Netflix Isn't Going To Stop Making Jeffrey Dahmer Projects, Huh?

"Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" was originally slated to be reviewed by /Film upon its September release. However, those plans were canceled after watching the first episode. It felt wrong to analyze and pick apart something that draws out the vicious murders of real-life individuals, especially when looking at it from an objective point of view. While it is important to champion controversial art, there are simply some lines that shouldn't be crossed.

It seems, though, like many other people have no issue crossing those lines. "Monster" currently stands as the third most popular television show on Netflix after spending several weeks in the number one spot. It has inspired a disturbing TikTok challenge (via Indy100) and has even prompted eBay to ban the sale of Halloween costumes of the serial killer (via BuzzFeed News). For a show that claims to be told from the perspective of Dahmer's victims, the mainstream interpretation of the series is one of glamorization and exploitation.

Unfortunately, this interpretation will probably be further solidified, since Netflix just can't seem to stop making content about Dahmer. That's because the documentary miniseries, "Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes," was released just two weeks after "Monster" and garnered similar viewership. To make matters worse, "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes" contains even more gruesome imagery and audio, which begs the question: is there such thing as an ethical look into the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer?

What makes The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes different from Monster

The timing of releasing this docuseries after "Monster" was likely planned. In theory, viewers might watch "Monster" and want to learn more about Dahmer, so having "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes" available to watch after their binge is convenient. However, the hook of this miniseries is that the conversations aren't dramatized by Evan Peters, but are rather the real ones recorded between Dahmer and his defense team.

This realism ultimately makes "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes" more haunting, and in turn, more exploitative towards his victims. Viewers hear the killer confess to all sixteen of the murders he committed, not seeming to care about them in the slightest. His victims, the majority of whom were Black and/or underage, were just a quick means to an end for him, and to hear him blow off any pretense that he did horrifying things makes the viewer feel like they shouldn't be watching.

However, that's the point of "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes." It exists to curb the natural human instinct to stare at danger from a distance, or in this case, listen to it. Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of immortalizing a killer who never cared that he took the lives of innocent children and men. It serves as a cruel reminder that Dahmer will always be a subject of fascination while his victims, who had so much promise, will remain in obscurity.

Why Dahmer, specifically?

It's worthwhile to note that there have been a total of fifteen movies and television shows centered around Dahmer, with "Monster" and "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes" being the most recent. When you take into consideration the fact that he was convicted in 1992, that is a staggering amount of media.

It's not entirely clear why the Dahmer case has generated so much infamy. Perhaps it is the vicious way in which he killed his victims. Maybe it is the result of the often-false narrative of the charming loner who didn't seem suspicious to outsiders. His status as a gay man could also contribute to this, as LGBTQ+ people are often painted as predatory boogeymen because of the actions of a select few.

Whatever the case may be, this infamy often obscures or trivializes the pain he inflicted on the sixteen children and men that he killed. These characters are supposed to be at the center of "Monster," but are rarely developed beyond being Dahmer's eventual victims. Some surviving family members, some of whom were portrayed by actors in the miniseries, condemned the series and claimed that they were not consulted or notified of their "appearances" before filming began.

"I feel like Netflix should've asked if we mind or how we felt about making it," Rita Isbell, the sister of Dahmer's 19-year-old victim Errol Lindsey, told Insider. "It's sad that they're just making money off of this tragedy. That's just greed."

Looking for a better future

The true crime subgenre does not have to be eradicated, but rather fundamentally changed. The problem with the vast majority of true crime media, "Monster" and "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes" included, is that there is seemingly little regard for the opinions or input from surviving family members of victims. Because of this lack of communication, the primary focus becomes the mythologized killer. If we want to make the true crime subgenre a more ethical sphere, then the victims must come first.

"If we're going to continue to have true crime," victims' advocate Kim Goldman recently told Entertainment Weekly, "it's irresponsible to not in some way include the families so that you can understand what they're experiencing and to give a little bit more power back to them."

While more exploitative efforts like "Monster" are still seen as the norm, there have been instances of victims using the true crime boom to better illustrate the severity of their trauma. For example, the Peacock limited series "A Friend of the Family" centers around the multiple kidnappings and assaults of Jan Broberg (Mckenna Grace and Hendrix Yancey), with the real-life Broberg serving as executive producer. This should be something that all true crime media should strive to do, as it allows the victim's family or the survivor themselves to control the narrative.

Entertainment over ethics

While it is clear that improvements can be made, it poses an entirely new question — do consumers even want to be ethical? 

Ultimately, the problem with true crime is that it markets itself as entertainment. Listening to how real, innocent lives were taken or destroyed shouldn't be labeled as such, and that misappropriation is why we have things like true crime fan conventions or online serial killer fandoms. The immense popularity of "Monster" is yet more proof that the true-crime subgenre has become more about entertainment than education. People have even been making thirst traps on social media because of Peters' portrayal of the killer. Audiences want to be entertained by a compelling story, and unfortunately, the murders that Dahmer committed apparently fit that bill.

Steven Hicks, Steven Tuomi, James Doxtator, Richard Guerrero, Anthony Sears, Ricky Beeks, Eddie Smith, Ernest Miller, David C. Thomas, Curtis Straughter, Errol Lindsey, Anthony Hughes, Konerak Sinthasomphone, Matt Turner, Oliver Lacy, Jeremiah Weinberger, and Joseph Brandehoft were not inspirations for content. They were people, some even children, who had their lives snatched from them by a monster. If Netflix and other studios or streamers want to continue pumping out true-crime media, then they must honor them and the victims of other killers in a more worthwhile way than a flippant acknowledgment as with "Monster" and "The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes."