Last night I fell asleep while listening to a crime podcast on Spotify where the narrator retold a gruesome story of a series of murders that plagued a small town in the United States a few years back. While it is supposed to shock, unnerve and unsettle me, it merely served as a lullaby. Am I a monster? Am I psychopathic? Or have I simply been conditioned to not produce a reaction and grow a certain kind of apathy towards violence? Having watched too many crime shows, documentaries and films this past year, perhaps my mind has forgotten to have a revolted reaction. That, in itself, is scary and disturbing.
Whom do I blame? Do I blame my unhealthy addiction for true crime? Or do we blame the streaming giants such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and others for indulging us? Over the last few years, more of the content that Netflix has produced has been dark, gloomy and downright horrifying, add to this the reem of true crime documentaries flooding the platform and a case mounts. While it is easy to make a statement about how Netflix could be seen to glorify murder, it is important to explore how the streaming platform has contributed to apathetic moral disengagement on part of the viewers by repeatedly fetishising violence, crime and murder.
After watching a documentary series about how a twisted smooth-talking serial killer violently attacked women, violated them and assaulted their decomposing bodies, viewers have often responded with how “fascinating” and “intriguing” the series has been. Not once did they stop to examine the grotesqueness of the crime. While it is important to not discount a murderer’s crimes as a mere product of insanity and try to examine various instances that may have led them there, such as past trauma that might have led to such violent actions. It is also the show’s responsibility to not feed into the desire to glorify such heinous crimes. Not only is it extremely disrespectful to the victim and their grieving families but it also might have various psychological repercussions.
Before venturing into the realm of murder, let us focus on how killers, cannibals and serial sex offenders are somewhat heralded. Netflix’s content can be traced throughout the spectrum; while some are absolutely delightful, the rest are quite dubious and questionable.
Joe Goldberg from Netflix’s widely-popular series You was a psychotic stalker who was romanticised to such an extent that Twitteratis started talking about how they wanted a man as “possessive” as Joe. Sure, a creepy, perverted and twisted yandere-like voyeur sounds like a good idea, right? Statistically speaking, a lot of the streaming giant’s meteoric revenue results from shows that focus on murder and violence, especially ones meted out against women. The documentaries that stream on Netflix are often not well-researched and tend to trigger trauma among survivors. True to its word, Netflix adheres to their viewers’ demands but, given the type of content that people seemingly want to watch, it is concerning and alarming that one cannot negate the kind of effect it might have on children and adults alike.
While the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho was taken to be one of the greatest and most horrifying scenes in cinema but kept kids out of the shower for decades, Netflix’s recent gruesome content will surely instil a pervading fear in the minds of viewers. Whether it is being jumped at by a demented, psychotic killer or being smothered by another, the violence is not different from the ones shown in shows like Game of Thrones and Dexter, popular among those who get off on bloodlust.
While acknowledging viewer demands, Netflix is seemingly being oblivious to its social responsibility and values. While 13 Reasons Why was not necessarily about murder and focused on the protagonist taking her own life after a series of incidents involving graphic violence, bullying and a disturbing scene of sexual assault, the show had a brutal impact, with many trying to imitate Hannah Baker. The morbid themes, blood and gore that dominate Netflix shows do, in fact, have serious psychological effects.
In Netflix’s defence, they certainly do have a wide variety of content with murder and violence in the crime and thriller genre just being one of them, it is human nature to get attracted to something that is so gruesome.
For years, Game of Thrones reigned supreme on the throne of violence and unsettling murders when Netflix, with its serial killer, psychopathic protagonists decided to take over. The idea of the depravity of the human mind, its sinister thoughts and the sheer degradation of values and ethics take the centre stage as the faces of unfortunate victims pass by in a jiffy — the serial killer continues smirking, committing grisly murders that manage to attract viewership.
It is concerning to see the viewer fixation with violence and murder, especially the ones carried out against women. The constant exposure to the platform’s content containing and glamourizing violence, suicide, sexual assault and more cannot be ignored. Just because the viewers want to watch something cannot absolve the platform’s sense of moral responsibility.
From casually showing the murder of teenage girls to serial killing and sexually offending protagonists who are popular because they are “hot”, Netflix has seemingly lost their conscience to revenue. While the easier alternative is to start focusing on something new, the platform’s initial and assumed idea of scaring people by showcasing explicit violence does not seem to be working. People are consuming this grisly content and all the platform is doing is simply indulging it causing rapid social and moral transgression and ethical disengagement.