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Since Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story premiered on Sept. 21, it has become one of the platform’s most popular shows and its first week was bigger than that of Squid Game, reportedly racking up more than 196 million hours viewed. It’s unavoidable on TikTok too. With the #Dahmer hashtag raking in more than 1 billion views, the real Jeffrey Dahmer’s life, and the actors’ portrayals have gone massively viral.
The Dahmer Netflix show, produced by horror and true crime aficionado Ryan Murphy, has been praised for shedding light on how police failed the 17 victims, who were predominantly Black, for so long. But any positive takeaway from the show is difficult to parse through its many criticisms, including a depiction of the real-life Dahmer that has endeared the serial killer to some people.
Despite its popularity, true crime as a genre is fundamentally fraught. As Stephanie McNeal wrote for BuzzFeed News in May, the “true crime industrial complex” has increased demand for juicier and more shocking cases for public consumption, regardless of what the families of the victims want. It also happens in spite of the inevitably reductive discourse on social media that romanticizes and capitalizes on murder.
Here’s a look at the controversies Dahmer has created and the people it has affected:
The show has been commended for the time it dedicates to humanizing the people Dahmer killed. Actor Evan Peters, who stars as Dahmer, said in a promotional interview that Murphy’s “one rule” for the show was that it should “never be told from Dahmer’s point of view.” But those affected by the serial killer’s horrific crimes don’t feel particularly represented, either.
A scene re-creating Rita Isbell’s confrontation of Dahmer in court after he killed her brother Erroll Lindsey has been lauded on TikTok and Twitter for its accuracy. DaShawn Barnes, the actor who plays Isbell, tweeted she is “grateful the victims weren’t an afterthought but their humanity and perspectives were reflected in this series.”
But Isbell herself told Insider that she was never part of the production or contacted by the creators of the show, and that the family hasn’t made any money from it either. Isbell added that watching the exactness of the series’s re-creation has “felt like reliving it all over again.”
“If the show benefited them in some way, it wouldn’t feel so harsh and careless,” she told Insider, referring to the victims’ families. “It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy. That’s just greed.”
Eric Perry, Lindsey’s cousin, tweeted that the show is “retraumatizing [the family] over and over again.”
In every corner of the internet, content creators are sharing videos analyzing of Dahmer’s life, crimes, and legacy through childhood videos, interviews, and personal anecdotes. In the comments of those posts on TikTok, users discuss what elements of his life they find interesting.
“When everyone is freaking out about how ‘morbid’ the new Dahmer show is… And you’re just bummed they didn’t show the actual ‘morbid’ parts…,” one TikToker wrote in a post.
Even if Netflix’s adaptation of the Dahmer story had been ethically airtight and approved by the families of his victims, nothing would have stopped online posters from finding new ways to use the story to draw attention to their own content.
In the comments of a post from Netflix’s official TikTok account, fans praised everything from his accent to his demeanor to the precision of his movements throughout the series. Peters frequently portrays evil men — in other series produced by Murphy, he has played a school shooter, a cult leader, and a fictional serial killer — but embodying Dahmer, he said, was one of the “hardest” things he has ever had to do.
The Netflix series follows Dahmer being raised by neglectful parents and tormented by bullies. As Julie Fenwick wrote for Vice, the serial killer appears lonely and misunderstood, as if he murders people so they can’t leave him.
When a gifted actor believably inhabits this role and performs social awkwardness well, the audience starts to develop empathy.
“Serious question: Is there something wrong with me because I high-key felt bad for Jeffrey Dahmer?” a TikToker said in a post that has been dueted several times. “When they killed Jeffrey, I was literally teary-eyed.”
Tweets with screenshots of TikTok comments thirsting after Dahmer have been going viral for weeks, but the people who romanticize him aren’t just drawn to Peters. Even before Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in a 2019 Netflix film, people have been attracted to serial killers. It doesn’t stop at parasocial thirst.
Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, told CNN in 2015 that some women fall in love with murderers because they claim to see their “true” good side. Charles Manson, both Menendez brothers, and the Hillside Strangler duo are all convicted murderers who found love while imprisoned for their crimes.
“Was Dahmer actually snatched or was this something Ryan Murphy made up?” one TikToker asked. “I know Dahmer is about [a] serial killer… but the clutch Evan [Peters] had me in with this scene,” another wrote.
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