In recent years, serial killer shows have become increasingly popular despite their horrifying content. Netflix released “You,” a psychological thriller series, in 2018. The show centers on Joe Goldberg, a serial killer who develops extreme obsessions with his victims. Despite the show’s gruesome nature, it became popular among viewers. In the following years, Netflix released more documentaries centered around serial killers, including the “Conversations with a Killer” series, which features “The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes.”
The idea of serial killers is macabre, so why is society drawn to such topics?
Taryn Galindo, sophomore forensic psychology major, grew up watching crime documentaries. Her deep fascination with the topic encouraged her to pursue forensic science. She shared that there are a few common reasons viewers are drawn to these kinds of shows.
“People watch them because they seem so absurd,” Galindo said. “People do not think that that actually happens, so when they watch something like the ‘Night Stalker’ documentary where they really understand the extent that those crimes are committed, it’s like watching a train wreck. You watch it and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I cannot believe that actually happened,’ but you cannot stop watching it.”
Serial killer documentaries fulfill our curiosity for the unknown. Witnessing death at such a close range on-screen provides an explanation for the extreme acts of violence humans are capable of.
Watching these shows from the comfort of your couch offers a safe way to explore dark topics. It also allows viewers to understand the thought process of serial killers and how to avoid being in the dangerous situations they present.
“I do find how law enforcement tries to catch the killer intriguing, and it’s the best feeling once the killer is caught,” said Sasha Claire, freshman illustration and graphic design major. “I think others watch it for the same reasons I do. The suspense and anticipation of catching a serial killer are enough to get a person hooked on keeping up with the story.”
According to FBI data, women accounted for 70% of the 1,398 known victims of serial killers between 1985 and 2010.
“More commonly, I think women watch it,” Galindo said. “It is sort of a way to acknowledge that these things do happen, and these things do mostly happen towards women.”
Serial killer documentaries can provide a manual of how to escape perilous situations in which people are attacked. “I think that it’s connected to personal safety. Women like to know everything about everything so they can be prepared. Watching a show that is about a serial killer gives them insight on what they can do if they ever come across a murderer,” said Claire.
Some people may watch the genre due solely to the actors involved. Big-name actors such as Zac Efron portraying Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” and Ross Lynch as cannibalistic Jeffery Dahmer in “My Friend Dahmer” brought in new crime viewers.
“In Hollywood, they’re going to glamorize everything, so they’re going to have trending people play the serial killers,” Galindo said. “Like in the Jeffrey Dahmer series, I saw a lot of people very infatuated with the actor.”
Regardless of the reasoning behind watching crime, seeing how a serial killer thinks can be disturbing, yet the strange abnormality of it keeps viewers glued to the screen.