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Aaron Hernandez: Victim or Sociopath?

Consumers today have an obsession with the most twisted and evil people in society. Shows like Criminal Minds and Dexter have done and continue to do well on streaming platforms. These shows lure in viewers with their dissection of fictional killers' psyches and crimes. But this fascination with the minds of criminals goes beyond the realm of make-believe. Interest in the subject led nonfiction motion pictures like Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a film about Ted Bundy, to come on the scene. Documentaries like this shed light on problematic people not as psychopaths, but as humans. They offer a different perspective that makes the worst people in society seem like genuine, charismatic people.

Therein lies the question: Is being good-looking and soft-spoken all it takes to get away with terrible things? Can celebrities act with impunity in the eyes of society? This is where Netflix’s latest documentary series, Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, comes in. 

While only three episodes long, the documentary explores the life of Aaron Hernandez and the steps that lead to his eventual conviction and suicide. Jumping between the timelines of his career, family, and conviction, Producer Kevin Armstrong, BC '06, portrays Hernandez as a complicated and tortured soul. The ins and outs of his life weigh heavily on viewers, emulating the complications that Hernandez went through during his time in public life. Such complications include questions of sexuality, mental and physical abuse, abandonment from his mother, and his CTE diagnosis. Even with so much information to piece together, the show does an exceptional job and provides a look into Hernandez that’s as unbiased as it could possibly be.

Between the abuse, sexuality questions, and CTE diagnosis, Hernandez comes out the other end a complex and difficult character. No longer do his murder and suicide seem like the moves of a lifeless gangster, but of a man trying to do what he was taught at a young age. It feels like someone repressing their unrequited feelings through criminal activity. But this raises the question: should that be how we look at him? Just like other shows that have an “anti-hero” of sorts (YOU; Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile; Breaking Bad), Killer Inside presents someone that seems to be a murdering sociopath as someone with a conflicted past that led him down the wrong path. Interviewers in the series picked up on this conflict, with some saying that they will never forgive Hernandez, but that they still feel bad for him. Still, the debate remains: is Hernandez a bad person, or a victim of a society stacked against him?

No definitive answer comes out of this mini-series. Instead, viewers are left with more questions than before. Aaron Hernandez undoubtedly seemed like a man with a bright future, a future that he ruined with serial murder. Killer Inside offers some clarity into why he may have committed those crimes, however, it leaves the audience wondering: was he really that bad of a person? Should society’s narrow-mindedness be blamed for forcing him into the closet? Should football be blamed for giving him an extreme case of CTE (a condition that altered his decision-making abilities)? Or was Hernandez just as horrible as he seems, and his act of murder a reflection of what he truly stands for? Regardless of the questions we are left with, the series Netflix released gives an interesting commentary not just on Aaron Hernandez and the scandal he created, but on the importance of upbringing, of sexuality, and of safety.

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