Opinion: Turning Real Life Trauma Into Entertainment

Milan Manriquez, Cub News Writer

In today’s day and age, true crime television shows and documentaries have become extremely popular. Along with this more recent development of popularity comes new forms of true crime entertainment, such as Netflix docuseries’ or TV shows and films labeled ‘based on a true story’. 

There are quite a few issues with how popular these awful and traumatic TV shows or films have become in our culture. One of the first most noticeable problems is how they desensitize viewers to what they are watching. A prime example of this is the new yet currently extremely popular Netflix show ‘Dahmer’. Oftentimes viewers will get drawn in by the entertainment factor of shows like these, watching in astonishment at the horrible things happening on screen. However, after a while, those horrible things happening on screen become more and more tolerable to the average person, as they have simply gotten used to watching them happen. Eventually, the allowance of watching grisly murders and other unsettling scenes of that nature turns into a desire for more entertainment. Anne E. Schwartz, the journalist who originally broke the story about Jeffery Dahmer’s murders, commented something quite similar about the Netflix show, saying “I had trouble with buy-in, because I knew that was not accurate. But people are not watching it that way, they’re watching it for entertainment.” Once people get past the initial shock factor of the show, they keep watching because they want to. This becomes a terrible problem because not only does it seemingly make all the awful things depicted in the show okay, but even worse it makes people want to consume more of that type of content. If the current popular inclination towards finding entertainment from such vile and traumatizing true crime shows such as Netflix’s ‘Dahmer’ continues, then it will only continue to negatively impact and desensitize society to the actual tragedy at hand. 

In addition to desensitizing society, the way these types of shows and films are shot consistently

Image Credit: Netflix/ComicBook.com

y contain an element of entertainment, which often causes problems within society in terms of distinguishing fictionalized entertainment from real-life tragedy. What this means is that there is an apparent trend in popularity of any particular serial killer immediately after one of these shows or films is released – however, the popularity more often than not coincides with the performance of the actor/actress portraying that particular person, and not the actual serial killers themselves. This could lead people to associate the name of an extremely vile and monstrous individual (such as Jeffery Dahmer) with the face and personality of a well-known and recognized actor (such as Evan Peters), and in turn lead people to forget the severity of the real-life atrocities committed by the actual individual.

Also, the growing popularity of these types of shows and films causes all of society to revisit these events, including the victims, their families, and anyone who might’ve been affected by the actions of these serial killers. This essentially forces these people to relive the worst part of each of their lives, reigniting any past trauma. A perfect example of this is how Rita Isbell, whose brother Errol Lindsey was murdered, was affected by the show ‘Dahmer’ and the actress portraying her: “If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was me […] That’s why it felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then.” What’s even worse about this situation is that these victims have to live in a world where a majority of people find entertainment from their trauma. If this bizarre obsession with turning real life trauma into entertainment continues, society will be presented with unpredictable yet undoubtedly unhealthy consequences in the near future.