Opinion: The Romanticization of True Crime


Charlie Ressler, Reporter


    There’s nothing like sitting down on the couch with a bowl of popcorn whilst scrolling through Netflix to find a good true crime documentary to watch.

     The thrill of watching something so extreme and vile can be highly interesting to many, causing thoughts like “How could someone do this to another person?” and “What goes on inside that person’s head to cause them to think that way?”

     True Crime is a topic that catches the eye of many. From learning about the psychological reasoning behind the killer’s motives, to the suspense in waiting for what’s to come next. True crime has become a very popular genre in Hollywood and in the media.

     With the rapid growth and demand of the true crime genre, it has brought many positives and negatives to the table. True crime has helped bring awareness to its innocent victims, but it’s also begun to normalize the romanticization of killers and their crimes.   

     “Romanticization, verb, to deal with or describe in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is. ¨ 

     Romanticizing is nothing new. It has become more and more publicized since the 1700-1800’s with the Romanticism Art era.

     “The movement intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience. It granted a new importance to experiences of sympathy, awe, wonder, and terror, in part by naturalizing such emotions as responses to the “beautiful and “subline”.

     But how does that apply to today’s society and to true crime?

     A good example of how romanticism applies to today’s society is the heroin-chic aesthetic amongst some adolescents online. The aesthetic glamourizes drugs and abuse and uses it as a fashion statement. The young audience of this aesthetic don’t fully understand the harm this has on people. By glamorizing drugs and abuse, it’s also helping normalize such cruel things. A way in which romantism applies to true crime is also its portrayal in the media. 

     Hollywood is notorious for casting skilled and attractive actors/actresses for their films and more. These actor/actresses influence the people who watch these films, and it can have a major impact. Zac Efron, famously known for his role in High School Musical and The Greatest Showman, has played a variety of characters throughout his acting career. One of the most controversial roles Zac has played was in the Netflix original movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”. The movie is about the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy in which Zac plays as Ted.

     On one end, it was a well-received film with audiences calling it “one of the best movies” and on the other hand, some said it wasn’t factual information being portrayed and that it “paints him in a positive light.” With the casting of Zac and the information not being 100% true, this can change the way people see Ted Bundy. Yes, Ted was known to be an attractive person but the casting of a very popular and attractive actor, just like the heroin chic aesthetic, makes Ted appeal to younger and more susceptible viewers.

     This can be highly dangerous.  

     Romanticizing mental health can make not being healthy a good thing when really mental health is just as important as physical health. Bundy was diagnosed as a psychopath during his Florida trials in 1979. Psychopaths can come across as charming and intelligent, but they also can lack empathy and remorse for others in which Ted displayed. Making the negative aspects of mental illnesses more normalized in a bad tone by romanticizing it and not bringing awareness to them can be damaging to both the metal illness as a whole and the people who have sed illnesses.

     False images of mental health created by all these aspects don’t help the stigma revolving around it. 

     According to the CDC ,1 in 5 adults in America have some sort of mental illness that affects them and amongst adolescents (with today’s societal pressures on them and the same as adults), 1 in 5 teens are affected by a mental illness. Teens are very susceptible and vulnerable humans at nature so watching these true crime documentaries/films at such a young age and then going onto social media outlets and seeing people give these killers a platform and making them come off as the “real” victims can be harmful. People now in days are more aware of mental illnesses than they were years ago but throughout the 1970s-1990s, people were shamed by others, not given the help they needed for their illnesses as often as they are now, and it was seen as a taboo thing to many.  

     Another example of romanticizing true crime in the media is the newest Netflix original series, “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”.  Actor Evan Peters who is known for his work on American Horror Story and other horror/true crime roles plays the famous killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

     Like Zac, Evan is known to be an attractive actor in Hollywood today with an influence over many adolescents online who praise him for his work. His portrayal of Jeffery Dahmer led to susceptible viewers to see Jeffery in a positive light despite the horrid things he did to his victims just because they see Evan, and not who he’s playing.  

     Shows and films like this make it almost feel as if the crime never happened and as if it were all just a made-up story.

     This can be very harmful especially to the victims and their families. With the making of the Dahmer Netflix show, “Some of the families of Dahmer’s victims have expressed outrage at the Netflix series, noting that they were never approached about the show’s release.”

     Because of this, families affected by Dahmer and his victims had to relive the horrors he caused them. This also can play in with their mental health causing things like their PTSD, anxiety and more to be triggered.  

     By taking these killers and normalizing/romanticizing them in the media, it causes many problems. From mental health not getting the awareness it deserves to influencing the wrong things to younger audiences, the true crime genre is just one of many things that can affect the way we see true crime and murder cases.  



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