serial Killers 

 By: Nicole Chedraoui 

Unless you have been living under a rock with no wireless internet connection, I’m sure you have heard of the new Netflix original that was released about one of the world’s most prolific serial killers of all time. On September 21st of this year, the Netflix original series MONSTER: The Jeffrey Dahmer Series showcased its debut by holding the #1 worldwide trending spot for over two weeks straight. This series showcased the life and story of no other than serial killer and ruthless cannibal Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, and the graphic murders and dismemberment of 17 men and boys. While this series is one of the few stories that depicts the inherent systematic racism and homophobia behind the investigation of Damher’s crimes, the core problem stemming from this Netflix release was the rebirth of something horrible. The media’s sick, sick romanticization of cold-blooded killers. 

Many may read that and think I’m crazy for even suggesting such a twisted idea. Glorifying one of the most viciously evil men in history– who would do such a thing? My answer to that: the internet. After the release of Dahmer, TikTok and Twitter users alike rose up to glorify how hot Evan Peters was in his new role as Jefrrey. Allow me to bring up the frightening elephant in the room and pose a question to all media and film producers everywhere: WHY are you casting cult-classic sex icons as cruel blooded serial killers? First it was Ross Lynch playing Dahmer, Zac Efron playing Bundy, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, what’s next?

While Evan Peters does a phenomenal job through his months of method acting and while he isn’t intentionally revealing himself as some sort of romantic hero, you cannot deny the inherent conventionality of his attractiveness. Creating entertainment out of real crimes and victim’s stories is problematic enough, but additionally going out of your way to cast a fan-favorite hottie is only going to encourage the sick minds of social media users to turn these men into romantic heroes. The phenomenon is entirely less troubling when you shine this light on fictional characters such as Penn Badgely playing serial killer Joe Goldbery from You. At least in this scenario, we know the crimes are not based on reality, and Joe Goldberg is nothing but a fantastical character who was written up behind a screen. No, this phenomenon is much more troubling. Especially as pop-culture time goes by and the average chronically online person starts to glamorize the horrendous acts of killers by sensationalizing their violence.

 Bestselling crime author Ian Rankin stated, “Humans are fascinated by evil. We wonder where it comes from and whether we ourselves could ever carry out such an act. Some readers turn to crime fiction for answers, while others prefer true crime.” I, for one, am as big a fan of true crime as the next girl, for there is something so intriguing in dissecting the minds of those who are, at the very core, plain evil. As humans, we are fascinated by the absolute extremity of serial killer cases such as Bundy, Manson, and Dahmer, for we carry such overt curiosity. Why did they do what they did? How could they? The entertainment industry likes to use our human curiosity to exploit victims’ stories and reveal horrific crimes of these killers, and television does nothing but allow us to feed into our curiosity. So you could imagine when the next big serial killer series came out, users were running to see how Ryan Murphy was going to depict such a horrifying mind in a thrilling and exciting manner. It is no secret that the youngest generation is wildly desensitized to serious, traumatizing, and horrific media, for social media has already opened up that world for us ages ago. Seeing gruesome, horrible videos and content on the news, streaming platforms, and social media on a daily basis tends to normalize such terrifying and otherworldly concepts. So when Gen Z went to watch this new Dahmer show, they completely removed the crime, and portrayed the lead killer as the “anti-hero.” 

Sure, the fascination may start at attempting to understand these killers and their motives, but as social media showed once again, it eventually turns into being charmed by actors who add to the inherit romance, and ends with viewers who are fed half-truths and stretched facts. The public’s interest in serial killers is more “sensational” than sensible. If you think back to the horrid history of these cold-blooded killers, most of the time, you’ll remember them and their legacy more than you’ll remember their victims and the victims’ lives. This is horrible in so many ways because we have on record that this is exactly what the killer wants. Historic killers such as Richard Ramirez and the Zodiac used their sociopathic charisma to relish in the public’s open fascination with them. This undoubtedly kept their reign of terror alive through tv and film long after their death. Televison would go on to showcase the trials, killings, and life of the murderer, and not the justice being served for the victim. These films will downplay the brutality inflicted by these men which makes the audience forget that–yes, actual people with real lives, families, and stories were murdered by psychopaths. 

For some reason, Gen Z almost feels as though it’s quirky, different, and funny to tweet things like; “Call me crazy but Ted Bundy is hot,” (yes that is a real tweet that was at the top of stan twitter after “Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” came out.) This, my friends, is a WHOLE other ballpark of messed up. Not only are you romanticizing an actor playing a real killer, you are quite literally romanticizing an actual serial killer. Many would be shocked to know that this is exactly what each and every one of his victims said before he took their lives. It is believed this man had killed over 100 people in his time on Earth, and stan twitter girls are simping over him. A Ted Bundy attack survivor, Kathy Kleiner, came out and said during an interview that Ted is “someone that’s not gonna go away, and people are going to keep talking about him… He’s one of those notorious serial killers.” 

Expert psychologists say that people are attracted to serial killers such as Bundy, in part, because they are so invested in trying to understand their horrible acts. Scott Bonn, criminologist, professor and author of the new serial killer novel “Evil Guardian,” came out and said that people romanticize and obsess over serial killers from a place of fear rather than a place of understanding.  “If we understand them and understand the motivation and why they’re doing this… it’s no longer this unquantifiable horror,” Bonn said. “Once it makes sense, it becomes a little less frightening to us.” Bonn was also quick to point out that many who experience this attraction possess such feelings because they want to fix the criminal. Nonetheless this attention and praise toward a killer can only grow their celebrity status, and soon, people begin to separate the public figure from the crimes. When referring to Bundy’s victims, Bonn asks his readers; “Can anyone recall the names of even one of those women?” Bonn asked. “To the extent that we focus on them and sensationalize them, it’s harming the victims twice.”

It’s important to realize that perhaps instead of taking the time to highlight the lives of these cruel evil humans, perhaps we as a society should highlight the families of the victims who have to relive the brutal murders of their loves ones’ on the big screen after every new “Dahmer” remake. Instead of telling your friends that “the new Dahmer show wasn’t even that scary,” perhaps take into account the lives that were stolen and question the real monsters who live on–the entertainment empires who do the romanticizing for us. 

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