By Jo Early
True crime content has seen a boom in popularity over the past decade. Podcasts like “My Favorite Murder” consistently top the charts and documentary series like “Tiger King” take the number one spot on Netflix.
Sometimes, that popularity can cause real world changes. Last semester, “The Ranger” talked about “The State of Texas vs. Melissa Lucio,” a documentary covering the mishandling of the 53-year-old mother’s murder trial. The petition to stay her execution reached over 100,000 signatures and the stay was granted in April.
But producers and consumers of true crime entertainment often don’t think of the potential harm they can do to victims, their families and the population at large.
“The Thing About Pam,” a 2022 NBC series starring Renee Zellweger, used a fictionalized and comedic tone to tell the very real story of the murder of Betsy Faria. The series was produced against the wishes of Faria’s family. Faria’s daughter, Mariah, said she was haunted by the flippant portrayal of her mother’s murder and is constantly asked offensive questions about the television show.
Netflix’s “Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Series” is currently sitting at the number one series spot. Disturbingly, many of the show’s viewers have taken to TikTok to express their thirst for more violence, and thirst for the actor portraying the cannibalistic serial killer, Evan Peters.
Many of Dahmer’s victims have living family members who are now subject to their loved one’s torture being sensationalized, even fetishized, for the sake of entertainment. Some claim these popular portrayals give voice to victims, while the survivors and their loved ones say they are exploitative and damaging.
Victims and those who remember them need to give their consent, and even be involved if they feel comfortable in doing so.
I consume true crime content. I like to see justice served. But I won’t be watching the Dahmer series, or anything else that forgets to respect the victims. Don’t forget that behind every podcast episode, documentary and true crime novel that the victim had a name, a face, a story and their loved ones could still be out there, dreading the day that their story becomes the next hot thing.