Why the Glamorization of Serial Killers is Dangerous

Isabella Lagarto, Design Editor

In recent years, true crime has boomed in mainstream media. An increasing number of serial killer documentaries, shows, podcasts and books have surged the public’s interest in crime. Individuals are constantly consuming crime media and sympathizing with serial killers— often overlooking the victims of such atrocities. 

Many enjoy watching crime and murder documentaries for conversation or even entertainment. There is a constant discussion about notorious killers in the media to the point where it becomes an obsession. Trying to understand prolific serial killers and their mindsets has become a challenge for many, skewing the morality of viewers. People excessively preoccupy themselves with deciphering killers’ actions, which warps their reality and ethics. 

Whenever a new piece of true crime media is released, or there is news regarding a serial murderer, there tends to be a trend: sympathizers and admirers. This occurred with the release of Netflix’s “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” and has happened with other convicted serial killers such as Ted Bundy.  

The release of Netflix’s newest crime fiction show, “Dahmer”, has once again popularized Jeffrey Dahmer, a cannibalistic serial killer who murdered 17 men and boys from 1978-1991. The show portrays Dahmer’s crimes, primarily from a standpoint of his victims, and gives some background on his adolescent years.

Even if a show accurately depicts events, the entertainment industry has a tremendous influence on society – thus making it crucial for creators to ensure their content is not glamorizing criminals. The idealization of serial killers is dangerous, as it encourages the idea that grotesque murders committed by killers are worthy of stardom. 

Richard Ramirez, the infamous “Night Stalker,” was a serial killer who murdered at least 13 people in California between 1984-1985. Following his conviction of murders, rapes and burglaries, fans showed up to his court trials to support him and sent him fanmail while he was incarcerated. Similarly, Ted Bundy had fans in the courtroom and received piles of fanmail, consisting of marriage proposals and lewd photos, serving as a prime example of how serial killers are placed on a pedestal — especially if the media deems them conventionally attractive

The recurring pattern of serial killer sympathizers draws the question: who tends to have sympathy for killers and what makes people empathize with them? Women dominate ratings for serial killer documentaries, shows and media, as research attests that women enjoy true crime more than men. A Master’s dissertation from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice suggests that women are more likely to romanticize serial killers for reasons such as human fascination with death, easy access to crime content and emotional psychological factors such as trauma or fear.  Humans are naturally curious, so the uptick of crime in western culture and media makes one wonder about death, violence and the mind of a killer. Due to the rapid development of social media, more serial murderer admirers have assembled at an alarming rate.

A deep desire to understand a serial killer’s motives may lead to a harrowing obsession. People fascinated by the topic tend to research a serial killer’s past and upbringing, determined to figure out the reasons that may have contributed to their crimes. With easy accessibility to crime media — especially in Western and American culture — individuals have the ability to do extensive research about gruesome murders, all at the tip of one’s finger. 

The portrayal of serial killers is common in media and entertainment. However, many forget that popularity does not make something acceptable. Curiosity is natural and nothing to be ashamed of, but diving too deep into crime culture and allowing the interest to take hold, could be detrimental.