Dahmer: Educational Or Immoral?

Photo of actor pretending to have been murdered with a filming shutterboard over him
Holly Philpott

Have you heard about the latest Netflix show? Yeah, Dahmer. What’s it about? Oh, it’s a story about a serial killer who committed the most heinous and unspeakable crimes against seventeen men and boys. Holly Philpott asks, how could Netflix come up with something so evil? 

…except this isn’t a story made up by Netflix. It’s a real-life event, which ended the lives of seventeen innocent people. Jeffrey Dahmer was a real person, a real serial killer, one who got away from the hand of justice for over 12 years before being caught and sent to prison. His crimes shocked not just America but the entire world, leaving many questioning how somebody so truly malicious and wicked could escape the justice system for such a long time. And now, his crimes are shocking the entire world again – this time, not just for his brutality, but also for the way that Netflix has portrayed them on their streaming service.

Should we really be congratulating Netflix on Dahmer?

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was released in September 2022 on Netflix. It is a show detailing the life and crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and him finally being convicted for what he’d done. For weeks, this ten-part drama has been the Number One watched TV Programme, dominating the streaming service’s statistics and lingering in people’s memories. You’d think that this would be a great thing – Netflix’s show is evidently doing extremely well – yet is this really the case? Should we really be congratulating Netflix on Dahmer, given the controversy and moral questions that surround it? 

Firstly, we should consider the way that Dahmer was made public knowledge to the world. Having my own questions about this TV show, I decided to look further, and according to The Guardian, ‘There was no premiere’ and ‘none of the show’s stars were made available for interview’. That alone is quite unusual for Netflix, given how much attention they typically give to new shows and films.

Normally, they want to showcase their new releases, so why was this not the case for Dahmer? Given that they only released a trailer online for the show days before it was due to come out, had Netflix realised just how uncomfortable, immoral and potentially unwatchable Dahmer would be? After all, this show is simply a reenactment of a serial killer’s decade-long spree, performing out the final moments and court trials of innocent victims’ lives. Surely they realised how controversial Dahmer would be upon release? 

Jeffrey wasn’t the only one involved in his crimes – what about the seventeen victims?

It should also be noted how the show revolves around one main person: Jeffrey Dahmer himself. The show circles around his every move, how chillingly uncomfortable his presence seems to be everywhere he goes and how his actions led to the deaths of many men. Even the opening scene of the show, an interaction with his neighbour in the corridor, is enough to give someone shivers. 

Yet Netflix missed something quite vital in their show, a missing piece of the puzzle. Jeffrey wasn’t the only one involved in his crimes – what about the seventeen victims, and their families and friends? What of their lives? They were people, people beyond what Jeffrey made them to be, and instead of focusing more on them, Netflix’s show centres primarily on one man – the murderer himself. Of course, a small dedication is made to those who lost their lives at the end of the series, but this feels so comparatively tiny in relation to how much screen time Jeffrey receives. 

Netflix have been incredibly out of touch just how impactful Dahmer would be

The show is, in many ways, offensive to the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as those who knew the victims. Shirley Hughes, mother of Ted Hughes, a victim of Jeffrey’s crimes, told The Guardian that she cannot comprehend how the show has even been allowed to be made at all – and she isn’t alone on this. Eric Perry, cousin of another victim, Errol Lindsey, wrote on his Twitter page that he wasn’t even aware of the show until the day it was released. Have Netflix truly given no consideration to how the graphically detailed episodes of this show would affect those who personally knew the victims?

Sadly, it appears not. Instead, relatives and loved ones are left feeling traumatised and shaken by Dahmer’s release, having no relief from the show’s release as it is still one of Netflix’s most-watched shows at the moment. When you add to the mix that Netflix originally tagged this as an LGBTQ+ show – and then revoked this following the understandably harsh feedback – it seems as if Netflix have been incredibly out of touch of just how impactful Dahmer would be, in so many ways. 

It’s a shame that in 2022, victims and their families are still not being treated properly

Nottingham had its own controversy a few weeks ago, when Crisis advertised their Halloween club night… with a theme of dressing up as a serial killer. This was posted to their Instagram page with pictures of not just Jeffrey Dahmer, but other criminals such as Rose West. The post was later taken down after backlash, and the theme changed – but the damage was already done.

Not only is this a sign of how influential Dahmer has been for all the wrong reasons, but it’s also damaging to victims. Victims not just of those murderers, but also victims of any form of assault, whether it be physical, sexual or psychological. Given that this is something which students are extremely sensitive to, what made this okay for Crisis to advertise? And despite changing the theme, does this take away from the fact that they thought it was acceptable in the first place?

Whether you are a true crime fan or not, whether you’ve watched Dahmer or not, one thing’s for sure: the series has raised a lot of important questions surrounding true crime series, how far they should go and how to address the victims in a respectful manner. Dahmer’s influence on conversations like these has been immense over recent weeks; while it’s been valuable to discuss these topics in the media to clarify what should be done to improve the true crime genre and its morals, it’s a shame that in 2022, victims and their families are still not being treated properly and with the respect that they deserve. 

Holly Philpot

Featured image courtesy of Joel Muniz via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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