Netflix’s Dahmer receives backlash

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Though directors claim to have the victim’s best interests at heart, the victim’s families beg to differ

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a limited series streaming on Netflix. It was released onto the platform on September 21, 2022. The show is created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, who are both known for Glee, Scream Queens, and American Horror Story. Starring Evan Peters, the show focuses on the life of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It follows the childhood of Dahmer and the motives behind his murders from 1978 to 1991. The show has broken Netflix’s record, becoming the platform’s most-watched first week for a new series, surpassing even Squid Game. With only 8 episodes, the show is extremely graphic and requires many trigger warnings prior to viewing.

The show has received mixed reviews, with some praising it for Peters’s performance, whereas others have criticized it for exploiting the pain of victims. It has a 73 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a 40 per cent audience score. The reality is that pop culture has evolved over the last few decades. The culture of film and TV has vastly changed within the last few years alone. Trauma is something that sells.

Streaming platforms have commodified trauma into a show for public consumption without regard for the victims who have been affected. We are witnessing the rise of true crime. Whether it is through podcasts or YouTube videos, creators are telling stories of gruesome crimes through makeup or skincare. It has become a way for people to bond. The real stories of victims are being turned into juicy gossip for the public to view right before our own eyes. Netflix’s Dahmer is a visual of this.

A scroll through TikTok alone leads you into a world where people are bragging about not being affected by the show. Some even wish that the show had more gruesome scenes, as if Dahmer drinking blood is not enough. The most disturbing aspect of this are the fan-made edits romanticizing a serial killer. These fan edits minimize the story, portray it as a story of love and not murder and abuse. Dahmer is a deeply disturbed individual who murdered and molested 17 people, many of whom were Black men and boys. The fact that edits are being created is not surprising. We all remember the days of Tumblr, and the rabid serial killer fans that existed back then.

They’re still here. They live amongst us. Only now, they’re on Twitter and TikTok. In the words of William Shakespeare, “hell is empty and all the devils are here.” The sad truth is that commodification of true crime has made us more insensitive. It has made capitalist corporations such as Netflix money-hungry.

Many family members of the victims have spoken out, criticizing Netflix for its action. The family of Errol Lindsey have been vocal about their concerns. His cousin, Eric, 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 re-traumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”

Although the show operates under the façade of being concerned about victims, that is far from the truth. The story has never been about the victims. It has been about re-traumatizing the families of the victims by alienating them from their own stories. This is not Netflix’s story to tell. When you tell a story, you are owning the narrative. Netflix has absolutely no right to do this. It is up to the families of the victims to own the narrative surrounding their stories. It is theirs to tell. Eric also stated “So, when they say they’re doing this ‘with respect to the victims’ or ‘honoring the dignity of the families,’ no one contacts them. My cousins wake up every few months at this point with a bunch of calls and messages and they know there’s another Dahmer show. It’s cruel.”

On September 26, 2022, Insider published an essay based on their conversation with Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey. In it, Isbell highlighted that she was bothered and uncomfortable watching the re-enactment scene of her court statement at Dahmer’s sentencing in 1992. “It felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then,” Isbell noted. “But I’m not money hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid,” she emphasized.

If Netflix claims that they went about creating this show with the victims in mind, why is it that the family members of the victims were never notified? “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it.” Isbell stated.  “If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought it was me. Her hair was like mine, she had on the same clothes. That’s why it felt like reliving it all over again. It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then. It’s sad that they’re just making money off this tragedy. That’s just greed.”

As a result of the show, there have been talks to figure out ways to honour the victims in Milwaukee. Although the mayor of Milwaukee, Cavalier Johnson, is on board with the idea, he has shown concern that the memorial could be turned into a Mecca for Dahmer fans.

The reality is that Murphy’s show has only done more harm than the good it has claimed to do. It has re-traumatized the families of victims, forcing them to re-live traumatic moments over again. Netflix is not concerned about them despite pretending that their goal is to honour the victims. The only way this will change is through legislation that protects victims and their families from corporations that want to turn their stories into dramatizations.

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