Netflix released its show “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Sept. 21. The show is co-created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, and centers around serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and his 17 victims.
Recently, the series has come under criticism for reasons relating to respect for Dahmer’s victims and their families.
The biggest mistake lies in that Netflix did not notify the families of the victims that a show was being made about Dahmer. Being that Dahmer’s killings only ended 30 years ago, a lot of the direct family are still alive. It is still a traumatic topic and the effects are still relevant today.
Rita Isebell, sister of Errol Lindsey, a victim of Dahmer’s, said in an as-told-essay on Insider, “It felt like reliving it all over again, it brought back the emotions I was feeling back then.”
Isebell said Netflix did not notify her or ask her anything about the production. “I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They just didn’t ask me anything. They just did it,” she wrote. She added that it was sad Netflix was profiting off her trauma.
In addition, Isebell’s cousin Eric Perry spoke out on twitter. “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge [right now], but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show.” He continues, “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” Out of respect for the victims’ families, Netflix should have at least notified them of the show’s production, especially since this show spends a lot of time focusing on the victims themselves. A recreation of Isebell’s emotional impact statement was portrayed in the show and she still had no idea of what was going on.
An Article by the Guardian from Sept. 4, 2022 titled “The virtual jury’s out as appetite for true crime podcasts grows” discussed True Crime and its origins. It discusses how true crime podcasts like Serial from 2014 made the genre explode,with the addition of Netflix’s “Making a Murder” from 2015 adding to that. In an interview conducted by The Guardian with the author of “Justice on Demand: True Crime in the Digital Streaming Age,” Tanya Horeck said the genre had always been popular, but this new age of technology and digital media has made it easier to consume. “On a daily basis, most of us go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok to look up information and people we’re interested in. True crime seeps into that because it’s about investigation, about finding out information. In the pre-digital age, we were armchair detectives, but now we’re internet sleuths, and that’s quite intoxicating,” said Horeck.
While I think the true crime genre that is sweeping the nation at the moment is interesting and has a lot of potential to educate viewers on crimes of the past, notifying victims’ families should be a must, especially with an event that happened not all too long ago. Why should big corporations profit off of someone’s trauma? 17 families lost someone close to them by Dahmer between 1978 to 1991. Those children, brothers, and sisters are still alive and likely feel the loss everyday since.
This begs the question: is making true crime shows surrounding incidents where direct families of the victim are still around, moral? Is it too soon? Or, is it bad ethics not reaching out to said families?
The answer is probably both. It most definitely is unethical to not reach out to the victims families before even beginning the process of making the show.
Take a look at the rest of the genre. While it is extremely interesting, it always seems to have some sort of controversy around it, by either glorifying the killer or by doing exactly what Netflix did with this one, not notifying victims’ family members about the creation of the show.
Take Netflix’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” about Ted Bundy.. Controversy arose after finding out Zac Efron was casted to be Bundy. Critics said he would glorify the killer by casting someone who is considered conventionally attractive. However, Zac Efron and the creators defended the criticism by saying that was the point. Bundy was a charismatic and more attractive guy compared to a lot of serial killers. He did not fit in with the stereotype we normally see. Other controversy arose with the film by critics saying that the script did not follow the book it was based off of very well. The original script is based off of Bundy’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer, memoir, “Phantom Prince: My Life With Ted Bundy.” The Atlantic came out with a review called Netflix’s Ted Bundy Movie Is a Study in True Crime’s Most Troubling Questions by David Sims pointed this out. “Though the film initially masquerades as a story told from Kloepfer/Kendall’s perspective, it doesn’t commit to the concept. Instead, “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile” is primarily curious about Bundy’s pathology,” wrote Sims.
There has to be a way the creators of these shows and biopics about serial killers can produce them in a correct and ethical way. One way to start would be actually notifying victims’ families, then go from there.
Among other controversies surrounding the show, Netflix also labeled the show under the LGBTQ+ category because Dahmer was a gay man. Twitter blew up after it was brought to the public’s attention. One twitter user wrote, “If I need to stay in my lane absolutely tell me but anyone else think it’s pretty gross of @netflix to list Dahmer under #LGBTQ, especially when the True Crime tag would have worked?”
Along with this, other Twitter users brought up the point that this is not how they want to be represented. If we look back at the actual trial back in 1992, we can find that a lot of homophobia was surrounding this trial because Dahmer was gay. We don’t need to bring this back.
As a whole, this series seems to do a lot more harm than good. Understanding that True Crime is a popular media genre right now, there needs to be thorough understanding about the situations these media companies are covering. Not every horrific event needs to be glamorized.
True Crime seems to be getting a lot of negative attention from audiences when a series gets popular. The Dahmer series definitely did spark some controversy from victims’ families actually speaking out against the show and Netflix puting the series in the wrong category. Is it time to move on from the genre? Or is it time to actually do it right and keep it around for everyone to enjoy?
Tim Bruns can be contacted at