Streaming platforms exploit fascination with death in new arrivals
Students at Conant are well-acquainted with streaming services that allow them to watch almost anything at any time on their personal devices without restrictions. Often, their recommended content promotes shows known for death and violence, such as ones based on serial killers–especially Netflix’s show about the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, much to the victims’ families’ dismay.
This trend of popularizing violent shows has become more apparent in recent releases such as “Squid Game” (September 2021) and the series “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (September 2022). These shows gained popularity and put them at the number one spot of Netflix’s “Top 10” list for most-watched television series for a consecutive 29 days (“Squid Game”) and 23 days (“Dahmer”), according to Business Standard and Forbes’ websites.
This type of media is being produced more frequently because there “is a novelty to it,” according to Conant psychologist Alexandra Xi.
“[This trend] is new, and it is something that holds our attention. It can be an escape from the real world. We’ve been through a lot these past few years, and watching things that might not replicate the current things we’re going through or having to face what we don’t want to do would be a good escape,” she said. “[It’s] a way to distract ourselves with how life is going.”
Faith Kolumbiris, ’24, said shows based on serial killers interest some people because of the portrayal of forensics careers in television.
“It’s also a common interest with the shows,” Kolumbris said. “People can bond over different fears [relating to violence and death] within the shows.”
The forensics course at Conant has shown an increase in student enrollment, but it isn’t for sure that this trend is the direct cause of it, according to forensics teacher Shannon Malone.
“In terms of conversations, I have taught forensics at my previous school for two years and now at Conant, and I would say I probably hear more questions pertaining to serial killers or other crimes as more shows like the Dahmer docuseries come out,” Malone said.
Studies have shown that seeing fictional crime repeatedly can desensitize viewers into being unaffected when faced with real crime and violence, according to Lead Navigator at Learning for Life Kseniya Dmitrieva. It can also have negative effects on children in the form of increased aggressive behavior, which can lead to individuals exhibiting violence as adults.
Conant counselor Austin Sobey said that this type of televised violence may have an impact on the general increase in mass violence in our country.
“I do think that these [serial killers] can get glamorized through the media. If there are some kids or adults with a fragile state of mind and are seeing [these shows] and the publicity surrounding it, it can lead to a very bad event in the future,” he said.
If platforms do choose to create a show on a traumatic event or a serial killer’s actions, it should be done to create prevention and awareness, Sobey said. “We really have to be cautious as to not glamorize [individuals] through Netflix or [in television] series where you don’t know who’s watching it.”
Sobey said that he would be more inclined to watch a documentary about the way people heal and support one another from a traumatic event than a show which focuses on a serial killer.
“You get to see and read about all these individuals that are causing harm to others, but I think out of a very negative situation there are some people doing incredible things,” he said. “[These people include] mental health workers and family members that are becoming advocates of change [after a traumatic event].”
“Dahmer” has clocked a total of 701.37 million hours in viewing time from Netflix subscribers, which is number four on Netflix’s “Top 5” list of most-watched series of all time, according to Forbes’ website.
English teacher Roger Carpenter, who has taught the Rhetoric of Cinema and AP Literature courses at Conant for years, said it didn’t surprise him that the show “Dahmer” became very popular shortly after its release because its content is something that pulls people in.
“It’s [the same thing as] driving by a car wreck. Everyone tries to slow down and they are watching, for what? A body, or [to see] the severity of the accident? Or are they watching to see if people need help? I don’t think so,” Carpenter said. “The idea of [violent] incidents as something that people gravitate towards does not surprise me.”
Carpenter said the language and level of violent thinking is greater in streaming platforms because of the lack of restrictions in place for their television shows.
“It’s just each platform trying to outdo the other in terms of shock-value and drawing more eyeballs to their platform,” he said. “Some of the shows that appear on Netflix or HBO Max would never appear on regular TV.”
Shirley Hughes, the mother of Jeffrey Dahmer victim Tony Hughes, spoke out against the “Dahmer” series and the use of Jeffrey Dahmer Halloween costumes since the show was released, according to a New York Post article. The show is also facing backlash because the families of the victims weren’t “consulted during the production of the show”, according to an issue of The Guardian.
By creating more and more content following this trend, it places people such as serial killers in the spotlight and harms the victims’ families and other people who were affected. By the looks of things, this trend will create serious consequences for streaming platforms and consumers alike if nothing is done to stem the amount of violent content being pushed to popularity in the future.