The nuances of the true crime genre

Netflix’s ‘Dahmer’ claims to tell the murderer’s story from victim voices

There are ethical issues with true crime movies.
Photo: 

Netflix’s latest original chronicles the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, notorious serial killer and cannibal, in a ten-part series that claims to honour the families of his victims. 

The true crime genre has a large following. The media industry has been telling the story of serial killers for decades despite critiques of them often romanticizing the murders, such as in the many films showcasing Ted Bundy, the charming-yet-evil serial killer arrested in 1975. 

Bundy’s sinister acts were overshadowed by his glorified portrayal in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019), another Netflix film that took heat for its insensitivity.

Now, with Dahmer, the streaming service sought to “give the victims a voice” and shed light on how racism in Milwaukee facilitated his sinister acts. Despite this claim of respect, Netflix didn’t approach the victims’ families about the show and are pocketing the profits. 

Rita Isbell, sister of Errol Lindsey, one of Dahmer’s numerous victims, expressed her disappointment for the show’s lack of sincerity in an article for Insider.

She asserted that while her statement to Dahmer in court was recreated verbatim for the Netflix original, she had never been contacted about the show. Her raw emotion and grief for her brother, as well as the other victim’s loss of life, have been exploited for profit. 

“The victims have children and grandchildren; if the show benefitted them in some way, it wouldn’t feel so harsh and careless,” Isbell wrote. 

The show does take a critical lens of police malpractice and the racialization of the case. However, the lack of care shown to those who were most impacted shows blatant disregard for their stories and exposes the shady business of true crime.

Unfortunately, the business of repackaging other’s trauma in a consumable fashion is one that’s not limited to the producers of Dahmer

Since facts can’t be copyrighted, the retelling of criminal behaviours is never ending—there are several films chronicling Jeffrey Dahmer’s actions. The profit-driven ideals of media businesses show little regard for how their products treat the victims of true evil.  

While Netflix claimed to take a different approach to its ten-episode mini-series on the killer, their hypocrisy and power-hungry tactics negate their self-reported self-righteousness. 

Ethicality is often an afterthought when it comes to true crime media. Little attention is paid to the retraumatizing of families and non-consensual pouring of salt into their wounds. 

Whether the families would have agreed to the creation of Dahmer is something we’ll never know. Confronting big business conglomerates on their lack of empathy is key in doing right by those killed by the murderers they’re glorifying.

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.