The Success and Controversies of Netflix’s Killer Series

In recent years, it seems as though the media has perpetuated society’s growing and sick romanticization of serial killers. Netflix’s latest crime drama series, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, is a product of its environment.

Some argue that Zac Efron’s role as Ted Bundy in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile ignited this widespread, cult-like obsession for all things disturbing. According to People Magazine, critics said that Efron’s casting “overemphasized Bundy’s charm and good looks.” Similarly, others are voicing the same concerns over fans’ newest questionable lover, Jeffrey Dahmer.

On Sept. 21, Netflix released their limited series on Dahmer starring Evan Peters for the titular role. The series recounts the life and crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, notorious for murdering and dismembering seventeen males, predominantly black and gay, from the late 70’s into the early 90’s. Even more gruesome, his crimes further include that of necrophilia and cannibalism, the latter of which is infamously associated with Dahmer’s name.

The Netflix series, simply referred to as “Dahmer,” begins painfully slow, creating pits of angst within viewers as they anticipate the inevitable. By starting in a backwards fashion, “Dahmer’s” pilot episode is about the circumstances surrounding the killer’s last arrest (he had been arrested multiple times previously for other misdemeanors). The following episodes rewind to the beginning of Dahmer’s life, providing a loose explanation and timeline of his mental and criminal descent, in addition to highlighting the stories of some of his victims.

Although disgustingly grotesque, “Dahmer” does a fantastic job of allowing the viewer glimpses into the isolated cannibal’s life. In showcasing Dahmer’s childhood and thereafter, the viewer is able to piece together a personal opinion about whether his killer tendencies were born or bred.

The show’s cast and acting abilities likewise add to viewers’ experience. Peters portrays Dahmer in a scarily accurate light, going as far as nailing his subtle mannerisms and Midwestern accent. One might almost forget that Peters isn’t Dahmer himself. In an interview with Seventeen, Peters admitted that he would “have to go to really dark places and stay there for an extended period of time” to prepare for the demands of the role.

Despite the show’s acclaim, there is a deeper level of controversy that surrounds the series. Many claim that the series shows Dahmer in too great of a sympathetic light. Episodes’ deep look into the killer’s disturbed mental state, as well as the nature of his unstable childhood, give off an undeserved air of pity.

Others have said that the series displays blatant disregard for Dahmer’s victims, who allegedly had no say in the creation of the Netflix hit. Eric Wynn, a Black drag queen in Milwaukee and friend of Dahmer victim Anthony Hughes, told The New York Times that “Dahmer” “couldn’t be more wrong, more ill-timed, and it’s a media grab.”

Without the consent of those who knew the victims personally, in addition to the strange romanticization of nefarious killers, there lies an ethical dilemma in creating “Dahmer,” as well as other serial killer documentaries. Are they educating the public on how killers such as Dahmer come to be, or are they demonstrating the idea that any murderer has the potential to be immortalized? Despite the show’s captivating success, these ethical questions deserve to be addressed.