True Crime: How Far is Too Far?


Art by Owen Whelan

With the release of the Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, the public must face the question: When does the true crime genre go too far? 


The series by Netflix, most commonly referred to as simply “Dahmer”, is a detailed retelling of his horrific crimes. While Dahmer isn’t the first recreation of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes, it is the most popular by a long shot. Countless other movies, shows, and content creators have immortalized Dahmer as one of America’s most well known monsters, while his victims have been lost to time.


Creator of the ten-part series, Ryan Murphy, claimed that the show would focus on the victims’  stories, placing their families’ trauma at the heart of the series. However, the series, especially the first six episodes, which go into explicit details of Dahmer’s abusive childhood, achieve the opposite effect; some viewers even empathize with Dahmer.

Countless other movies, shows, and content creators have immortalized Dahmer as one of America’s most well known monsters, while his victims have been lost to time.


Dahmer’s blatant disregard for and disrespect of the victims and their families is absolutely the worst part of the series; it reduces them to nameless background characters in Dahmer’s horror story. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the show takes the liberty of including a word for word repetition of a victim-impact statement without bothering to contact the real woman who they are quoting. To make matters worse, the entire series was made without any approval from surviving victims, nor their families. 


After watching a series that turned the victims into spectacles and retraumatized their families, many viewers turned to social media to express their feelings. Some said the brutality and gore left them unfazed and disappointed, some argued how funny the string of crimes were and how they considered the series a comedy, and others even felt the need to let the world know how attractive they found the serial killer and how they “wouldn’t be mad” if he murdered them. 


A blatant reminder for all those reading this article: Dahmer brutally murdered seventeen men and boys, most of them were black and gay. He was violently racist and homophobic, and yet thousands of people are preaching his attractiveness on the internet due to Netflix’s depiction of him. People now sympathize with a monster. Maybe some people would care more if the victims were white or straight.


In general, True Crime, especially in Hollywood, is exploitative. Very few projects, if any, have successfully found the balance between respect and entertainment. Not that mainstream media cares about promoting the hot serial killer trope that demeans people in abusive situations, but I digress.


I’m not trying to say that true crime shouldn’t exist. It can spread awareness and there have been times where it has actually pressured investigators to once again open a cold case. Just this year, the true crime podcast “Serial” helped get previously convicted murderer Adnan Syed out of prison after reviewing the flawed case made against him – but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be limits to all of this. 


Overall, if you are interested in true crime, such as Dahmer, do your own research before you watch any True Crime shows; don’t let television be your only source of information. The very least you can do is learn the victims’ names. Dahmer brutally murdered:


Steven Hicks, Steven Tuomi, Jamie Doxtator, Richard Guerrero, Anthony Sears, Raymond Smith, Edward E. Smith, Ernest Miller, David C. Thomas, Curtis Straughter, Errol Lindsey, Anthony Hughes, Konerak Sinthaomphone, Matt Turner, Jeremiah Weinberger, Oliver Lacy, and Joseph Bradehoft.


Ask yourself, can you claim to be not guilty of contributing to the retraumatization of victims’ families when treating the events that ruined their lives as a simple show to entertain? Your morbid joy regarding these people’s brutalization and murder makes you an accomplice to an industry that will never let people rest so long as they can attach a price tag to their suffering. 


So, the next time you watch a true crime show, remember the atrocities committed by the protagonist before empathizing with their abusive backstory, or before falling head-over-heels for their (nonexistent) charm.