Netflix’s cash cow: Trauma

The complete disregard for victim’s wishes in “Dahmer – Monster”


Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix’s new series about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has received much backlash from the families of Dahmers’ victims, who feel like their pain is being exploited for profit.

Joey Gonzalez, Life Editor

On Sep. 21, Netflix released yet another iteration of the infamous American serial killer’s narrative, titled “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” Although the show depicts a dramatized, but particularly realistic, story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life, it does so in a way that capitalizes on the pain of those who were affected by his crimes. The show has sparked much controversy about the approach it took to depict such graphic and heavy material, especially in regards to the victims’ families. The timing of the series is also suspicious. Released only a month before Halloween, it seems as if Netflix is marketing the show as just another “spooky Halloween special,” instead of a horrific biopic of a serial killer’s life. This show comes five years after the release of a film called “My Friend Dahmer” and merely weeks before the release of “Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes”—another Netflix production, which aired on Oct. 7. 

Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was an American serial killer who committed 17 murders between 1978 and 1991. When Dahmer was eventually convicted, the extent of his crimes, including cannibalism and necrophilia, was a shock to the nation as they tried to understand how a person could commit such atrocities. The media heavily sensationalized the murders and ensuing trial, contributing to the nation’s increasing facination with the serial killer. And even now, 30 years later, production companies are profiting from retelling his crimes and continually reminding his victims’ families of what happened. 

The show itself, with Evan Peters playing Jeffrey Dahmer, presents a particularly realistic depiction of Dahmer’s life, from his childhood until 1994 when he was murdered. Although somewhat sensationalized, the focus on his family troubles and his childhood obsession with taxidermy are crucial for understanding Dahmer’s killings.

However, if understanding Dahmer is the point of the show, it should not be structured in the manner it is, particularly showing events out of order. The show opens with Dahmer’s last attempted killing, where his victim, Tracy Edwards, managed to escape and report Dahmer. The next several episodes jump to Dahmer’s early life, often flashing to the crimes he would later commit. To someone who understood the narrative already, the change in time wasn’t confusing, but for those who didn’t have prior knowledge, it was difficult to know when events were taking place and what was going on. 

In my eyes, the most jarring aspect of the show was the complete disregard for the victims’ families and their wishes. After its release, several of the victims’ family members came forward to express their disgust with how Netflix handled the show. Rita Isbell—the sister of Errol Lindsey, who was murdered by Dahmer—recently spoke out against Netflix for not reaching out to her family, accusing them of profiting off their tragedy. Another relative of Lindsey’s, Eric Perry, took to Twitter to express his family’s disgust at the show, stating “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” Both Isbell and Perry reveal that Netflix is simply profiting off their pain, without consulting them in the process. And Netflix doesn’t even try to hide this fact either. In the eighth episode of the series, titled “Lionel,” the family members of Dahmer’s victims are allowed to give their statements in court. A particularly painful scene to watch is Rita Isbell’s statement in court, where she, in a moment of pure pain and fury, screams at Jeffrey Dahmer. It is absolutely gutwrenching to put yourself in her shoes; to think of her brother who was brutally murdered, and to understand the pain that was inflicted on her family. In the show, the scene is an almost exact replica of the actual event, blatantly profiting off the families pain and without their consultation or permission. Although the scene does serve to accurately depict the court case, it does so without any input from the family. 

As Netflix’s current No. 1 show in the United States with over 700 million hours of watchtime, “Dahmer” was only able to reach those numbers on the backs of people who were drastically affected by his crimes. It profits off their pain in a disgusting fashion, by providing no compensation for and asking no input from the victims’ families. In our consumption of non-fiction media, movies and TV shows, we need to be conscious of when a show doesn’t pay proper respects to those who were affected, when it blatantly and unapologetically ignores the victim’s families and re-traumatizes them. So, while the show is currently a sensation in the United States, we need to understand who and what we are supporting when we watch it.