DAHMER Doesn’t Deserve Support


Evan Peters plays the eponymous character in Netflix’s DAHMER. (Source: Netflix)

On September 21, the ten-episode true crime series, DAHMER — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story premiered on Netflix, quickly becoming the second most-watched English-language series on the platform. Unlike similar biopics which focus solely on the murderer and their thought process, creator Ryan Murphy hoped to “give notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims a voice.”

Instead of starting from the beginning of Dahmer’s life, the first episode focuses on Tracy Edwards, who would have been Dahmer’s final victim had he not escaped. From there, the show flashes back and forth between Dahmer’s troubled adolescence and his many murders. These cuts are jarringly deliberate, often showing parts of his childhood, like his father teaching him taxidermy, then quickly moving on to one of his demented crimes, like cutting up flesh, in an effort to find explanations for his actions.

As opposed to offering the nuanced view its creators supposedly aimed for, the series instead allowed viewers to separate themselves from the reality of what he did. Natalie Poftak (I) criticizes this treatment of the subject: “People can distance themselves from this show, especially white females who are the main consumers of true crime […] and distance themselves from the queer Black men who were killed. It’s dehumanizing. A lot of the people consuming these shows do not see these people as someone similar to them.”

People have always sympathized with Dahmer more than other killers, and this series does not shy away from that. It pulls on the morbid fascination people have with killers by trying to root out the causes for Dahmer’s crimes. It humanizes Dahmer by portraying him as a man who understands what he is doing is wrong but does it anyway. This style is appealing to true crime fans; it’s thrilling and explains the process by which seemingly normal people resort to bloody murder.

This curiosity about killers is what led teenagers to write letters to Dahmer after his imprisonment. Many of these people, usually young girls, labeled themselves as his fans, and history is doomed to repeat itself. Recently, DAHMER prompted an explosion of posts on TikTok and other social media platforms of viewers romanticizing Dahmer and making montages of him like they would for a pop music idol.

Despite the series’s attempts to focus on the victims, it was not well received by their families. Rita Isbell, the sister of victim Errol Lindsey, whose courtroom testimony was depicted, speaks out in a personal essay: “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it.”

Ruby Donovan (II) agrees with this sentiment, saying, “It feels like it speaks over [the victims] and tries to speak over someone else’s misery.” It would be one thing if Netflix was donating the show’s profits to the victim’s families, but instead, it’s going right into the company’s pockets. Donovan adds, “The fact [is] that they’re profiting off of everyone else’s pain and glamorizing what happened; it just feels wrong.”

Ironically enough, the final episode partially focuses on the victims’ frustrations with Dahmer’s father, who also profited off the victims by writing a book about his experience. This poignantly illustrates the producers’ hypocrisy: they themselves declined to take the advice of the characters whose dialogue they wrote. Overall, DAHMER represents much of what is wrong with modern true-crime media and the sensationalization of serial killers. Netflix should be ashamed for profiting off this; it’s time for this story to be put to rest.