The Morality of Consuming True Crime Media

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The Morality of Consuming True Crime Media

Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy in

Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" (left) compared to the real Bundy (right).

Voltage Pictures, Bettman/Getty

Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" (left) compared to the real Bundy (right).

Voltage Pictures, Bettman/Getty

Voltage Pictures, Bettman/Getty

Zac Efron as serial killer Ted Bundy in "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" (left) compared to the real Bundy (right).

Amanda Hase, Staff Writer

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The interest surrounding serial killers has been a part of American culture since the rise of mass-circulation newspapers in the early 1900s. True crime is the non-fiction genre in which the author or director examines actual crimes and the actions of real people. With the recent increase of true crime films, TV shows and podcasts, the question must be asked: is the consumption of true crime media for the purpose of entertainment moral?

Regardless of the fact that most victims of serial murders are women, research has proven that women make up the majority of the true crime audience, which is why most critics of true crime appear to be men. Studies have shown that women tend to watch, listen and read about gory events in hopes of being able to examine and understand a threat without being in any real danger. Women find true crime podcasts and documentaries to be informational and do not focus on the brutality of the case, but focus on the who, what, when, where and how with hopes of being able to avoid similar events. According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist who studies violence and media, “Exposing oneself to violence can serve as an ‘inoculation’ against fear, a way to build up our tolerance to something scary and seemingly inevitable.” Although most true crime cases don’t end well for the women or victims involved, others find it rewarding to see the perpetrator brought to justice.

Take the well-known 2007 film “Zodiac” for example. The movie is based off a true serial murder case that remains unsolved to this day. The Zodiac Killer is a notorious serial killer who was known for his sending mysterious letters and codes to police departments and newspapers. He is claimed to have killed 37 people in several different counties of California and possibly Nevada and was never caught. Throughout the film the audience follows the police and journalists trying to solve the murder cases, learning about the evidence and circumstances in the real case. Obviously the intention of this film was to entertain an audience, but at no point did they place the Zodiac Killer on a pedestal and praise his actions and make less of the victims. Instead they magnified his character and the difficulties faced by the people working to solve the case. Let’s be honest, we are all intrigued by things that don’t make any sense to us, and being the consumers of this media, we want to understand what kind of a person you have to be to take someone’s life. Although we never see the killer brought to justice in this film, it’s the mystery behind it and the viewers’ desire to solve the case that is intriguing, not the acts of the killer.

A reasonable comparison to true crime media is pop culture media about war. Wars are filled with real victims on both sides, people who can’t speak for themselves, families who went through a loss, men who are responsible for countless gruesome deaths and even torture. There is more glorification of killing in war movies than ever seen in any true crime media, but because the violence is directed toward other countries and isn’t happening here it’s okay to consume. Many will argue that war movies are strictly informational and simply tell you a story out of our history books. While this is true, that same argument can be used for some true crime content. They were meant to inform others of the horrific people that are in this world and what they’re capable of. Both cover the real events of killing in some way, so what makes one morally wrong to consume and not the other?

While I’d love to sit here and tell you all true crime media is informational and justifiable, the fact of the matter is that this is just not the case. There have been a number of movies, TV shows and podcasts with the intentions of entertaining the viewers with gory details and a bad guy you can’t help but root for. For example, “The Act” is a Hulu original TV series based on the true events of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a woman who is serving a ten-year prison sentence for second degree murder in her mother’s death. “The Act” shows the twisted story of Blanchard and her mentally-ill mother “Dee Dee”, who made Blanchard pretend to be disabled and chronically ill. Her mother subjected her to unnecessary surgeries and medications and even forced her to eat through a

feeding tube, even though she had no issues eating normally. The audience witnesses the psychological and physical abuse and sympathizes with Blanchard, even though she cold-bloodily

Real Gypsy Blanchard and mother “Dee Dee” (left) compared the TV portrayals (right).

murdered her mother alongside her ex-boyfriend; you’re compelled to be on her side. While “The Act” is very accurate to the true story, big bold letters appear on the screen after every episode stating that some characters and scenes are dramatized and fictionalized. The problem with this is that after watching all of this happen to Blanchard, you completely overlook the brutal death of a mentally-ill and at times very loving mom.

The idea of a serial killer being “romanticized” is another criticism of true crime. The issue has been talked about more recently due to the upcoming Netflix original “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, a film starring America’s heart throb Zac Efron, who portrays the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. The film won’t be released until early May but has already received a large amount of criticism due to their portrayal of Bundy. Bundy was a manipulative man who was also very attractive for his time, which is what allowed him to commit the number of murders he did. During Bundy’s trial women all over tuned in to watch the court procedures because they were convinced that he was innocent. Casting Efron to play this role was a thought-out, strategic move to make this movie even more powerful because he’ll exemplify the true characteristics of Bundy. Just because a film wants to do everything right and follow actual events doesn’t mean their automatic intention is to get America to fall in love with a serial killer, even though that already happened on its own during the actual trial.

 

Unfortunately, not at all true crime media is moral and justifiable as entertainment. But the documentaries, TV series and podcasts that are meant to inform and don’t cause any harm and consumers shouldn’t be looked down upon for their interest in it. Because let’s face it, true crime isn’t going anywhere, and neither are its consumers.

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