Ryan Murphy’s drama adaptation of the Jeffery Dahmer case is a huge hit for Netflix. Despite seemingly well-intentioned studies of racial tensions throughout, the show still glamourises Dahmer and reduces real tragedy to convenient social media one-liners.
Currently sitting at the top of Netflix’s home page, ‘Dahmer’ dramatizes and follows the story of prolific paedophile, cannibal, rapist, and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered seventeen people over a thirteen year period.
The narrative is framed through the eyes of victims and their families, with recreations of court footage used to focus on the incompetency and racial biases of police forces at the time.
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most recognized serial killers ever. He has appeared in countless shows, podcasts, and documentaries in the decades since he was active.
True crime as a genre is enjoying a boom in popularity in the streaming age, with new podcasts and shows attracting huge audiences upon release. Serial brought in 19 million listeners in 2015, Zac Efron’s portrayal of Ted Bundy was a hit in 2019, and Netflix continues to pump out documentaries at a constant rate, including shows on Jimmy Saville, Chris Watts, Sharon Marshall, and many more.
Public appetite for serial killer stories is more insatiable than it ever has been, encouraging platforms to lean heavily into documentaries in order to retain paying subscribers. In the UK, John Wayne Gacy Tapes and Dahmer are both in the top ten trending shows on Netflix. Clicking on the ‘ominous’ tag offers pages and pages of similar content.
With such a high business incentive to keep churning out programmes of this nature, obvious questions regarding ethical responsibility and inappropriate romanticism surface.
At what point does a true crime investigation shift from informative journalism to exploitative entertainment? It is a line that has become blurry and provocative.
Dahmer is the latest case to face scrutiny, largely for its marketing, background research, and insensitive LGBTQ tags. Is it a genuine attempt to discuss racial and sexual discrimination, or is it a cash grab from a streaming service increasingly reliant on true crime to keep viewers engaged?