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Why we romanticize serial killers and why it needs to stop

  With Halloween just right around the corner, many of us are preparing by re-watching our favorite horror movies, many of which are the stories of serial killers. We all enjoy watching serial killer movies and documentaries from time to time due to the thrill it provides, but our society recently has begun to promote these stories much more often. Beyond their promotions, these killers are romanticized by both the media and by its consumers. Whether it be through “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” “My Friend Dahmer,” or even Netflix’s original show “You,” we as consumers find the mind behind the monster fascinating, potentially in a way that is dangerous or harmful.

But why do we romanticize these monsters in the first place? The answer lies in our natural instinct to make sense of what does not. Experts have stated that people often find themselves attracted to serial killers in their attempt to understand why they commit the terrible actions that they do. The acts of brutal torturing and killing being executed by a member of our society is frankly spine-chilling to think about, so becoming fascinated with their stories in an attempt to understand their frame of mind can often make these actions seem a little less horrifying.

Additionally, as empathetic individuals, we also find ourselves justifying their actions after viewing their story, whether it is based in fiction or reality. Looking back at “You,” for instance, the show displays the traumatic events he went through as a child and paints him out to be simply “a man searching for love.” This gives him a motive for the horrible actions he does throughout the show, resulting in the viewers justifying his actions in a way that they shouldn’t be. Our human nature to empathize with those who suffer leads us to justify others and their actions, even those who murder.

Our romanticization and fascination with serial killers as a society is not intentional and is mostly rooted in our natural tendencies as human beings. Our glorification of their stories and our justification for the actions they commit are based in an attempt to understand how these tragic events could happen in the first place and minimize how frightening they are to us. We hope to explain away their horrible actions by using their past. Additionally, to an extent, understanding their stories can help prevent these crimes from happening in the future. However, publicly glorifying and justifying the actions of serial killers is harmful. It is essential that we go against these initial reactions and make a conscious effort to prevent the public romanticization of serial killers and murderers for three key reasons.

It’s encouraging

First of all, giving mass media attention to their stories and actions is often exactly what these killers are craving. Serial killers often spend a significant amount of time crafting their public image, whether it be through leaving letters at the scene of their crime, communicating through markings, or leaving the same damage and harm to their multiple victims. The amount of attention we give these individuals through both media coverage and conversation can be dangerous, as watching the world glorify their story and unpack their crimes can fuel their motivation, encourage them to continue, or potentially open the door to more crime from other individuals.

It’s dangerous to young females

An aspect of the romanticization of serial killers connects to women in particular. Our society’s female youth is often taught that they are responsible for the actions of men, whether it be something as simple as cleaning up their messes or as severe as being blamed for their violence. Due to this, women are made to believe that they can “fix” their partners through love resulting in young girls staying in abusive relationships and ignoring red flags and negative qualities. The romanticization of serial killers only further promotes this. Having Penn Badgely play a lovesick serial killer may be entertaining for us to watch, but having men who are known for being conventionally good-looking playing these monsters encourages attraction to them. This further communicates to young and impressionable girls this idea that women can fix problematic men through their love and patience when this is simply not the case.

It’s damaging to the victims

Finally, glorifying serial killers and their stories is beyond disrespectful to the victims of their actions and their families. Rightfully, the media should be focusing on the victims of violence rather than the killer. Glorifying and justifying their actions minimizes the life-long damage the victims or their families have faced, so rather than engrossing ourselves in the stories of killers, we should make it a priority to mourn the losses that our society has faced. So, while watching scary movies this Halloween, keep in mind the harm in romanticizing serial killers and their stories. Rather than focusing on what we want them to be, remember their actions for what they are: brutal, unjust violence that has no place being glorified in our society.

Kaviya is a sophomore studying psychology and biology. Her hobbies include drawing and reading thriller/mystery novels, and she hopes to work in the field of clinical psychology one day.
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