Entertainment at a human cost.
Victims of the 1986-1989 Colonial Parkway Murders
Content Warning: This article discusses topics of real events that may be disturbing for some readers.
Netflix has a controversial and convoluted history when it comes to what content they choose to distribute on their platform. 13 Reasons Why and Dave Chapelle’s The Closer are two shows that generated animosity towards the service from its subscribers. 13 Reasons Why was berated by viewers for framing teen suicide as an almost admirable act that will garner attention and sympathy from those who have wronged you, while the streaming of The Closer generates wealth for a comedian who has been called out on multiple occasions for directing hate at the LGBTQ+ community.
The two aforementioned shows are proof that Netflix, along with other streaming platforms, is not known to shy away from contentious topics and people, which brings our attention to one of the most watched and disputed genres to date: true crime.
"Loch Henry" and Pulling Back the Curtain
In the recent sixth season of the British Netflix Series, Black Mirror, we gained an interesting and very real perspective on the world of true crime. The show's second episode, named “Loch Henry", follows Davis and Pia, a film-making couple on their trip to our leading man’s homeland - a rural town in Scotland called Loch Henry. On their way to their final destination, the couple visits Davis' widowed mother and Stuart, an old friend who works in the same pub as his own father. Stuart gripes about the desolate pub and blames the infamous Iain Adair for the town’s lack of visitors. Pia presses Davis and Stuart to tell her about this Adair character and comes to find out about the dark history of the small town.
According to the tale, Iain Adair was a simple man who lived on a farm with his parents in Loch Henry. He wasn’t known for causing trouble, but one night the police followed him home after some strange and worrisome rambling at the local pub. The police did not enter the home before four gunshots rang out. One was issued to the officer outside the home, one to each of Adair’s parents, and one to himself. Police uncovered a horrifying sex dungeon, where Adair kidnapped and tortured tourists. It is later revealed that the officer who was shot was Davis’ father.
Pia is immediately far more intrigued by this story than the couples’ original film concept and encourages Davis to explore this storyline more. Davis is hesitant and dismayed, it feels wrong creating a film glorifying an act that imminently led to the death of his father. However, Pia insists, and the couple, with the help of Stuart, decides to move forward with their new film: Loch Henry: Truth Will Out. Without giving too many spoilers, the story becomes deeply intertwined with Davis’ life in a way he couldn’t imagine, and leaves lasting repercussions that alter his world forever.
This seemingly simple storyline, compared to Black Mirror’s past episodes, is actually a deeply revealing perspective on the public’s obsession and acceptance of the genre of true crime.
Credit: Product Placement Blog
The Growing Repotoire of Murders
True crime has taken the entertainment industry by storm. The most popular genre of documentaries is true crime (Desktop Documentaries) and Netflix alone has over 50 original true crime documentaries and series. Meaning this does not include content produced by other platforms. In addition to the film and television world, the second most listened-to podcast genre is true crime as well. Why should this be any reason for concern?
Similar to all other gruesome topics, there is a prominent and dismissed problem of desensitization and moral ambiguity. Where do we draw the line between entertainment and glorification?
True crime, as the name implies, are recounts of lawlessness that are based on, well, the truth. These are detailed and accurate tellings of real people's lives and the atrocities they have suffered from. Popular television shows and films such as Extremely Wicked Shockingly Evil and Vile, Catching Killers, and Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich are just a few of the dozens of shows that provide horrifyingly specific descriptions of the crimes.
Credit: Confirm Good
Apathy of an Audience
When discussing the problematic origins of true crime - aka the real world - producers of this content may use the angle of ‘morbid curiosity’.
After all, if there is a car accident on the freeway, chances are you’re going to look.
However, the much larger concern is the apathetic and smug satisfaction people take on from being ‘unfazed’ by the content of these programs. The audience’s ‘morbid curiosity’ has grown into a disturbing obsession for the next most grisly robbery, assault, or murder. The most basic question that comes about when I see yet another “keep you up at night” crime series: Why? Why do we need to dissect the intimate details of a closed case? Why do we need over 10 pieces of media glorifying the murders of John Wayne Gacy?
Why must these families have to continue reliving their nightmares and when do we finally let the victims rest?
Lack of Consent from Corporate Media
In reference to the victims’ families, I believe this is a relatively unexplored aspect of the true crime world which is, unfortunately, likely intentional. An incident involving pushback from a victim’s family occurred recently with the release of the incredibly popular Netflix original Dahmer series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Rita Isbell, the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, told Insider in an interview “She was not consulted by Netflix in advance of the show, which included a depiction of the victim impact statement she delivered during Dahmer's sentencing…” Besides this being a blatant exploitation of peoples’ experiences, it also shows a complete lack of human decency, neglecting to give families the opportunity of any closure.
DaShawn Barnes's Netflix portrayal (left). Rita Isbell at real Dahmer sentencing (right).
Credit: Entertainment Daily
This is not the first family that has dealt with a situation like this, and it will likely not be the last. However, there are individuals who wish for their family members’ stories to be told in order to spread awareness of the dangers around us. Bill Thomas, brother of Cathy Thomas, was appalled to find accidentally released photos of his sister’s murder during the time of the slow-moving open case. Thomas decided to take it upon himself to advocate for his sister as well as the other victims of the unsolved 1986 Colonial Parkway Murders. Although Thomas informs people of the crime and openly discusses his sisters’ death of his own volition to date, his hand was still forced by an outside source.
At the end of “Loch Henry", Davis is found alone in his hotel room. He has just won an award for best documentary and is gaining recognition as well as prospering economically, but he is in a worse state than ever before. We see the streaming platform, Streamberry (a Netflix parody), is planning on creating a reenactment series of the tragedies that ensued during the filming of his original short film, without any consideration of how heavily this has impacted Davis' life. Black Mirror gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the personal impact this form of entertainment has on the people who it is based on.
The episode is a slap in the face from reality for true crime junkies, to recognize that their favorite form of entertainment comes at the cost of someone’s peace of mind. Millions of people a day relish in the gruesome histories of real people’s parents, siblings, children, and friends.
This genre may never be retired, but we can make an effort to not support the creators and platforms who benefit from the misery of others.
Below are recommendations of fictional crime entertainment, for those of us who still want to wonder what goes bump in the night.
Jacqueline Schaffer is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine and a fictional crime/horror junkie.