Currently, DAHMER – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is number one on Netflix’s Top 10 TV Shows in the U.S. ranking. Created by prolific American Horror Story duo Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, the clunkily-titled Netflix drama stars Evan Peters as the titular serial killer and hops between timelines to detail his childhood as well as his early adult years, when he murdered at least 17 young boys and men during a 13-year period. Like many Murphy productions, the series is throughly researched, touching upon many of Dahmer’s actual victims in gritty detail. But while many viewers have found such painstaking reenactments impressive, some of the people closest to Dahmer’s real-life victims feel that the series is disrespectfully exploitative.
“I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge [right now], but if you’re actually curious about [Dahmer’s] victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show,” Twitter user @ericthulhu tweeted the day after the show came out. “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”
Eric’s tweet was in response to a video that had been uploaded by Twitter user @CarolDaRonch, which placed the real 1992 court footage of Rita Isbell (the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, Errol Lindsey) giving an emotional testimony to the court during Dahmer’s trial, next to Dahmer’s frame-for-frame recreation of her speech. Replying to his original tweet, Eric added, “Like recreating my cousin having an emotional breakdown in court in the face of the man who tortured and murdered her brother is WILD. WIIIIIILD.”
After his tweets went viral, Eric explained that, “No, [Netflix doesn’t] notify families when they [make programs about lived events]. It’s all public record, so they don’t have to notify (or pay!) anyone. My family found out when everyone else did.” He later called out Netflix’s hypocrisy, adding, “So when they say they’re doing this ‘with respect to the victims’ or ‘honoring 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.”
And Eric isn’t the only person expressing concerns about the problematic nature of Netflix’s most recent true-crime sensation. When promoting the show last week, Netflix quickly came under fire after tweeting out a clip from the series, alongside the caption, “Can’t stop thinking about this disturbing scene from DAHMER where one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims finally manages to escape… and the police actually bring him back inside the apartment.”
Almost immediately, people pushed back on the wording of the tweet, pointing out how saying “can’t stop thinking about this” can easily turn someone’s lived experience into mere trauma porn. “The fact that you would tweet this about a real life story and exploiting the death of a young kid for money is disgusting. Sick and twisted people,” tweeted one person. Another added, “The insensitivity in the promo of this series has been gross.” One simply said, “It’s kinda weird that you treat this like fiction...This ‘disturbing scene’ is a whole [family’s] trauma.”
That the victim depicted in the scene, Konerak Sinthasomphone, was only 14 when Jeffrey drugged and raped him before drilling a hole into his head and later killing and dismembering him only made Netflix’s strange sensationalization of his one failed attempt to escape that much more worrying. Not only is Netflix now exploiting a victim, but it’s doing so for a minor, a child. A child, furthermore, whose family is still around. “Konerak’s father couldn’t even get off the ground during his funeral because he was too devastated,” noted one Twitter user.
Whether these concerns from family, friends, and general viewers will prompt any kind of meaningful response from Netflix is still to be determined. But given the current success of the show despite these protestations (and an abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score), one thing is for certain: audiences will always have an appetite for stories about psychopaths — victims be damned.