From Dahmer to Ripper: Why are we so obsessed with watching serial killer content TV shows and depictions

So I have a question, how many of you have seen Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer story?  I reckon quite a lot of you, considering that this series released September of last year has become Netflix’s 4th most watched TV show of all time accumulating 856.2 million hours of screen time world wide. What makes this series so popular? 

As a society we seem to have become rather invested with learning about the lives of serial killers. From Ted Bundy to the infamous Jack the Ripper, our obsession has resulted in hours upon hours of collective time spent watching documentaries, TV adaptations or TV shows just about serial killers (I’m looking at YOU, here), and I really would like to know why. 

As an audience, we really do like a thrill seeker, to be on the edge of our seats whilst we watch the TV, despite sitting on the comfy sofa. We are a fan of the unpredictable, the thought of not knowing what comes next makes us keep coming back for more. We become so engrossed in the plot, or depictions of reality, of these types of TV shows, that the rapid pace is shocking, yet electrifying at the same time. This might just be my thought, but I reckon you won’t be able to find a character who is more unpredictable than a serial killer. Therefore, I really do not think it should come as a huge surprise about society audiences’ long standing obsession with depictions of serial killers in the media. 

In a recent Morning Consult survey it revealed that nearly two-thirds (62%) of American adults said they were a fan of serial killer dramas, with a quarter (25%) exclaiming that they were an avid fan! Following this, respondents were then asked their reasons for being so invested in serial killer content, with the main reason being that they wanted to understand the killer’s psychology. To understand what makes these people tick. Answering the evolutionary questions as we discover ‘the who’ ‘the what’ ‘the how’ ‘the why’ meaning for their actions we can better protect ourselves and kin from serial killers who are a threat to our natural society of hunter gathers. It is almost as though we watch these TV shows to forearm ourselves to what might happen. Demonstrated by the  72% who agreed that they find serial killer content interesting as it helps them feel more informed about the world. On the other hand 84% inclined to the suspense being a reason to be so invested in this content as they seek an escapism or an adrenaline rush that comes when watching this TV. Ultimately, we are drawn to serial killer true crime dramas as they have always played a significant part in our human society, we can identify with the victims and strategies to defeat the baddies. Thus, when we watch these TV shows or documentaries it is almost familiar whilst still being unexpectedly gripping. 

A further reason why these shows are so popular is that someone has done a rather good job in the casting department. With the most recent examples being the casting of Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, Penn Badgley as Joe in YOU and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer. Just to say it bluntly these are attractive actors that have quite a popular fanbase. Plenty of viewers will tune into these TV shows just to see these actors on screen. Therefore, it raises the question of whether serial killer content is romanticised. For example, when you think of Ted Bundy, we acknowledge his extremely wicked acts but you also think of how attractive he was, and how strange it was that someone so conventionally handsome could commit such crimes. In fact, when he went to trial in 1976 the courtroom was full of young adult females just waiting to get a glimpse of him. To know this and then cast Zac Efron aka Troy Bolton, the childhood crush of the nation does mean this show will encapsulates viewers. As one actor has gone from singing and playing basketball to depicting one of the most notorious serial killers in all of history on TV. Plus, I guarantee if you ask  enough people what they thought of Zac Efron playing this part, at least some of them will have a response along the lines of “he was fit!”. Consequently, we are obsessed with watching serial killer TV content because the complete lack of beauty these figures have on the inside, they make up for it on the outside. And TV producers have really used this fact for viewer engagement and have encouraged this, by presenting these figures to the audience as almost a romantic figure. 

Looking at this, I think it is very truthful to say that as society’s audience we do like watching serial killer TV show content and depictions. Whether it be our evolutionary human nature that draws us to these shows as they are about a central point of human society. Or we really have taken the ‘baddest of the bad boy’ romanization a little too seriously. Either way something is clearly keeping us obsessed with these shows and bringing us back to that true crime section on Netflix.   

 Image by conttonbro studio on Pexels

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