The 1990s Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, made his way onto televisions all over the country again in 2022 with the release of Netflix’s thriller series “Dahmer: Monster – The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” Viewers can watch through the eyes of the monster himself, as he commits some of the most notorious crimes in American history.
Grisly is a word that comes to mind when the credits of the last episode roll. Sick, immediately follows. True crime is a touchy subject in the entertainment community and is regarded as a genre that is to be handled with respect and care. Dahmer, the series, failed to follow these rules.
Jeffery Dahmer was a serial killer whose crimes spanned from 1968 to 1991. His victims were young men and boys ranging in age from 14 to 32. All facts you would assume would be touched upon in the show but are mostly left out. The show only focuses on four of his victims. Except for brief expositional dialogue, and a fifty second clip at the end with somber music playing, the other victims are absent.
The show seems to be trying to tell three stories: Dahmer’s family and upbringing, Dahmer’s neighbors, and the victims and their families. The combination of stories was not problematic on its own. However, the jumping timelines, and the A story being about Dahmer and his family created a narrative seemingly placing sympathy onto Dahmer, rather than the victims.
The idea of diving into the mind of a serial killer is not new. There are numerous documentaries, books, podcasts, and so on, as ways to find out the burning question of why someone would turn out that way. With a series like Dahmer, some of the reality was lost when a real case is dramatized. Inferences must be made where information doesn’t exist, and that opens up the possibilities for misinformation.
With a topic like this though, misinformation could be avoided with intensive research, such as reaching out to the families most affected. However, it seems that this did not happen. Victim’s families were outraged upon release of the show and reached out to news sources such as Forbes. The sister of one of the victims claims that her family was never notified of the series, nor asked permission to use her likeness in the show.
Another victim’s mother commented to The Guardian that the events portrayed in the show are incorrect. Yet another victim’s cousin explains that while what happened is public record, all the show did was reopen wounds, and retraumatize people who went through the unimaginable.
Dahmer’s own father, Lionel Dahmer, a key character in the show, was not notified of the show’s production or release. Lionel Dahmer refused to comment however, saying anything he has to say is published in his book. The family of the killer himself being offended at the production of the show should say a lot.
In all, the series does a decent job of telling the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, but that is all it did, tell a story. It did not compel the viewer to ask bigger questions, nor did it invoke sympathy to the right group of people. Of course, you felt sad for the victims and their families, but you didn’t come away feeling as if they are real human beings, rather than characters. And like most media, in the words of the show itself, the villains are always written better.
If you want to learn about the true horrors the seventeen men and boys went through all those years ago, give Netflix’s Dahmer a pass. There are numerous sources, articles, books, documentaries, and docuseries to use as reference. This is not a good representation of the crimes, nor the effect they had.