Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer is Netflix’s powerful new true crime documentary about a serial killer – that will make you question your own behaviour.
Is it a bad idea for me to write about Don’t F**k With Cats? Is it worse that you and I watched it? That your WhatsApp groups keep blowing up whenever another person binges it? What about that it was one of Netflix’s most-watched series of 2019 despite only being released on 18 December? Is it terrible that you clicked on and/or googled your way towards this piece?
The part we all play in what serial killers are looking for – fame, notoriety, infamy – is at the heart of this limited docu-series that indicts us all. But the problem is that it does so without looking at itself and how it falls for the same, frankly grotesque, traps that all true crime seems to do.
Which makes it the perfect vehicle to talk about as an example of so much that is inherently wrong with obsessing over true crime: it glorifies and amplifies the narrative and fame of the killer and fails to properly center the victim, 33-year-old Chinese undergrad student Jun Lin (as his name was Westernized in the documentary). Instead, it hangs its hat on glibness in such a way that you can’t help but watch it and see how pretty much all true crime content misses its own point.
It’s also a tough thing to talk about without being a part of the problem. I will refrain from using the killer’s name, but anyone clicking this piece is very likely to know what it is and what phrases to search for to get more details. But if that’s what you want, you have to ask yourself why that is: why do you want to know more about this person? Some argue it makes them feel safe, in control, as if they could protect themselves… but you’re doing so by giving this killer you so hate exactly what he wants: more attention, more clicks, more fame.
See what I mean about it being hard to talk about?
Don’t F**k With Cats at first gives us a unique and interesting point of view for its story: the Facebook friend group that decided to track down who was responsible for the 2010 online videos of cats and kittens being killed in Montreal, before that person became Jun Lin’s murderer in 2012. But the power of that framing device only makes the ensuing flip into sensationalism and obsession with the murderer and his “story” all the more obvious. In this way the series makes itself a hypocrite. And if I don’t write this well enough, you could probably say the same thing about this piece.
You cannot say the series’ final moments – criticizing the audience for their fascination and complicity – was the whole point of the story being told. Sure, in the series Baudi Moovan, a.k.a. Deanna Thompson, the data analyst who helps to track down the murderer, looks straight down the barrel of the camera and calls us all out for watching.
But the documentary fails to show any sense of looking at itself and its own culpability in further glamorizing the killer at its center. They made the choice to string along the Basic Instinct details and fervent spectacle of how we ingest and discuss this content online without even a self-aware nod to its own place in profiting off of that, and what that says about them and all of us. What does it say about me that I pitched this piece with the intent of it being published, and read as yet another part of the discourse, and subsequently paid for my words and work?
I can’t help but think maybe we should stop ingesting this sort of material. Or at least stop watching, reading, and listening to the ones that eschew victims and award further infamy to murderers, giving them everything they wanted (and maybe then some, thanks to social media and general internet access). Little by little, we have to try.
Maybe we google “who is so-and-so” less, don’t read the Reddit threads or articles, a step that could help in slowly erasing their names from the Google search bots. Maybe giving killers forgotten names and legacies that are more worthy can be the new name of the game. Maybe one day soon stories that glamorize killers won’t be told anymore, and this will be the last story I write about something like this.
The good news is, I think we can do it. I think we can find a way where we can all be happy – well, except maybe those of you who just don’t care and are fine with serial killers having the fame they so desire. There is plenty to say about the true crime genre itself – with how we talk about people who do bad things for fame and infamy. But this indictment of Don’t F**k with Cats, true crime as entertainment, you, and I, doesn’t just exist to shame the lot of us.
It doesn’t exist to simply be as glib as the docu-series itself, with an aggressive gotcha! It exists to say that the victims matter, the harder conversations about our parts in all of it matter, and they’re the conversations we should be at least trying to have, in order to figure out how we level up and get it all done. Resist the temptation of fame-seeking serial killers. Next time your WhatsApp chat lights up with a friend who wants to endlessly dissect the case, maybe just resist.