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Netflix’s Dahmer series puts price tag on victim’s trauma

Elizabeth Schuth

Feature Editor

November 9, 2022

Milwaukee Monster - Jeffery Daumer’s story is revisited in popular Netflix series.

“Dahmer- Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story” has quickly made a killing on Netflix becoming one of the most talked about and watched shows in America. It’s an undeniable commercial success, but at what cost?

The purpose of this new take on the worn-down tale of Dahmer’s killings according to Netflix’s website is to bring voice to the victims, their lives, and their stories. However, I and many others believe it does the opposite, making a murderer an anti-hero and further traumatizing the victims.

Victims' Voices Disregarded:

The first major problem with Dahmer is that it’s about real people who had no input in the making of the series. The level of reality is extremely intense with actors looking as close as possible to the real victims and saying real dialogue verbatim. All this was done without any permission from the victims. The first time Dahmer’s victims found out about the series was when it was released on Netflix.

In an interview, Shirley Hughes—mother of victim Tony Hughes—said, “I don’t see how they can use our names and put stuff out like that out there.”

Dahmer is the center of the show; most of the victims' stories are glossed over and simply treated as plot points in Dahmer’s story rather than real people with deeply affected lives. To the victims of the Dahmer killing spree, this show feels less like a respectful tribute and more like another attempt to make money off their grief.

Rita Isbell calls Netflix’s Dahmer “Money-Hungry” - Netflix portrayal of Isbell (left) testimony compared to Isbell in real life (right).

Romanticizing Murder:

As much as Dahmer is an appeal to reality, the series fails to portray him as the villain in the story, making him a misunderstood anti-hero. While it’s an undeniably important part of the narrative, the portrayal of Dahmer’s childhood trauma and isolation ultimately makes the viewer empathize with him. Instead of a cold-blooded serial killer, Dahmer is turned into a glamorized Hollywood-style bad boy. Making true crime into a Hollywood character blends fact and fiction and gives power to the killer over the victims.

Turning Dahmer into a character instead of a reality has already had disturbing results, with t-shirts saying things like “I eat guys like you for breakfast” or a jacket with Dahmer’s face saying “let’s do lunch.” Dahmer-inspired clothes and masks are a popular choice for this year’s Halloween costumes, prompting eBay to ban any Dahmer-related merchandise. All this leads me and others to ask—what good is this TV show really doing?

In the end, Dahmer is little different from other popular true crime TV shows and movies by shining a spotlight on the criminal and shoving victims’ trauma aside as an afterthought. According to an FBI study, empowerment is a big motivation factor for serial killers; notoriety is something they crave. In this way, the Dahmer series is giving the killer exactly what he wanted. Instead of using his narrative to tear down victims, we should look to new and productive ways of telling stories about killers.

I believe the solution is simple: keep the killer’s identity anonymous. The American Psychological Society also supports this idea, encouraging the media to deny mass murderers the fame they desire by leaving them unnamed. We as a society should consider how we talk about serial killers, instead of giving them capes they should be given a break from the limelight.

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