“Dahmer” on Netflix: Villainized or Glorified?

It seems Netflix has run out of new ideas yet again as they revisit the story of the infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. This gruesome retelling of the Milwaukee terror has gained popularity amongst all age groups on the platform, recently taking the #1 spot for currently Most Watched Series in the US. 

The show follows Dahmer along his path of destruction, showing detailed accounts of the horrific acts he committed in his 13 years of killing. The accuracy with which this series portrays such crimes makes for an extremely disturbing watch, which is the intent of its production. It switches between past and present day, from when he was a child and his upbringing, to his being murdered by a fellow inmate in 1994. 

What makes this series particularly unique from other serial killer “documentaries” is its unsettling attention to detail. The casting was impeccable with Evan Peters as Jeffery Dahmer. He encapsulates Dahmer astonishingly well, from his appearance and accent, to his whole demeanor and mental state. At some points, you forget he’s acting. 

One of the most chilling scenes in the show is his court trial. A side-by-side comparison of the show to the real life tape illustrates just how much work was put into making this series authentic. However, a question comes to mind when thinking about how they made these scenes feel so real: What were their sources?

While Netflix has no obligation to notify the families about the show being produced, it feels wrong to watch such gruesome stories knowing they have to relive a real traumatic event in their lives.”

They certainly weren’t from the accounts of the victims’ families. In fact, the families of Dahmer’s 17 victims had no knowledge of this series being created. Errol Lindsey’s (one of the victims) sister, Rita Isbell, spoke out about her opinion on the show, “I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it.” While Netflix has no obligation to notify the families about the show being produced, it feels wrong to watch such gruesome stories knowing they have to relive a real traumatic event in their lives. This is especially alarming when you imagine yourself in their shoes, having an actor being cast as yourself and filming scenes you had to experience with no knowledge of it happening. As the show enters mainstream media, it’s hard to watch the public make comments on such a tragic event in recent history. 

People seem to forget Dahmer isn’t a fictional story. Like all series, reviews range from overly positive to disparagingly negative, but the commentary being made is nothing less than disconcerting. Some believe that the show didn’t include enough detail of the actual murdering of the victims. It goes without saying that this is an extremely disturbing opinion, given that the show does show a fair amount of gore, more than what was expected. Some episodes were so sickening that it made you want to stop watching and live in blissful ignorance of what comes next. Others reflect on their individual viewing experience, noting how they were “unaffected” by the revolting scenes. This is not something to brag about, seeing as these murders were real tragedies and not scenes from a splatter horror film. 

The intent behind the creation of this series was to show the story from the point of view of the victims, and it can be argued that the exact opposite was achieved. Dahmer was nothing short from a glorification of the disgusting man who committed incomprehensible crimes to innocent humans. In some scenes, it’s almost as if they were trying to gain sympathy from the viewer, and any intelligent person would be aware of this. The show would have been much more effective if they focused more on the victims, their lives, families, hobbies. Instead, they highlighted Jeffrey Dahmer and his deranged mind, trying to justify why he did what he did.