Buzzfeed.News (which lol) recently posted a “news” article about how ~controversial~ it is for Netflix to publish stories about violent killers featuring attractive men starring as the killers. The article touches primarily on two shows, Dahmer and You. The article cites the large female fanbase who openly ‘crush” on the killer characters. The “news” article is heavily biased in delivering praise (very newsy of them) for Penn Badgley’s criticism of Netflix and the women who have a crush on his character or Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer. For context, Badgley is the star of the Netflix series You which is about a fictional man who constantly stalks and murders women while being pretentious about books.
What Badgley and Buzzfeed are failing to comprehend is two fold:
- Since the invention of the genre, women have been the core fan demographic for crime drama
- Women are attracted to talented men
So first of all, women are drawn to crime dramas. The first ever “crime drama” documented as being published (probably) is Murders at Rue Morgue which is an Edgar Allen Poe classic. The success of the story led to the release of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 1868 then of course Sherlock Holmes beginning in 1887 until finally the Agatha Christie Miss Marple series of the 1920’s.
Most of these mysteries were originally published in popular magazines not as individual novels (until later). Magazines were affordable and more easy to distribute. Their popularity was brought on by the rise of literacy in common society, particularly in America and Great Britain. The common newly literate population was lower class men and women of all classes. It was these stories that were the first most women were able to read along with highly popular sentimental novels such as the works of Jane Austen.
Since this time, women have stuck with crime drama from fiction to true crime. There is some psychology to it, women tend to be the victims of heinous crimes and learning more about them gives many women an adrenaline rush considering the victim of murder reminds them of themselves but also it gives women some level of peace to understand assailants. Many women use these stories, whether consciously or subconsciously, to learn safer behavior. Modern studies show that women continue to out-consume crime dramas compared to their male counterparts.
All of this history to say, one major reason that women enjoy the killer characters is that they are the ones watching the show to begin with.
Second, women love talented men. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence of women overlooking societally determined “flaws” for a man who has immense talent, particularly in the arts. There is also some science to it. Ed Sheeran is the perfect unscientific example. Many would think Sheeran as a 5’8 ginger would not necessarily be the typical heartthrob on the pop scene. But this doesn’t stop young women from falling in puppy love with him and swarming his concerts. Why? Because he has the voice of an angel. Boy can sang.
There is a big difference between excusing being perhaps bland looking or atypically attractive and excusing murder. That’s not the situation. What’s happening is that the attractive and charming men are giving fantastic performances in their roles and that commitment and charisma is attractive to women. And then women say intentionally silly, tongue and cheek things like “I’m attracted to Jeffrey Dahmer” but what they really mean is that they’re attracted to Even Peters performing his heart out as Jeffrey Dahmer. They say they’re attracted to “Joe” in You but what they mean is that beyond their suspension of disbelief lies a conscious understanding that “Joe” is not real but Penn Badgley is. Basically, these women are being cute and joking and not needing to write an essay on the female gaze for every tweet about a talented man they find attractive. But Buzzfeed and Penn Badgley, apparently can’t fathom the nuances of female expression.