Why is Netflix bombarding us all with a cascade of dystopian terror and brutal murder?

Netflix mirrors our tastes through its algorithm. Perhaps we’re feeding it our fears, and instead of receiving an antidote, we're getting them thrown right back at us

Jessica Evans
Tuesday 05 February 2019 16:36
Conversations with a Killer The Ted Bundy Tapes trailer

I love a Netflix binge as much as the next person. There’s something quite indulgent about inhaling copious amounts of snacks in bed and choosing a new show to start a love affair with.

It’s become a staple, low-maintenance and simple downtime go-to for most of our generation. One of life’s small delights some may argue. But has a lot of the content on Netflix become a bit too dark and weird recently?

Go onto the main menu and the “what’s trending” section pretty much looks like an endless stream of shows about the inner workings of mass-murderers’ minds, dramas about stalkers and crude documentaries that somewhat glorify their behaviour.

From Confessions with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a documentary about one of the most prolific serial killers of this century, to The Staircase, a seriously twisted docu-series about the trial of Michael Peterson, who was convicted of murdering his wife, the shows are becoming more intensely graphic and explicit.

Sitcoms like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and comedy specials are its saving grace, but a lot of the content is heavy, sinister and bleak. As I scroll through the Netflix catalogue looking for some light relief at the end of my working day, I’m met with so much misery.

At this point, those responsible for programming at Netflix have pushed these documentaries to such gruesome a limit, that they are failing to pay respect to the victims who have been so brutally murdered, not to mention their poor families.

So, is this entertainment? Or have things gone too far?

With all that’s glum and depressing in politics and the media around the world, it’s clear that there’s enough bad news out there at the moment. And it feels odd that Netflix is intent on zeroing in on horrific stories considering how regularly the real world feels like a living nightmare.

Streaming in February: New to Netflix UK & IRL

Traditionally, in times of trouble, chaos and uncertainty, society has always leaned towards escapist optimism where the arts thrive and in particular, comedians are in demand.

I’m sure there’s something in the fact that the often savage and violent medieval era boasted so many jesters, who I’m sure would’ve provided much-needed comic relief.

People need outlets of joy. And typically, the reverse has been true where people indulge in the nightmarish when things in real life are seemingly smooth sailing.

However, we seem to be moving towards an age of consuming a diet of dystopia when the world too, seems to be heading that way.

Netflix mirrors our tastes through its algorithm. Perhaps we’re feeding it our fears, and instead of receiving an antidote, we're getting our fears thrown right back at us, with our “recommended list” featuring more and more real life doom and gloom to feast on.

It’s became almost cliche to exclaim: “I am just obsessed with shows about serial killers, it’s just so fas-ci-nat-ing”, with many of us privy to similar gushing from colleagues, friends or passersby. I’ve always found that need to proudly announce one’s obsessive infatuation with these shows baffling. To my mind, it represents a twisted compulsion to consume oneself with darkness.

In the past, whenever I’ve watched a documentary like The Keepers or The Imposter, I’ve come out the other end not with a sense of enlightenment like I originally hoped for, but a feeling of sadness and hopelessness towards mankind (as well as some pretty disturbing imagery that refuses to leave my mind) which leaves me feeling miserable.

I watch these things and they don’t make me feel good, they make me feel less human. What you eat has an effect on your body. What you watch has an effect on your mind. In my experience, it also has an effect on your wellbeing, sleep, stress levels, anxiety and your mood. So it’s worth considering what you’re allowing in. Is it enriching? Is it helpful? Or is it making you more paranoid when you go out?

My friend once said to me: “If you’re going through a tough time, the doctor should recommend a boxset of your favourite belly-laughing show as a medicine.” Friends, as it still is for so many others, is my medicine. It makes me laugh like no other show and is a classic pick-me-up for when I’m feeling down.

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While there's probably no monster under your bed or zombie ready to eat your brains, there absolutely are evil serial killers, atomic bombs, restrictive abortion laws that result in the deaths of women, priests who have dedicated their lives to exorcism, vicious man-eating animals, and many other terrifying true tales all available on Netflix.

I once read a film reviewer write, “Netflix is a respiratory of insanity, weirdness and human suffering – and we love it”. I agree with the former part of the sentence.

Netflix is in a position where it can use its platform as a source of hope and joy. Instead, it’s at risk of normalising extreme brutality.

This is my plea to Netflix to commission more light-hearted, fun and life-giving shows for us to watch. If we’re going to spend every minute in front of screens, shouldn’t it be more positive experience?

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