The Issue With Media Glorification of Serial Killers

In the last decade, the True Crime genre has increased popularity within pop culture. It is a genre everybody knows and loves. From Netflix documentaries to podcasts, the true crime genre has gripped the world like serial killers did their victims. 

Something is genuinely fascinating about watching a true crime show, and the intrigue, of putting the pieces together and solving a case that follows after finishing a series. Nevertheless, there is a difference between curiosity about solving crimes and glamorizing the criminal while being blatantly insensitive towards the survivors. 

To understand the difference, first, let us look at the target audience for true crime shows.

Statistics Related To The Consumption Of True Crime

According to research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, women are more likely than men to watch true crime media because it is educational, has psychological undertones, and frequently features female victims.

A mixed population of men and women participated in the research. They were given the option of two books, one of which contained information on the female victim’s escape and the other one did not. The findings revealed that females were more inclined than males to opt for the book that described the victim’s escape.

Based on data from Spotify, the number of female true crime audio listeners increased by 16% in 2019.

The Reason Behind The Fascination Of Females With True Crime

In the opinion of Kevin John, a professor of communication at BYU, women are possibly more drawn to true crime than males because they feel distinct levels of fear daily.

“Women can relate to the victims in these tales on some level, and we usually project ourselves as individuals onto the media we watch,” according to John. However, he continued, “That is precisely why women are drawn to true crime.”

Women are attracted to true crime because of the knowledge they can learn from it, even if they are unaware that may be why they are listening, suggests  Amanda Vicary, social psychologist and associate psychology professor at Illinois Wesleyan University. According to her research, women are more likely than males to be drawn to true crime stories where the killer’s psychology is revealed.

The appeal of true crime media can be attributed to several psychological factors:

  • Humans are naturally inclined towards stories of conflict and danger, which true crime stories often provide.
  • True crime media can give viewers a sense of control over the unpredictable and dangerous world.
  • By learning about the tactics and motives of serial killers, viewers may feel better equipped to protect themselves and their loved ones. 

While there may be some psychological benefits to consuming true crime media, the problem arises when the media begins to glorify the killers themselves. When the focus shifts from the victims to the perpetrator, it can create a dangerous romanticization of the killer and their crimes.

Why Glamorizing Serial Killers Is Extremely Dangerous

When the media glorifies serial killers, it can lead to copycat behavior. This was evident in the case of Ted Bundy, who became a cultural icon after his trial. As a result, many women began sending him letters and showing up to his trial, even though the authorities convicted him of multiple murders (Kelleher & Kelleher, 1998). There is also evidence to suggest that media coverage of mass shootings can lead to an increase in similar incidents (Duwe, 2004). 

Additionally, glamorizing serial killers can harm the victims’ families. When the focus is on the killer, it can feel like the victims are being forgotten. This case was evident in the Netflix documentary “Dahmer,” which focused heavily on Jeffrey Dahmer and his personal life rather than on his victims and the impact his crimes had on their families. 

By drawing attention to the backstories of these killers with sympathetic tones, everyone involved contributes to the idea that the only person who is significant enough to be remembered is the person who committed the crimes.

Ryan Murphy, the producer of “Dahmer,” reportedly claimed that he tried to contact each of the families of the 20 victims but received no response. In addition to continuing to produce the television series without the families’ permission, the show has come under fire from the families of the deceased, who contend that no one from the production company ever got in touch with them. However, the likelihood that the families in question were never approached or not aggressively sought out outweighs the possibility that all 20 were non-responsive. 

Fans of the “Dahmer” show had even started to consider Dahmer more like a fictional character than as a real person who has committed murder, sexual assault, and necrophilia as a result of the show’s increasing popularity. They carry it out by dressing as him and other actual serial murderers for Halloween or just for cosplay. 

It is abhorrent and needs to be stopped when actual people are portrayed as “characters” in media.

Bottom Line 

While true crime media can be entertaining and provide psychological benefits, it is crucial to recognize the potential harm it can cause when individuals glorify serial killers. The media has a responsibility to tell these stories in a way that is respectful to the victims and their families and does not romanticize the killers themselves.


Duwe, G. (2004, December). Patterns and Prevalence of Mass Murder in Twentieth-Century America. Justice Quarterly, 21(4), 729-761.

Kelleher, M. D., & Kelleher, C. L. (1998). Murder Most Rare: The Female Serial Killer. Praeger Publishers.

Vicary, A. M., & Fraley, R. C. (2010, January 1). Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1(1), 81–86.

As reported by Virti Shah.

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