‘Dahmer’ Backlash Is a Prime Example of True Crime Going Too Far
Photo: Netflix

‘Dahmer’ Backlash Is a Prime Example of True Crime Going Too Far

The Netflix series is under fire for its retraumatization of victims. Who is this intended to serve?

A new miniseries called Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is the subject of some intense backlash. The series is about one of the most infamous serial killers of all time, Jeffrey Dahmer, who confessed to murdering and dismembering 17 males (not men, as people often say). It’s important to get the facts straight: Dahmer killed boys. Apparently, the series is told from the perspective of his victims and their families. This is an interesting twist on the true crime genre, but it’s curious how filmmakers can truly be invested in accurately telling a story from the perspective of victims’ families without their expressed consent.

Eric Perry, a cousin of one of Dahmer’s victims named Errol Lindsey, tweeted about the series, saying his family, the Isbells, “are pissed about this show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what?”

“For what?” is a great question. The true crime industry faces a lot of criticism because of its propensity to retraumatize victims and treat these stories as if they don’t involve real people. Fans of true crime can be incredibly invasive. A lot have no background or training in any investigative work but contact victims seeking further insight into a tragedy they heard on a podcast they listened to while working from home.

The story of Jeffrey Dahmer has been told many, many times. I’m not exactly sure what the purpose of telling this story is without the involvement of the many victims. There is no altruistic purpose for Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The Netflix series was made to make the streaming service some money, to get some actors and filmmakers nominated for awards, and to satisfy the appetite of all those true crime freaks out there.

Nothing here is surprising, though. Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, has a bit of an appetite for making stories about bad men and the macabre, especially when it intersects with queerness. He created Nip/Tuck, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and American Horror Story. Murphy is a sicko—which is fine, a lot of his work is great television—but maybe next time he thinks about sensationalizing acts of evil, he should approach it with more care and humanity, like Ava Duvernay did when she made When They See Us.