Updated: Jan 23, 2020
A Discussion About How the Popularization of Murder Documentaries Has Desensitized Audiences
For a while now, I have had much apprehension towards being heavily into murder documentaries because (to me) the covering of especially heinous crimes for entertainment purposes is not something I would normally voluntarily watch in my spare time. Not only are murder documentaries capable of being really dark, the illustration of the crimes in these documentaries (sometimes) comes off very exploitative and too sympathetic towards undeserving parties. I'm not saying crime documentaries are inherently unethical; however, people's obsession with murder documentaries has seemed to desensitize many to the actual heinous acts of the perpetrators covered in these stories. That then raises the question of ethics on both the creators end as well as the audience.
I understand murder/crime documentaries are popular because people are intrigued by a human's capability of committing "evil" acts. While some crime documentaries do a good job of emphasizing the mental illness or environment that may have caused a person to commit an unorthodox crime, others fluff the crime for entertainment purposes. What I mean by that is, some documentaries over dramatize the film by hiring actors to act out violent scenes, over script very real cases (which in turn makes the docs feel like a fictional story rather than an unbiased report of facts), and add overly dramatic music. In those cases, the documentary feels very exploitative. Instead of shedding light on a crime that hurt people, and uplifting victims and their families, some documentaries are clearly trying to milk views and profits. As a result, I feel this over dramatization of heinous acts for entertainment purposes has numbed audiences to vile acts of violence and normalized the digestion of said violence, further distancing the audience from reality.
After finally watching the documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of AH, I am left extremely frustrated. Over the past week, since the documentary has come out, I've seen too many conversations on Twitter distracted from the real problem of the documentary- AH murdered three people. Instead, people are focusing more on praising his girlfriend and other family members for their "loyalty", awing his attractiveness, and his "manly" moves in killing himself for the betterment of his family. Many audiences coming to an overall census he was a misunderstood boy. To reiterate- he murdered three people. Killing himself (in this contex) was not a selfless act. It was extremely selfish and deprived the victim's family of justice. (Though I understand AH's battle with CTE, and what role that could have played in his actions. The discussion of whether we hold people with severe mental illnesses entirely responsible for heinous/selfish acts is a discussion for a different day).
This documentary is a great example of how normalized the portrayal of violence as entertainment has become. I find it extremely frustrating because I see more criticism of participants in the documentary than of AH and praise of people who don't deserve it. I think the purpose of this documentary is to explore all the possibilities that could bring a man, who has all the textbook necessities that should make a person "happy" or content, to be senselessly violent and cruel. I preferred this format of documentary, over other murder docs, because their portrayal of AH is not trying to garner sympathy from the audience. But, simply explore the mind of a killer.
I think people are missing the entire message of the documentary completely, so let's discuss it.
AH's Alleged Sexuality:
The discussion surrounding his sexuality in the film was heavily criticized on Twitter. Some people calling it a "smear tactic" and unnecessary to the story. Other people argued it was almost cruel to discuss his sexuality because it could be emotionally taxing for his girlfriend, who has already been through enough. Well, I disagree (shocker). I think exploring the many aspects of why he could have been so recklessly violent is not unnecessary. To figure one of those reasons could have been because he had to hide part of himself because of a homophobic parent and participating in a hyper-masculine sport is not an outlandish thought, cruel, or a "smear tactic". His alleged closeted sexuality could also offer insight into why he killed himself because of the radio interview that came out, outing him, shortly before he committed suicide.
Furthermore, the fact Aaron Hernandez was allegedly gay or bisexual is not a bad thing. The fact he killed people is a bad thing. Exploring the possibility his supposed hidden sexuality might have played in his actions is not the bad thing. IT'S THE FACT HE KILLED THREE PEOPLE. I'm just not understanding why more people care about the possibility of the documentary painting him in a bad light by "exposing" his alleged sexuality than the fact that he permanently ruined people's lives with his actions. If I'm going to be honest, I feel people are projecting their homophobia by feeling annoyed at the documentary's discussion of what role his alleged secret played in his mental state. What, is it worse that he be gay or bisexual over being a murderer? Make it make sense people.
His family's loyalty:
Moreover, AH's girlfriend, Shayanna Jenkins, should not be praised for her "loyalty". Her covering for him is extremely self-serving and hurtful. Why are so many people sympathizing with her? She aided in covering up a murder. A MURDER. In which somebody died. People lost a loved one due to AH’s actions, including her own sister, and she disregarded that for the sake of sticking by her boyfriend. Whatever stance you have on what role AH's mental stability has on his actions is your opinion, but I think we can all agree SJ doesn't deserve any sympathy. She doesn't have any extenuating mental illnesses that could even come close to excusing her irresponsibility. She blatantly lied, by playing aloof, under oath (which is a crime) and could have seriously compromised the case. Thankfully, he received a guilty conviction despite her obvious attempt to let a violent man get away with murder, but she absolutely should not be deemed a "ride or die" woman. Some of you severely lack empathy and it shows.
Fetishization of AH's Appearance:
After watching this documentary, if your immediate reaction was to take to Twitter and gush about how cute AH is, then you suck. It's obvious many people possess an unsettling fetish and/or sexual attraction for people who have committed atrocities. Some people may think that it is no big deal, but in some cases people's attraction to people who have committed heinous acts can allow undeserving people to get off on crimes. Casey Anthony's case is an example of the consequences of fetishizing contemptible people. This may be a reach, but I think that could also bring up the discussion of privilege white and non-black people (sometimes) have in the justice system. People will look at an attractive white/non-black person who committed a heinous crime and still be capable of awing over how attractive they are, which is really gross. The conversation this documentary is curating lacks empathy and perspective. Again, remember: THERE ARE VICTIMS IN THESE CASES! What we say matters.
I'm not saying people shouldn't watch murder documentaries, or enjoy watching them, because I get the intrigue. I just want people to remember that there are victims, who either died or were seriously scarred and grieving in these cases we watch for entertainment. As audiences watching these films, we need to be a little less sympathetic towards perpetrators who have committed heinous acts and a little more empathetic towards the victims and families involved in these crimes. We have a bad habit of caring more about the perpetrators than the victims, of saying the names of the perpetrators more than the victims, and of making the perpetrators infamous. That needs to stop. More emphasis should be on uplifting the victims and their families, and if there is an important discussion that needs to be had (like in the case of AH), we should have whatever discussion necessary to attempt to prevent environments that aid in creating and harboring violence.