I’m a true crime junkie, and with five out of Apple Podcasts’ Top Ten shows dedicated to this genre, it’s safe to say I’m not alone.
Netflix churns out true crime documentaries like a Nike shoe factory and labels shows containing graphic and disturbing imagery as “binge-worthy”. This isn’t, of course, a new phenomenon. Think back to the Colosseum, public executions, and Stephen King novels. The format has changed, but the concept remains.
Yet, with Netflix’s new release of “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story” (a redundant title), I can’t help but wonder if the genre has overstepped a delicately drawn line of ethics. I anticipated its release with excitement, but couldn’t make it past the first few episodes. My typical documentaries and podcasts relay facts, discuss historical and cultural implications, and remember the victims. Telling a story is one thing, but dramatizing and sensationalizing that story? That’s something completely different.
Let’s start with Evan Peters, the “American Horror Story” actor playing Dahmer. While not objectively wrong, I pause as cinema keeps enlisting conventionally attractive men to play serial killers— Zac Efron, Ross Lynch, and now Peters. Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, and, yes, Jeffrey Dahmer all received love letters and maintained a dedicated fan base of female followers, dubbed groupies, while in prison. The former two even married an admirer before their deaths.
Now, as the true crime community grows on a digital platform, complete with men already on the walls of teenage girls playing killers, this problem only intensifies. Following the Dahmer show’s release, TikTok flooded with shirtless edits of Peters while playing Dahmer with captions starting with “I know he’s a serial killer, but …” This past weekend, I even saw an abundance of Jeffrey Dahmer Halloween costumes. Shows like this have failed to make people comprehend that he is not Michael Myers or Freddy Kreuger, but a real, horrific, human being with real victims.
The victims, furthermore, were not made aware of the show’s production, nor were they compensated in any way. At the end of the show, they portray Lionel Dahmer, Jeffrey’s father, describing his plans to make money off of his son’s case, selling rights to production and writing a book. The families of the victims sued him for compensation, all of which were events that truly happened. For the show to admit the harm of such an action, then repeat that same action, is wrong.
Relatives of Errol Lindsey, one of Dahmer’s victims, have spoken out on the distaste of the show, claiming it forces families to relive their trauma and profits off of trauma. Rita Isbell, Lindsey’s sister, is portrayed in the show during court. Side-by-side recordings of the real Isbell in court alongside the scene in the show have permeated social media. This display of accuracy could potentially be beneficial … if Rita Isbell had been made aware she would be characterized. While not illegal in the film industry, it is definitely unethical.
For ethical true crime consumption, the victims must be remembered at the forefront. Everyone knows the name Jeffrey Dahmer, but few could recognize Steven Hicks, Steven Tuomi, Jamie Doxtater, Richard Guerrero, Anthony Sears, Ricky Beeks, Eddie Smith, Ernest Miller, David Thomas, Curtis Straughter, Errol Lindsey, Anthony Hughes, Konerak Sinthasomphone, Matt Turner, Jeremiah Weinberger, Oliver Lacy, or Joseph Bradehoft, the 17 men and boys murdered by Dahmer. It’s time to stop dramatizing true crime and making celebrities out of monsters.
Ainsley Trunkhill is a Hutchinson freshman studying English Secondary Education