Last night, as we started the 3rd episode of the new Netflix series Night Stalker, my wife asked me why I thought there seemed to be so many more shows about such dark subject matter. To put this question into context, we had completed watching both seasons of the Manhunt series which were about the Unabomber (season 1) and Eric Rudolph (season 2).
My first thought was that enough time had passed to declassify much of the information. From both victims to the authorities involved, details of the case were now open to the public. This is most likely the case.
My second thought led me to think about the need for content during Covid. Writing a new original, scripted program would take longer (and cost more) than making a docu-series or reinterpreting the historical account into an original screenplay.
As I lay in bed that night, the same question led me to darker thoughts. I remembered an interview with author James Perloff regarding his views on the history of how television entered our homes.
Mr. Perloff described how the new technology of television was not widely accepted when it was first introduced. In order to build trust with the public, the marketing of TV offered wholesome, Christian programming. Many of the original TV programs contained openly Christian themes and emphasized wholesome storylines usually summed up in a lesson in morality. This helped in the marketing of the value in owning a TV, in bringing a family together while instilling Christian values or at the very least teaching the lead character a valuable life lesson. Much of the programming worked within these guidelines for years as the TV became an integral part of every home.
I'm gonna fast forward to where we are now. Many of us have televisions in a number of rooms in our homes. Combine that with our laptops and phones, many of us have a screen in our face for the majority of our waking hours. We also have access to content 24/7 in a way that was unimaginable since the invention of the TV almost 100 years ago. Is that good or bad? Does that bring about a need to have any subject of interest become programming for some group to enjoy?
Would a family from the 50s survive a night of modern television? What if they sat with us and watched Night Stalker? Not only would they see the history of this maniac and his evil crimes but the graphic depiction of his murders, the photos of the crime scene, and the language of everyone involved all broadcast on a high definition 65-inch screen with surround sound. I can follow that up by forcing them to binge (a term I will have to explain to them) a season of Lucifer or the Santa Clarita Diet. Would their heads explode? Would they believe they entered the future or gone straight to hell? Or would they simply go into catatonic shock to see where the path has lead us? I would spare them the Internet on that first night.
Although these movies and documentaries are depicting an historical account, the truth is there are many of us who are fascinated with the evil person themselves. Maybe it is the fascination with evil, itself. I can't help but notice that the Anti-Hero, as a lead character, has become more frequent over the years. Is that simply confirmation bias or is it a fact? Is this fascination in dark subject matter forced on us, or is it simply to feed people what they are hungry for? Is there an agenda forcing us to normalize deviancy or is it simply the way to make money while giving the audience what they want?
I'd appreciate your comments and feedback. I'd also appreciate links to anything pertaining to this topic.
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