New Dahmer Series Raises Ethical Questions

By Evana Brenelus

I would be lying if I said I am not obsessed with true crime, but I certainly know my limits. No matter how fictional a movie or show is, I remember that these are based on real crimes that affected real people and they were left with traumatic experiences. That is the difference between me and those who romanticize serial killers, serial rapists or anyone of that sort.

The new ten-part Netflix series, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, was released on Sep. 21. Jeffrey Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, is a known serial killer and sexual predator that mainly targeted gay men of color. Prior to this series, there were already a handful of works discussing his horrific actions.

An article from The New York Times discusses how this series has received the most attention and criticism compared to prior works done by other companies. It also covers how family and friends of the victims were retraumatized and felt that the series failed in what it was trying to focus on: Dahmer in the eyes of the victims. 

“It couldn’t be more wrong, more ill timed, and it’s a media grab,” said Eric Wynn, a drag queen at a club that Dahmer targeted. Wynn added that he was “disappointed” in producer Ryan Murphy.

Since classes were canceled for a week due to the concerns surrounding Hurricane Ian, I finished the series pretty quickly. I love Peters as an actor and he did an amazing job portraying the terrible person Dahmer was, which I expected because it was not the first time he played the role of the bad guy well (e.g. his roles as Tate, James, Kai and Kit in American Horror Story).  Even with those experiences, Peters spoke about how hard this role was for him in a YouTube video published by Netflix. 

I saw the series trending on social media platforms and was ready to read everyone’s opinions. I was surprised that so many people, especially those around my age, had no idea who Dahmer was. I was also not expecting the vile and sickening comments and videos romanticizing Dahmer, discrediting victims’ experiences and jokes being taken too far.

On TikTok alone, I saw a video of a woman wearing Dahmer earrings, another saying she had a tattoo of him and multiple sexualized video edits of Peters and the actual Dahmer. What made me angry the most were people, particularly white women, saying the series was not gory or traumatizing enough for them as if it was a joke.

People constantly disregard the traumas Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) face. In this case, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and the social media reactions showed me that. It was like people forgot Dahmer was a real person and not just a character played by Peters. The same behavior was seen when Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in Netflix’s 2019 movie, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

The film went through the journey of a man who people saw as eye candy and normal, yet behind the scenes he was raping, torturing and murdering young women. Similar to Dahmer, Bundy was a real person who had real victims but people still sexualized Efron’s role and the actual Bundy.    

This series brought up many ethical questions for me, which I am sure some people thought about as well. Should directors or entertainment platforms get the permission of victims and their loved ones before releasing something like this? Are series like these actually necessary? Where should people draw the line when it comes to informing people about these ‘infamous’ criminals? As viewers, how can we check ourselves when it comes to true crime and refrain from romanticizing the villains?

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