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There Are Too Many Shows About Jeffrey Dahmer

There Are Too Many Shows About Jeffrey Dahmer

Last week, Netflix released Dahmer, a show about the sex offender, serial killer and cannibal, starring Evan Peters in the lead role. This is distinct from 2017’s My Friend Dahmer, 2012’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, 2006’s Raising Jeffrey Dahmer, 2002’s Dahmer, 1993’s The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer. None of these are to be confused with shows like Jeffrey Dahmer: Mind of a Monster (2020), Dahmer on Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks (2017), Dahmer: Mystery of a Serial Killer (1993) and literally dozens of serial killer-themed docu-series which will give an episode to one of the most infamous men in American history.

It’s understandable, from a human perspective. We want to understand what happened. How could a human being descend to such unspeakably grisly crimes. Entertainment media’s ability to create empathy for its subjects is a little overstated, but each new piece of Dahmer content promises to pull the curtain back a little on just how this human got so twisted. And if it can’t do that, it at least can grant some true crime thrills.

But where exactly is the line here? Wikipedia lists 20 Jeffrey Dahmer projects that have been released since 1992. By comparison, there have been 12 Batman movies and TV shows produced in the same amount of time. There is probably a world in which these Dahmer products are giving us valuable insights into the mind of a serial killer, but is this that world?

One would also hope that these Dahmer series would shed a light on the 17 men and boys Dahmer killed, giving them some dignity and their families some closure in seeing their stories told. But at least one victim’s family member says that’s not what’s happening here.

Eric Perry, the cousin of Dahmer victim Errol Lindsey, wrote, “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge rn. But if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbells) are pissed about this show. It’s retraumatizing [sic] over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”

Perry went on to say that Netflix hadn’t notified or discussed the show with victims’ families before releasing it.

“My family found out when everyone else did,” he tweeted. “So when they say they’re doing this ‘with respect to the victims’ or ‘honouring the dignity of the families’, no one contacts them. My cousins wake up every few months at this point with a bunch of calls and messages and they know there’s another Dahmer show. It’s cruel.”

Peters has defended the show from some of its backlash, arguing, “We had one rule going into this from Ryan [Murphy], that it would never be told from Dahmer’s point of view. It’s called The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, but it’s not just him and his backstory: It’s the repercussions, it’s how society and our system failed to stop him multiple times because of racism, homophobia. It’s just a tragic story.”

And it is a tragic story. But at a certain point, one has to wonder if these creators are continuing to re-tell the story as a way of commenting on that tragedy or exploiting it.

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