The problem with romanticizing Jeffrey Dahmer


Sarah Moon

“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” gained almost one hundred million more hours watched than “Bridgerton” season two.

Callie Wittmann, Reporter

Hundreds of millions of hours of television were consumed in the first two weeks alone for Netflix’s new series, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” Starring Evan Peters as the titular killer, this show explores the life of the famed Midwestern serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, from his childhood through his murders, arrest, conviction and eventual death in prison. 

It isn’t the first show that has capitalized on our interest in the macabre.

Shows like “American Horror Story: Cult,” “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile”  and “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” demonstrate people’s fascination with gruesome retellings of American tragedies, and the media romanticizes these stories. 

Fans that are drawn in by the actors’ shining personalities and family-friendly reputations often overlook the real-life crimes committed by these murderers. 

But some like Lydia Glomski (11), a critic of the serial killer fandom, speculate that this is problematic.

“Whenever the actors portraying serial killers…are well-liked, [people] thirst over [them],”  Glomski said.  “It is just psychologically weird for the audience to see somebody that is normally attractive … play this horrible character.”

The actors aren’t the only issue. The media will often glorify the murders and exaggerate or invent parts of the murderers’ backstories to invoke empathy for the killers, something that troubles Camille Smith (12).

“A lot of shows romanticize troubled and violent male [characters]…and the show is a lot of explaining his trauma and his backstory,” Smith said. “I think it’s just so ingrained in the media to sympathize with violent male [individuals].”

Aislinn Choo (12) said it was problematic the way that these shows also go beyond invoking empathy; sometimes, they seemingly wipe the murderers clean of their worst traits.

“I also think there’s the issue of sanitizing the [killers], like, Jeffrey Dahmer [was] a huge racist,” Choo said. “I think a lot of people kind of aren’t aware of that and focus more on the [attractive] mysterious killer.”

These events are not just dramatized to create sympathy for the murderers but also to increase the shock value. This is often done through violent reenactments of the murders.

“[Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story] is sensationalized. They have all the gory stuff going on and it is realism to the point [it is]…almost a little too real for TV,” Choo said.

Smith also pointed out that these dramatized serial killer portrayals could cause harm to victims’ families. For those involved with the tragedies, fictionalized portrayals of traumatic events in their lives might reopen past wounds. 

“I do think the people who should decide are the families of the victims … [who] have stated multiple times that [Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story] retraumatized them, and they do not want … their family members being murdered on the internet or anywhere,” Smith said. “I want to emphasize their voices.”

In all likelihood, these dramatized depictions of murders will continue to appear in Hollywood or in the media. This makes it all the more important to discuss these cases with respect toward victims and consideration towards their families, especially while these families struggle as the worst moments of their lives are replayed forever. 

Meanwhile, as Dahmer becomes very relevant in the media, streaming platforms have dozens of other shows with the same “romanticized violence” theme. 

Want a show about the murder of a famous designer by a spree killer – watch “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”? Want to watch a movie featuring a stalker who manipulates and preys on a dozen young women – watch “The Clovehitch Killer”? Want a nurse anesthesiologist who abuses his wife and then tries to kidnap her daughter – watch “Dirty John”? 

The list goes on and on and on and on, and as shows like “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” gain more and more traction each day, the media is more and more incentivized to romanticize and sensationalize similar horrific crimes.