True Crime & Ethics: What Netflix’s Dahmer Reveals About Our Curiosity for Morbidity

Evan Peters portraying Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix’s Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story


Evan Peters portraying Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

Magdalena Aparicio, Photojournalist

It is only natural to wonder why. Why do humans hurt each other? Why do people kill? What is more rare, and perhaps a more terrifying question is, why do we enjoy watching it? 

Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a ten-episode series, following the life and story of Jeffrey Dahmer, the American serial killer and sex offender who is most famously known for engaging in necrophilia, pedophilia, and cannibalism. This show held the spot as the #1 most-streamed series on Netflix for 21 days, and is also the second most-viewed English language series next to Stranger Things. 

Currently, a third of Americans say they consume true crime at least weekly, with 73% of the audience being female. It is speculated that women love true crime because they see themselves in true crime stories and either consciously or subconsciously feel they may learn from it (SCHOLAR COMMONS). Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. However, in 2019, the number of male and female violent crime victims was approximately even, with 1,579,530 male victims and 1,479,540 female victims (RAINN.ORG)

Strangely enough, true crime is typically consumed at night. With shows like 60 Minutes playing just before bed time, Americans can safely explore their fears. True crime gives us a sense of urgency, fear, and typically resolution. Some even consider true crime calming (THRIVE WORKS). 

Still, the Dahmer series has received backlash. The series was previously on the “LGBTQ” tag on Netflix, but after receiving backlash from the community, Netflix removed the series from this category. 

Since its release and teaser, the series has been criticized by the victim’s families. Eric Perry, relative to victim Errol Lindsey, tweeted “I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime is true right now, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about the show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” In response to a side-by-side comparison of Netflix’s recreation of his cousin’s mourning and anger towards Dahmer, Perry states, “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.” 

So, no, it isn’t ‘bad’ to enjoy true crime.  The bad guys get caught, and you can imagine yourself in the situation. You can smugly put yourself in the shoes of victims, asking yourself how you’d escape death, how you’d survive, what ‘smarter’  things to do or say to cheat your outcome. 

Frankly, true crime can be fun. It can be exciting. It’s only human.  It can be a sense of safe mystery in our everyday lives. It’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone in a dangerous situation and treat it like a game, but it’s difficult to imagine our family, our kids, and our friends being subject to this terror. It is even more difficult to imagine our personal trauma being televised for profit. We should stop and ask ourselves if we ever breach the blurry lines between curiosity and reality.