True crime media borders on being unethical

As true crime becomes an increasingly popular genre, it is essential to recognize the effect that these shows and movies can have. In the first 28 days of its release, Netflix’s “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” received 856,220,000 hours of viewing time, making it Netflix’s third most popular English TV series. Almost immediately after its release, family members of Dahmer’s victims began speaking out, sharing that they were never consulted during the series’ making and that the release of the series retraumatized the families.

With the release of “Dahmer” in September of 2022 comes a larger question: can true crime be ethical? If you search for “true crime” on YouTube, you will find people doing their makeup or eating dinner while talking about a murder. There are even videos of people telling stories about murders through autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The most popular genres for podcasts are comedy and true crime. These mediums are all ways that society has commodified the stories surrounding real people. People who had their lives tragically cut short have been turned into clickbait.

Often when watching or listening to true crime videos and podcasts, individuals will be doing other tasks, diverting their full attention from the victims. This perpetrates the idea that this is just a story, and the individuals in it mere characters rather than real people. One becomes desensitized from the gruesome acts they are listening to and continues to consume similar media. 

Women are more likely than men to be fans of true crime. Most true crime focuses on women and minority victims, meaning that they are repeatedly hearing stories of members of their communities being attacked. This can lead to an increase in anxiety among these individuals, as the common thought is “not if, but when.” Being in a heightened state of anxiety so often can inhibit one from recognizing when they are truly in danger.

This brings us back to the question: can true crime be ethical? With the commodification of victims and the heightened state of anxiety that enjoyers of true crime can feel, it is important to recognize the good that is occurring within the genre. Although there are people on YouTube who use true crime to gain views, others use it as a way to help the victims’ families. There are multiple accounts that collaborate with the families to raise money to support them and interview the families to get to know the victim as a person rather than a number.

Other creators of true crime media attempt to showcase the stories of victims who would otherwise not get media attention. This often includes people of color, disabled individuals or members of the LGBT+ community. These victims are able to have their stories told be recognized for who they were before their lives were cut short.

It is perfectly okay to enjoy true crime; however, it is important to seek out media that focuses on victims rather than perpetrators. Celebrating media that attempts to humanize these criminals and awarding the actors that portray them desensitizes audiences from the brutality of the crimes. 

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