With “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (2022) starring Evan Peters having launched on Netflix, there has been a discourse about how people fetishize crime and glorify serial killers, such as Dahmer himself. This has been a problem I have seen since Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in 2019 “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (2019). People watched this and sympathized with the Killer, viewing him as funny and attractive. “‘Dahmer”’ poses a different problem, however, that is truly more disturbing. “‘Dahmer”’ is a 10-part series with each episode going into graphic detail and viewing of the way he murdered his victims. One episode for each of the victims Netflix viewed as most dramatic and deserving of the screen. The show is predicated on recreating the most traumatic moments in explicit detail. The series literally takes the stories of how people died and emulated them to make millions of dollars.
Beyond the series itself, the response to it was shocking. Dahmer’s victim was a black gay man. Reactions from people on social media and speaking on podcasts, mostly straight white women, claimed that the show was not violent enough and they had no problem watching the graphic murders. They had no stake in the murders because it was not happening to people like them. They were able to watch this show without fear because Dahmer would have never victimized them. People are constantly watching the horrors that Black people face completely unphased because it is not happening to them, so they are not getting retraumatized by it the way that Black people are. “‘Dahmer”’ isn’t the only problem, there are at least 134 podcasts on Apple Music, Spotify and Soundcloud about true crime in the US. The entertainment aspect that people associate with murder causes desensitization of brutality in a way that absolutely can be avoided.
A lot of people justify making media about real serial killers by saying that it (1) raises awareness and (2) allows us to understand the mind of a killer. I, however, justify the extent to which an average American needs to do either of those things. It is not the role of the citizen to understand the way killers think, that is what we have psychologists and detectives for. Further, there is not any education happening when people are only learning about the victims in relation to Dahmer and only 2% of people who watched the show actually researched the victims.
Lastly, it is important to acknowledge the effects the show had on the victims of the families. The mother of one of Dahmer’s victims has spoken out against the series saying that “it didn’t happen that way.” Despite the outcry from the families of victims, the directors and writers of the show felt no need to consult families because these cases are public records. Rita Isbell, a sister of one of the victims has made a true claim about how the show is using murder as a way of making money, claiming “It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy.” I imagine creators in Hollywood sitting in a room watching the news thinking about how much money each story is going to make them. The profit outcomes that come from horrific events change the way people view such events.
Dahmer is no longer alive, but he has been immortalized through the 21+ pieces of media created about him. This is exactly what he wanted, and by making movies, books and shows we are displaying his name and making it so that everyone knows his name. We should stop giving terrible people the power and attention that they killed for.