The production of true crime documentaries are questioned by viewers on its ethics


Photoshop by Adalie Landa

Viewers can feel compelled to take on unsolved cases themselves.

Adalie Landa, Editor

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — Let me clarify what I mean when I say obsession. Specifically serial killer obsession. The dressing up as killers for “light-hearted” fun and the hysteria of TV shows surrounding true crime would interest anyone. I mean, who hasn’t seen a crime murder documentary on streaming services? 

Almost everyone has heard of “Dahmer- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” series on Netflix. Looking through the mind of a serial killer is admittedly intriguing, simply because of curiosity. 

But it brings up the question of whether we are encouraging people to idolize these criminals. Is their popularity something to be concerned about? 

Nancy Miller, the main host of the podcast “The Staircase” talks in depth of an unsolved case while also analyzing how the obsession of these unsolved cases is so addicting to the world. Her podcast represents what obsession can involve.

There is a lack of awareness towards streaming services that monetize and normalize this kind of content for the world. 

Drawbacks on Victims

In many true crime documentaries, victims do not consent to the publication of their traumatic experiences. Forcing victims to relive a suffering event is unethical. Because this information is already public, streaming services like Netflix are not required to receive permission from the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer to portray the case. The mother of a Jeffrey Dahmer victim expressed her frustration of allowing this publication to show traumatizing events in a television show.

The necessity of permission is often debated due to the need to expose red flags but at the same time protect victims’ families’ privacy. Television shows that strive for commercial success have been seen to document victim’ lives in a disrespectful manner. 

Griffin Gazette sent out an anonymous survey asking these ethical questions and received some interesting feedback. 

Survey Results

Upon being asked if they knew someone who finds the appearance of serial killers attractive, 58.9% of the people responded yes.

Do you think casting attractive actors as serial killers is a good idea?

“I think if it’s someone like Ted Bundy, then yes it’s important to cast someone that is attractive, because Bundy WAS attractive,” a Los Al student answered.

“I don’t think that all people should be casted as attractive just to be attractive, and I definitely think that some people have gone too far with their fetishization of actual killers,” a student said.

“I say it doesn’t matter because they shouldn’t be casting based on attractiveness, they should be casting off of accuracy. If the killer was ugly then so should the actor, if the killer was attractive then so should the actor,” another  student responded. 

Do you think it is ethical to imitate or dress up as serial killers for fun?

“No. You’re imitating psychopaths and sociopaths that terrorized people’s families and lives and created lasting trauma. It’s the same as dressing up as Hitler,” a Los Al student said.

“I think it’s fine to dress up as character serial killers (for Halloween, horror parties, etc.), but I don’t think it’s ethical for anyone to dress up as real life serial killers who murdered innocent people,” another respondent said.

“I definitely don’t think that people should do such things in public or in the media since it can be very triggering for some people. I have realized that lately, people have been making jokes about serial killers, and sure, yeah, they are joking, and it’s ‘just a joke,’ but at the same time, the subject matter is something that is really serious and disturbing,” a student answered.

Do you think it’s wrong to produce documentaries/ films about serial killers without the consent of the victims’ families?

“I think producing films about serial killers often opens their actions up to debate about whether or not they were justified, and I don’t think any family should have to listen to the public decide if their loved one’s life was worth taking,” a Los Al student said.

“Yes, I believe this is extremely wrong. I heard recently that the Dahmer Netflix series was produced without the consent of the victims’ families and a majority of these families were unaware of the production. Seeing this reenactment without consent puts the victims’ families under extreme pressure and makes them practically relive their trauma,” another student responded.

“I think that the consent of the victims’ families is just one of the many acts of respect that should be paid to them, or at least it is a proper decency,” another student added.

What does this mean?

Many documentaries show the serial killer’s upbringing and their past that led up to the murders. The public was asked whether this humanizes serial killers. 

Respondents to the survey debated that these shows give the audience more reason to be aware of red flags as well as the horrors of their depictions. Other respondents argued that shows help the audience empathize with the killers because of the difficult pasts that led to their crimes.

Humanizing serial killers begins when people forget the victims who were murdered in the process. This behavior can misguide our reactions to events that happen in our present.