Netflix: between art and exploitation


In the era of Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime, the TV media landscape has witnessed an unprecedented surge in competitiveness and diversity. The prevalence of on-demand services has experienced a significant boost during the COVID-19 lockdowns, giving rise to a new era of blockbuster series (like Stranger Things or Squid Game) and cinematic productions (such as Coda and All Quiet on the Western Front). However, this explosion of media offers has also fuelled an increasing appetite for gripping narratives and shocking plot twists, leading some recent productions down a path of increased graphic violence and explicit sexual content.

A notable illustration of this trend is evident in Netflix's “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”, a true crime series that delves into the chilling account of one of the United States' most infamous serial killers. Jeffrey Dahmer, who perpetrated the gruesome murders and dismemberment of 17 victims between 1978 and 1991, serves as a compelling example of the industry's pivot towards narratives that push the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

This research reviews the “Dahmer-Monster” series from both an artistic and business ethics perspective. From an artistic standpoint, Monster stands as a storytelling masterpiece. The quality of acting is outstanding, the attention to detail is meticulous and permeates every aspect of the production, and the quality of its soundtrack perfectly reflects the show's prevailing sense of dread. Given these achievements, the show stands out as an impressive and thought-provoking exploration of the dark recesses of the human psyche, and one that explores in depth the arcane forces that drive individuals to engage in gruesome actions.

Despite its artistic merits, the show and Netflix, more generally, are subject to several significant ethical critiques. These include: (a) the (over) exploitation of real-life tragedies and glorification of violence and deviant behaviours solely for entertainment and commercial purposes; (b) the discord between Netflix’s official rationale for producing the show (and a long list of other serial killer dramas alongside it) and actual delivery and commercial focus; (c) the lack of relation and sympathy towards the victims’ families; and (d) the unforeseen social and cultural legacies of popularizing and humanizing such characters in our popular culture, one that is particularly concerning in the case of true-crime productions that often blur the line between fiction and reality.

Notwithstanding its box office triumph at the critical acclaim, Monster reignites crucial ethical reservations regarding true crime media, mandating more responsibility and a conscientious regard for the well-being of all those implicated in the tragic events depicted on our screens.

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