“Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story” raises questions about the privilege to view

New Netflix series ignites conversations about retelling and rewatching Jeffery Dahmer’s crimes


Oliver Mack

Goodbye Jeffrey Dahmer. From 1978 to 1991, Dahmer raped and murdered at least 17 men and indulged in cannibalism. He was killed by fellow inmates in Columbia Correctional Institution, on November 28, 1994

I’ve watched my fair share of true crime shows, and I’ve seen my fair share of gore and gruesome scenes. However, I would be lying if I said DAHMER didn’t make my stomach churn. 

I was excited for DAHMER, the new Netflix show based on Jeffrey Dahmer to be released on September 21, 2022. I was aware of what Dahmer had done in his life, and had seen pictures, but nothing would have prepared me for seeing it live on screen. Watching the series left me questioning the people around me even more than previously. Something that so grimly affects the audience, creating a mood that permeates wherever you are, like the foul, inescapable stench must be doing its job.

At the end of DAHMER’s 10-hour marathon, I was left wondering if the goal was even a worthy one, or if the whole enterprise—all of its reenacted awfulness—was a terrible and cruel waste of time, leaving audience members and actors traumatized. 

Some of the show’s goals are righteous. It considers at least some of the victims and their lives—their aspirations, their families—and it digs into the fact that most of Dahmer’s victims were men and boys of color in a community below the poverty line. This aligns with the neglect of the Milwaukee police department, which had countless opportunities to stop Dahmer but ignored the concerns of people in his community and those who knew him. The police let Dahmer go time and time again because of his sexual orientation. Keep in mind this was in the ’80s, and being gay wasn’t as normalized as it is today.  The police improperly searched Dahmer’s apartment because of his “boyfriend” James Doxtator, his third victim who tried to escape. In the second episode Dahmer and the police have a conversation before entering Dahmer’s apartment:

Officer 2: Hey, hey, hey, hold up. You gonna have anything weird in there? 

Dahmer: What? 

Officer 2: Like, uh…

Dahmer:  Like gay stuff?

Officer 2: I mean, I didn’t wanna…

Dahmer: No. 

Officer 2: We just don’t want to catch anything.

After doing a terrible search of his home they leave with this final statement:

Officer 1: Yeah. Now me and him, we gotta go take a shower, you know what I mean?

The police seem more concerned about him being gay than anything else.

 Niecy Nash plays Glenda Cleveland, Dahmer’s neighbor when he lived in the Milwaukee apartment complex, the site of his final murders. She’s given sufficient space in the episodes, to rage, and plead, and toward the end, try to find some peace in the wreckage he left behind. At the end of the first episode, you can hear her yelling at the police, “I’ve been calling y’all for months and nothing and now you finally show up. What did you find in there?”

The show didn’t involve the families or those affected in its production, nor get their blessing to do so. The victims’ families have been pleading on social media for people not to watch the series. This isn’t the first time they’ve experienced a film being produced about their loved one’s killer, but this is the first that displays their deaths.

DAHMER’s filmmakers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s dedicated recitation of horrific things were displayed as best as I could imagine. Evan Peters even had to take a break from filming due to how it affected his mental health. 

One aspect of Dahmer’s psychosis that was handled well in the film is the depiction of Dahmer’s actions likely never existing without a trace of strong sexual interest not just by homosexuality but also by splanchnophilia. I was surprised to learn this side of Dahmer considering that most killers don’t do that. Viewers of the show, myself included, are drawn to the show out of morbid fascination, a natural human impulse that has become over-served in the true-crime boom years.

A few details are fictionalized in DAHMER. Some of the film’s endings could be explained by the fascinating tilts into surrealism. The show displays Dahmer’s front door having five locks when in reality he only had two. Glenda Cleveland lived in the apartment building across from him not right next door to him, and during his employment at the blood bank the show films him drinking blood, however, he never drank any blood during his time employed.

The show is dark and honest. It tries to remain loyal to the victims, to the events that surrounded the Dahmer murders, and highlights a plethora of societal and psychological issues. However, Dahmer stated in an interview before his death, that nothing nor no one but himself is to blame for the crimes he committed.

I’m unsure if I’d recommend watching since I—a true crime junkie—was affected by the show and the families’ pleas. Jefferey Dahmer left a terrible mark in this world. The people of Milwaukee and everyone else will never forget the innocent lives taken. It doesn’t feel right for viewers to get a look inside every detail that took place during these heinous crimes.