Monster: In the media

We need to stop romanticization of the life and acts of Jeffrey Dahmer in the media

Kendall Johnson, A&C Editor

A boot steps on Jeffrey Dahmer’s signature glasses. An overlay of a polaroid captures this moment.
(Sofia Murillo)

On September 21, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story premiered on Netflix, garnering  varying reactions from viewers. The show is based on one of the most notorious serial killers in the United States, Jeffery Dahmer. There have been many films, shows and documentaries about the life and mind of Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as the horrific acts he committed between 1978 and 1991. 

The Hulu film My Friend Dahmer in 2017, the prime video documentary The Jeffrey Dahmer Files in 2012 and the horror movie Dahmer in 2002 are all previous examples of Jeffery Dahmer’s story being turned into media. Though some believe Netflix’s new adaptation is the most accurate depiction of the events that took place to date, others have a different outlook.

The show gained popularity instantaneously, reaching record breaking levels. Immediately following the premiere, it was the number one viewed show on Netflix and the series has become Netflix’s ninth most popular English-language TV show of all time.

For true crime lovers, the show was gold. Evan Peters, most popular for his role in American Horror Story, played Dahmer in the new show. Fans raved and as the days went on, the new series gained more and more traction. While this traction was great for the show’s creators Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Peters, the negative aspects of the popularity is crucial to note.

The popularity of Dahmer in the media also means that the families of the victims have to hear a constant of his name and his actions, knowing they have been directly affected. Not only that, but they are then exposed to those on the internet who attempt to excuse Dahmer’s actions and those who romanticize him. Romanticizing Dahmer is not uncommon in the media and takes the form of idolization. Dahmer is one of many serial killers who has grown “fandoms”, a group of fanatics, that disregard his acts and present them in a more romantic or idealized manner. 

Fox News had a brief interview with the mother of Anthony Hues, a 31 year old man murdered by Dahmer. Having difficulty speaking about her son, Hues did not share much with the outlet. Hues simply said, “I don’t see how they can do that. I don’t see how they can use our names and put stuff like that out there.”

Hues attended every day of Dahmer’s trial in 1992 and as most mothers would be after such an event, she was extremely distressed by her son’s death. Despite Netflix’s claiming that this new Dahmer show was meant to shed light on the lives of the victims and be told from their point of view, Hues said that the show incorrectly portrayed the death of her son. 

 Shockingly, even Lionel Dahmer, father of Jeffrey Dahmer, has spoken out about the show’s glorification. L. Dahmer spoke out about not only Dahmer–Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, but also of Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes that came out in early October. Similarly to Netflix failing to ask permission from families of victims in The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Netflix also neglected to ask L. Dahmer’s permission to add his secret tapes into The Jeffrey Dahmer tapes. Though Netflix has gotten a fair share of backlash, some still continue to make the claim that the show is merely a source of fascination.

On “America’s Newsroom” journalist and television host Nancy Glass made the claim that the show did not glorify or romanticize, but rather simply fulfilled people’s morbid curiosity on how one could commit such acts. 

“No matter what, it isn’t a good feeling for the family members, but it wasn’t a documentary, it’s a work of fiction,” Glass said. She continues to state how the show is “a mini series by a producer and writer who do really great programming…” 

The point Glass tries to make seems unclear. If anything, her comments merely push the fact that this is glorification at its fullest. “It wasn’t a documentary” but rather “it’s a work of fiction” is ironic in the sense that the acts of Dahmer are not fiction. What makes Dahmer’s murders significant is the fact that they are real and that they were completed over a 13 year period before his incarceration. No TV series based on a true story of murder should claim to be a work of fiction. 

Glass’ statement also directly contradicts the claims of fans and the producers who say the show is meant to be the most “accurate depiction.” A common defense from fans of the show is that it is the first to date that fully depicts the ineptness of the police when it came to Dahmer. In fact, the show does highlight that Dahmer was arrested several times before 1991. It shows the multiple scenarios in which Dahmer could have and should have been caught, but this one strong attribute of the show does not excuse its insensitiveness. 

There is no reason to give gory details of Dahmer’s murders or try to justify his acts by telling the story of his childhood as it’s been done many times before. All in all, it is pointless to make another show about Dahmer. All it does is this; rehash pain that families and friends of Dahmer’s victims—real life people—are still healing from. Recently, a family member of one of the victims posted on Twitter, “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge right now, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”

It is labeled as true crime because it is just that, crime that is true. Dahmer’s horrific murders can never be summed up in documentaries and TV shows because these murders are not fictional horror stories.

But with Dahmer and other serial killers alike, society as a whole is not merely educating, but instead are rubbing salt on an open wound. ”

— Kendall Johnson

Informing the public is a necessity. History is taught in schools so people learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid a repetition of them in the future. But with Dahmer and other serial killers alike, society as a whole is not merely educating, but instead are rubbing salt on an open wound.

To declare that this show is necessary through the sheath of history would be misleading. The excuse of history can not yet be used because the events of Dahmer’s murders happened a little over 30 years ago. Also considering that Dahmer targeted specifically LGBTQ+ men of color is something that should be focussed on, seeing as direct violence against these marginalized communities is still very current. The relatives of these victims are still living. These murders are still raw.  

The harsh truth of it all is that the name Jeffery Dahmer  will always be remembered; the notorious serial killer who killed 17 young men between the late 70s and early 90s. But people will not avidly remember the names of those men,

whose lives were taken too soon.