Is Hollywood Romanticizing Serial Killers?
The Netflix series Dahmer- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which premiered on September 21, has become the latest media sensation gaining momentum on all mainstream and social media platforms. The series tells the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who killed 17 young African American men between 1978 and 1991. Since its premiere, the show has broken the record of the most watched show on Netflix in the first week, surpassing the previous record set by Squid Game.
The show’s popularity stipulates that serial killer protagonists have become the new sensation for our screens, hence the rise in popularity of true crime podcasts, horror movies, crime documentaries, and serial killer series. Thus, it begs the question, is Hollywood romanticizing serial killers?
In recent years, Hollywood has concentrated efforts and resources on creating movies and series delving into the insanity of killers and the audience is constantly thrilled by every new release. Fictional serial killer dramas and movies such as Watcher (2022), The Clovehitch Killer (2018), and The Postcard Killings (2020) bagged considerable successes on screen. Therefore, Hollywood has decided to take the drama a notch higher by switching focus to reality with the new fascination of recreating the lives and the murders committed by famous serial killers and casting American heartthrobs as the maniacs in dramas designed to repulse and terrify.
The list of actors playing imagined or real-life serial killers include the same actors adored by the American population and have a vast base of international fans. The list includes famous Disney Teen actors like Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Ross Lynch of Austin & Ally in Young Jeffrey Dahmer, and one-half of the famous Sprouse twins, Dylan Sprouse taking up the role of the murderous lead in Dismissed.
The main reason for casting these stars is to enable filmmakers to utilize their social media presence and fan presence to promote the films. However, these filmmakers end up promoting the notion that serial killers are handsome men deserving of human empathy. Adding to the bad boy narrative that Hollywood has advanced for years, casting handsome famous actors plays into the trope that manipulation, violence, and abuse are traits that can be adored and romanticized.
The perceptions of viewers on the crimes committed are distorted, which has the potential to normalize these crimes and downplay the traumatic effects on victims, their families, and friends in exchange for Hollywood profits.
Similarly, the romanticization of bad boys in Hollywood culture and entertainment has potentially contributed to the acceptance and tolerance of abusing and damaging relationships so long as the partner surpasses the set requirements for beauty measures. Hence, beyond the entertainment of casting fancy characters as serial killers, is there a problem? Or is it just entertainment?
Almost every serial media story involves a man deeply in love with another; they become overprotective and are willing to kill to get their love interest’s attention. For instance, in the Netflix series You, the main protagonist Joe Golberg is charming, romantic, and caring as he saves his love interest in season 1 at the subway station. Even though things progress downhill quickly when he takes her phone, breaks into her apartment, and locks her boyfriend in a cage, later killing him and her, fans still lust over him and defend his behavior with the notion that he is in love.
Through the seasons, Joe stalks and dates various women, killing anyone who gets in his way, sometimes even the women themselves. The show even portrays him as worthy of having a family when he eventually becomes a father. His horrifying character does not stop fans from romanticizing him for his thoughtfulness, self-efficacy, and good looks.
Further, the coverage of serial killers by the media lays much emphasis on the killer, allowing them to bask in the fame and inflating their ego while the victims fade away into obscurity. For instance, from the film adaptations of Ted Bundy, it is evident that Bundy was satisfied by the media’s attention, which elevated his notoriety.
There have also been instances where serial killers baited the press by sending preliminary information on their intended killings and building buzz, glorifying their ability to evade law enforcement which is portrayed in a myriad of serial killer films, with the thrill of the chase between law enforcement and serial killers.
Correspondingly, the life stories of serial killers are portrayed in a light that snares public sympathy through the depiction of mental health struggles, trauma, and past abuse serving as humanizing factors separating the killers from their horrifying actions. Gifting these serial murderers publicity in the media, films, or dramas is disrespectful to the victims and their families. Just recently, the family of one of Dahmer’s victims spoke about how the show is retraumatizing them.
Romanticization and delusions ensue when the physical attraction to serial killers makes it difficult for the audience to connect the killer’s appearance to their actions. Such romanticization encourages fantasies and infatuations that would otherwise not develop if the serial killers were not publicized. It is essential for the audience not to forget that regardless of their appearance on the silver screen, serial killers are dangerous criminals who torture, rape, and brutally kill their victims.
Hence, their appearances should not be romanticized to undermine the horrifying, unforgivable, and violent crimes they committed. Thus, the industry can continue to cast Hollywood favourite actors to play the faces of serial killers, but this does not in any way define the real criminals and the true stories they are based on.
Do you think Hollywood is romanticizing serial killers? What are your thoughts on this recent trend? Let us know in the comments below!