‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’: The Problems With True Crime Entertainment

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of murder and assault.

As someone who has always been interested in true crime and mystery, I didn’t hesitate to watch Netflix’s newly released documentary series about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Still, the first episode blew me away. I’ve seen almost every true crime documentary on Netflix, but this movie was the first time I felt genuine fear and shock through the screen. The performance and the atmosphere created by the show scared me, as if I was seeing everything that happens live.

“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” has become the #1 show on Netflix globally, with approximately 192 million hours watched, after its release on September 21. Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s ten-episode limited series is based on the true stories of the American serial killer, nicknamed the Milwaukee. Cannibal. Dahmer killed 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His methods were notorious, as he murdered, raped, dismembered, and consumed his victims. In fact, he was a monster.

The show’s timeline goes back and forth from Dahmer’s childhood to his adulthood. The first episode specifically focuses on Dahmer (Evan Peters) picking up Tracy Edwards (Shaun Brown) from a bar and taking her back to his apartment where there are immediate red flags. There’s a fish tank full of dead fish, a bloody drill, and the awful smell of rotting meat that Dahmer says is “bad meat.” Fortunately, Edwards is able to escape and call the police, leading to Dahmer’s capture and the publication of his horrific crimes.

Courtesy of Netflix.

After the first episode, which shows Dahmer’s downfall, the show delves into his childhood, adolescence, family, and the start of his murders. While I won’t go into the specific content, I do want to warn that for some, the episodes may be hard to stomach.

An important factor to keep in mind when producing true crime TV shows or movies is not to romanticize or glorify the killer. In 2019, Netflix released the movie “Extremely evil, shockingly evil and vile” starring Zac Efron. Like “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”, this film was about serial killer Ted Bundy (Zac Efron), who murdered 28 young women. Instead of focusing on the victims and the crimes, the film focuses more on Bundy’s infamous charm towards women and his good looks. some have plot that the film did not portray him well as the villain that he was.

Unlike the Ted Bundy movie, I think Dahmer’s portrayal in this movie is non-romantic and more authentic. Peters does a great job of getting into character for this role. Comparing his performance to actual interviews conducted with Dahmer, Peters nails everything from Dahmer’s breathing to the way he speaks. As you watch it, you can feel the fear and tension through the screen; you feel uncomfortable throughout the show.

While the series has gained massive popularity, there has also been some major criticism from viewers. Many people have spoken out on social media platforms like Tiktok and Twitter about the problem this series has caused. For the Milwaukee community, as well as the friends and family of the victims, this spectacle is ripping the Band-Aid off a wound that has not healed. Rita Isbell, the sister of one of the victims, wrote to Insider that “[The show] It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then.” To make matters worse, Isbell said Netflix didn’t reach out to families for permission or even give them notice.

There are real people affected by Dahmer’s crimes. The stories and pain caused by Dahmer should not be seen as pure entertainment or used to make money. The families of the victims should have been informed about the making of this piece. They deserve respect and should have been considered by the producers. However, in reality, the film industry has centered many shows and movies around serial killers, such as Bundy and Dahmer. Many producers have used true stories to create engaging content for audiences. While learning about real crime is interesting, there are better ways to educate ourselves on these topics without hurting the victims or paying attention to the killers. The victims were not fictional characters, they were real people like us, with friends and family.

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