Jeffrey Dahmer: Victim of his Own Villainy?

Trigger Warning: this article contains references to violence, sexual abuse and murder. Please proceed with caution


When Dahmer- Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was released on Netflix in September of 2022, no one was expecting the incredible reaction it received. Within two weeks, the show had the most Netflix streams in that time, only second to Stranger Things; after a month, Dahmer had become the ninth most popular English series of all time. Ryan Murphy, the series director, is no stranger to top-tier shows. He was the executive producer for numerous series, including American Horror Story and Glee, and has the wealthiest development deal in television history. However, although true crime series have been popular for years, Murphy may have taken understanding minority perspectives too far in this particular series. 


I will not be someone to say that this series isn’t excellent, thought-out and captivating, but it is also sad. While the show makes you think, “Oh, God, those poor victims!” and gives you goosebumps anticipating what’s to come, it also makes you feel bad for and sympathize with the serial killer. Jeffrey Dahmer tortured, killed, and dismembered seventeen young men, and yet was painted as someone you were supposed to pity. 


Evan Peters’ portrayal of Dahmer was so powerful that audiences couldn’t help but want to understand and help him, feel sorry for him, and even excuse some of his actions. And while the actor deserves recognition for playing such a complex role, the emotions behind it need to be addressed. As a result, Dahmer was given celebrity status and was, in a way, celebrated by millions of viewers. 


Understanding different perspectives, particularly of minorities, is emphasized everywhere in today’s world; it’s true in this series. While you feel the struggle and fearful anticipation of Dahmer’s victims and family members, you also learn what was happening inside Jeffrey’s head. 


The 6th episode, entitled “Silenced,” was perhaps the most emotional- and controversial- episode of the entire series. This episode romanticizes Dahmer and paints him in a light that shows his struggle to be a good person. While I understand that the producers wish to emphasize that Dahmer also had genuine emotions, it was not the best creative choice. This is particularly untasteful when Jeff comes off as someone simply struggling to make a decision- it’s almost brushed over that said decision involves taking a man’s life.


Dahmer has received two major reactions, each justified in its own way. People either praise how well they portrayed the serial killer or loathe that Dahmer’s story is being celebrated. The latter category is furious that none of the victim’s families or other people portrayed in the show were notified of this creation. It doesn’t matter what kind of television show is being filmed; individuals have the right to decline their words, their names, and their characters being broadcasted to millions worldwide. 


It doesn’t matter how well Dahmer’s story is portrayed or how appealing the series is. This show violates people’s stories, those tragically ended or uprooted thanks to a deranged serial killer. Some directors can accurately depict horrendous stories like these without glorifying the events: take Mindhunter, a psychological thriller based on the 1995 book by J. Douglas and M. Olshaker. There are feasible ways to tell horrific stories without painting the villain as a victim. And ultimately, that’s what Ryan Murphy and the other creators of the Dhamer series did; they unfairly and inaccurately represented Jeffrey Dahmer as a victim of his own villainy.