Indiana Daily Student

COLUMN: Using murder victims in entertainment is dehumanizing

<p>A laptop displays Netflix&#x27;s original &quot;American Murder: The Family Next Door&quot; on Jan. 11. </p>

A laptop displays Netflix's original "American Murder: The Family Next Door" on Jan. 11.

From true crime podcasts to movies on kidnapping and torture, we’ve all been guilty of falling down a rabbit hole of watching or listening to various stories on murder victims. 

Recently on TikTok, the movie “Megan is Missing” made rounds as people relished in the jokes and shock horror of the tragedy of a girl who was kidnapped. The movie was loosely based on a true story, but that didn’t stop people from making jokes about Megan for entertainment. It dehumanized the victim and was a delegitimization of the events as real stories that should be feared. 

True crime is one of our favorite entertainment genres. It’s not a bad thing to be intrigued by shocking stories, I’m guilty of it myself, but is it ethical to profit off of the stories of murder victims? “Crime” is its own genre on Netflix, podcasts and YouTube videos, though we know not all of these creators make money off of these stories to donate to the victims’ families. 

It isn’t normal or ethical to have zero reaction to gory stories or to make jokes about someone’s death. Empathy is one aspect of humanity that sets us apart from other animals. When a story that should be met with empathy or horror is met with excitement or indifference, we are making real tragedies into only viewers’ entertainment. 

A prime example of this is a podcast named “My Favorite Murder.” It covers murder in a desensitized way, and in turn, it makes the victims and murderers of these events seem like storybook characters rather than real people. 

I first started wondering if movies or some documentaries that were created from the deaths of murder victims were exploitative when I watched “American Murder: The Family Next Door” on Netflix. The documentary follows Chris Watts and the circumstances leading up to him murdering his wife, Shanann Watts and their two daughters. 

The documentary was interesting, and it applied eerie music and graphics which added to the entertainment value, but the documentary was met with criticism detailing how the producers simply brushed over one of the accessories to the crime, Watts’ mistress. There is evidence that she was the leading motivator to the murder, but the documentary left out a lot of crucial parts of the story, maybe to create a certain narrative for more entertainment value. This is immoral and exploitative. It did not do the victims justice.

Tragedies aren’t limited to our television screens or handheld devices. Even Bloomington has lost people who had their own families and dreams. Three IU students,  Jill Behrman, Lauren Spierer and Hannah Wilson, were the victims of separate attacks at different points in time. With all of the documentaries and news coverage relating to their stories, they are no longer small town tragedies.

The isolation of victims’ stories to create something entertaining for people to watch or listen to is detrimental to a person’s empathy and the way they view the world. It doesn’t make us bad people for enjoying a good scary story to listen to from time to time. It’s the companies which profit off tragedies to make money and reduce human beings to “just another story” that is the real tragedy.

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