Netflix’s Obsession With Murder

Picture of By Audrius Šaras

By Audrius Šaras

I am not a “big” movie or TV show guy, but whenever I open Netflix, there is an overwhelming amount of true crime content popping up on my screen. This comes as no surprise, as the phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” echoes even in the 21st century throughout all media platforms, even though the crime rate is decreasing. A particularly interesting sub-topic of true crime, which is extensively covered on Netflix, is murder documentaries. Although the effects of such films are under-researched, the fetishization of such berserk murderers could have profound effects on the toleration of violence.

HOW Popular Is True Crime?

Although Netflix has very diverse content to offer, there has been clear evidence that shows related to true crime, which covers gruesome violence either visually or descriptively, are really popular. Just in 2018, Netflix released that out of the top 10 of the most binged shows, two were related to violent content: “Making a Murderer” and “13 Reasons Why”, with “You” coming close. While those are not necessarily documentaries, the portrayal of killers, such as the serial killer in the show “You” as a creepy stalker garnered the attention of 32% of Netflix’s subscribers. Lastly, the released documentary “American Murder: The Family Next Door” has already gathered over 52 million views, making it one of the most popular movies on Netflix about a gruesome murder. It is no coincidence that all these shows tingle our deepest senses and make us want to watch more and more. But why? Why do we want to hear very sensitive stories about people who are only famous because of their psychopathic nature?

The Dark Side

Thus, just as those scholars from the 16th century stared at a human skull, we stare at our screens watching true crime, controlling the darkest energies that we have.

From the psychological point of view, it is particularly intriguing to understand what makes us appreciate the content of something that is considered to be so gruesome. However, one psychiatrist, Carl Jung, came up with the theory of a shadow, which is an attempt to explain the fascination with true crime. He hunches that humans have a dark side in their psyche, which holds the energy for the ability to murder, symbolizing the shadow, however; this can be overcome if the demonic inclinations are acknowledged. To accompany this idea, professor Eric G. Wilson that examined Jung’s theory gives historical references to show how we have confronted the demonic inclinations. For instance, Renaissance scholars had skulls on their desk to remind themselves that life is precious, hence, confronting the morbid part of the psyche. Thus, just as those scholars from the 16th century stared at a human skull, we stare at our screens watching true crime, controlling the darkest energies that we have. By doing this, we do not allow the shadow to expand and swallow the light, which results in the horrible crimes that we see people commit.

Taking particular examples, the sub-theme of true crime, serial killer shows also receive a lot of positive feedback. Yet, the causation of this enjoyment or the appreciation of the show remains unclear. Nonetheless, criminology professor, Scott Bonn gives a thorough explanation of what is so attractive about serial killer shows. And, no, it is not Zac Efron acting as Ted Bundy in the show “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”. Bonn examines the cases in two ways. Firstly, the presence of a serial killer is very complex in our social landscape, which makes the shows charming as they unveil the character’s traits. Secondly, the fact that such guys like Ted Bundy- highly educated, charming and could be your next-door neighbour existed, only fuels the fire of excitement while watching the show because it gives indications of what to look out for. But is this attraction and fascination with true-crime shows detrimental, or does it give any benefits?

Will Watching Series About True Crime Make You A Murderer?

The answer is most likely not. Notwithstanding, many communication scholars have concluded that exposure to true crime will make us more acquainted with violence. For example, Glenn Sparks, a media-violence expert has expressed deep concerns regarding the growing familiarity of the true-crime content since he believes that people will tolerate violence more in real life, hence, desensitizing a very vulnerable topic.

Despite this, a survivor of the Ted Bundy attacks, Kathy Rubin, gives a different perspective on the content produced by Netflix. Although she believes that Ted Bundy is an over-glorified persona in today’s media landscape, she also stresses that such shows would give insights to women about being more aware of their surroundings. 

Netflix’s usage of violence and coverage of murder stories has been obsessive in the past and probably will remain prevalent in the future. However, such traumatizing content, especially for the victims of similar crimes, can be highly detrimental, and no one should ever be able to tolerate violence of any sort. Unfortunately, it seems that Netflix is deviating from such content being a learning experience that should never be done again to something that seems completely normal.


Cover by: Lacie Slezak

Edited by: Rajal Monga

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