Graphic by Sean DeBello
Warning: This article mentions assault, violence and death, which could be disturbing to some readers.
Following the recent release of Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story in September, controversy surrounding the infamous serial killer has reemerged. Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal or Milwaukee Monster, was responsible for the murder of 17 men and boys ranging from the ages of 14-33, primarily in the late ‘80s. Dahmer would lure victims into his home, drug and viciously murder them. He committed horrifying acts, including cannibalizing and assaulting his victims. He is not a man that should be glorified.
Stories in film and television are often portrayed in a romantic light to maintain the audience’s attention and create buzz on social media. As the audience of the morbidly curious grows, true crime is trending more than ever on platforms across the internet. Similarly to other true-crime series, Dahmer dismisses the heinous consequence of romanticizing a murderer. In a world where gun violence, school shootings, and other acts of brutality are becoming more common, Dahmer is a negative influence on its particularly young and impressionable audience.
The standout issue is that the series takes place behind the eyes of Dahmer — not his victims. Spotlighting Dahmer’s backstory of childhood neglect, rather than the stories of the victims, inherently causes the audience to have more sympathy for the serial killer. Conveying true crime as theatrical performances with real-life heroes and villains is the main culprit. Contrast between morality and violence has seen other true-crime series like Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer garner sympathy for murderers. The sympathy fostered for Dahmer and others has led many social media users to openly display pity and support for the killer.
This series has caused two main trends across social media platforms like TikTok and Twitter. One being individuals repulsively joking or mocking the victims, while the other is an alarming romanticization of Dahmer. Vile TikToks of people reenacting the heinous crimes currently plague the platform. Many of these videos could be taken as lighthearted, but that is only due to how unlimited internet access has desensitized our society to horrifying and grotesque sights. Is it not absurd to mock people who have been killed?
There are no words to describe the individuals who are going as far as to defend Jeffrey Dahmer’s actions. Romanticization of Evan Peters’ depiction of Dahmer has caused many individuals to not only have sympathy for him, but to deem his actions excusable. It is reaching the point in which it has almost ushered in a new wave of fans for the serial killer.
While Dahmer was incarcerated before his death, he had obsessive fans who sent him letters and asked for autographs. They fawned over his celebrity-like status and looks, finding excuses for his actions by any means. This obsessive behavior is transcending into the culture of the internet and the minds of those who obsess over Peters’ portrayal of Dahmer in the new series. True-crime series have caused a blur in the lines between television and actuality. Countless comments can be found saying that if Dahmer looked like Peters then they would have “let him” lure them too. As society continues to become more desensitized from new true-crime series and real-world violence, fanbases for serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez will continue to spread around the deepest corners of the web.
Glorifying such rotten individuals and their wicked acts is not only immoral — it is beyond disrespectful to the victims’ families.
Dahmer’s most recent murders took place a little over 30 years ago. This means that families of the victims are still living with the reality that their loved ones were brutally murdered. During creation of the show, the families were never contacted. There is little justice for the families that live through the trauma induced by Dahmer and the industry that romanticizes him. Not only have they lived through the traumatic events depicted in this series, but they are forced to relive it as the world watches these events as a form of entertainment.
While it is not realistic to expect Hollywood to drop such a profitable industry like true crime, there are steps that can be taken to release a more virtuous series. For one, narratives of true-crime series often follow the killer instead of the victims. Shifting the perspective from the killer to the victims would place the victims and their families in a position of power. We watch television to escape our reality and this often comes at the expense of blurring the line between reality and fiction. Showing the lives and backstories of victims would allow for them to be seen and their memory to be honored. Above all, it gives some semblance of justice to the families. This new perspective could also cause the sympathizers of Jeffrey Dahmer to see the reality of this situation and put an end to the excuses they find to defend him. However, considering that Dahmer still has fans despite the depiction of his brutalities, it is very possible that this issue may be rooted in internet culture. Desensitization of violence through the media we consume has caused a wave of apathy among true-crime fanatics. This trend is highly concerning, especially since new true-crime series are starting to gain traction following the success of Dahmer.
The series highlighted that Dahmer would take polaroids of his victims’ corpses. This has caused a frenzy of traffic to the pictures that are readily available on the internet. While curiosity gets the better of all of us, there should be boundaries in what type of media is acceptable to subject ourselves to. It is not acceptable to view the gory polaroids, not only out of respect for the victims, but also because it causes further detachment from reality for true crime viewers.
There are many changes that should have been made to this series. It is inexcusable to romanticize and glorify a serial killer and his actions, not even mentioning how immoral it is to profit off the victims — especially without their knowledge. True crime is often unpalatable, but mass glorification of a serial killer is the grotesque reality of the money-hungry producers who create these depictions. With the backlash that this series has seen, perhaps future productions will learn from this going forward.