Commodifying murder cases for the sake of a Halloween costume is unethical

courtesy+of+Creative+Commons

Photo: courtesy of Creative Commons

courtesy of Creative Commons

By Christina Horacio, Copyeditor

As suspected, Netflix series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” skyrocketed, racking up 496.1 million hours of streaming, making it the ninth most popular English-speaking Netflix series of all time. Consequently, there has been an influx of people glamorizing the killer. 

Many complained on social media that they wanted more graphic scenes of Dahmer. One TikTok user posted a video of herself with Dahmer earrings, saying “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.” 

This is particularly worrisome and grotesque considering that the series depicts the real, brutal murders of Black and Brown victims. Yet, viewers—many of whom are white—beg for an even gorier depiction, perpetuating the blatantly racist pattern of minimizing Black suffering. 

The overwhelmingly inappropriate and harmful responses from viewers reflect a need to speak out against the making of fictional, sensationalized versions of real murder cases. 

As stated in a previous Beacon article, the show would be responsible for millions gawking at Black and Brown trauma. As predicted, the obsession is now rearing its head in the most peculiar and horrific ways. Dahmer’s urn and glasses are being auctioned off at values of $150,000 and $250,000, respectively, on a murder memorabilia website. This unnerving behavior highlights that in addition to being generally exploitative, the show has enabled others to cash in on the tragedy.

The influence of the show on its audience doesn’t stop with the auctioning of Dahmer’s items. With the show’s release being just over a month before Halloween, Dahmer has become a popular costume—so much so that eBay removed several Dahmer costume listings that violate its pre-existing policy restricting the sale of items that glorify violence. 

However, this has not stopped individuals from making their own costumes. A user tweeted a photo of a young child dressed as the serial killer.

This is the second child I’ve seen in a Dahmer costume and proves why documentaries need to be handled carefully in a world that treats real people like entertainment unprovoked,” they said. 

Shirley Hughes, mother of victim Tony Hughes, weighed in on the increase in Dahmer costumes.

“It’s already super triggering to see a hit Netflix series about the serial killer, much less folks dressing like the killer,” she said. “If Netflix hadn’t streamed the show, none of the families would be re-victimized and there’d be no Dahmer costumes this year.”

Hughes makes a valid point, as there was indisputably no demand for Dahmer costumes and memorabilia before creator Ryan Murphy dramatized the murders, hiring fan-favorite Evan Peters as his head actor. In addition to being exploitative and triggering, the trend of dressing up as Dahmer effectively erases the actual torture inflicted upon his victims. Using Dahmer as a costume dangerously reduces him to a villainous character, rather than a serial killer who racially targeted and dismembered men and boys. This kind of desensitized reaction speaks volumes of the show’s negative influence on its audience.

It’s quite difficult to believe that Murphy didn’t foresee the impact the show would have, particularly with Halloween rolling around shortly after its release. It is a seemingly calculated move, as it would allow Murphy to avoid more controversy by not releasing it directly in October, yet remains close enough to Halloween to keep the show trending. 

Even if Murphy did not expect the show to have this sort of influence, it is undoubtedly his responsibility to factor in these possibilities. With Murphy’s history of creating horror series, there is simply no excuse for his blatant carelessness towards the show’s emerging consequences. 

This is exactly what Murphy wanted. The series was never about honoring the victims or educating the masses on the brokenness of law enforcement and the judicial system. Murphy knew there would be a massive audience for yet another show dissecting a serial killer. He continues to produce content along these lines, even when the families of the victims depicted adamantly oppose it. 

With this series alone, more and more families seem to be coming forward to express their dismay at Murphy and Netflix profiting off of their pain.

Rita Isbell, sister of victim Errol Lindsey, recently spoke out about the hardships she has faced since the release, especially since she is portrayed in the series.

“It felt like reliving it all over again,” said Isbell. “It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. I’m not money hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid.”

Hughes, agreeing with Isbell, explained how triggering it was to see Netflix profit off of her son’s death.

“It hurts for Netflix and all the online stores to profit off [my] son’s death, while none of the victims’ families have seen a dime,” said Hughes. 

If one of the primary goals of the series isn’t to make money, then why wouldn’t Netflix share the profit with the victims’ families? Though money will certainly not take away the immense pain and trauma, sharing the profit made off of said trauma should be the bare minimum. Presumably, extending profits to the families of 17 people was seen as a far too complicated, hefty expense to pay. Regardless of the reasoning, the fact that the families have not seen a dime is especially nauseating given that the series has likely produced millions due to the streaming records it has already broken. 

It is a great injustice that Murphy has been given a $300 million dollar deal with Netflix, only to create such a blatantly harmful project that profits off the backs of primarily Black and Brown murder victims. The New York Post has reported that before the series, Murphy had failed to make any majorly successful projects under the deal, with many of his previous shows getting mixed reviews. However, the Dahmer series became his redemption of sorts.

“Co-creator Ryan Murphy has finally scored a win for Netflix—and all it took was an infamous serial killer to do it,” said The Post. 

Murphy knows what works. He creates projects like the Dahmer series because he knows that, controversy aside, views are guaranteed. People can’t help but look; audiences love a spectacle. 

Murphy will continue to do so, because time and time again, society proves his point that true crime is a money-making industry. Not only is the show breaking viewership records, but it is influencing others to attempt to cash in on the murders through everything from Halloween costumes to actual memorabilia.

The show’s ability to open up a space for audience participation in the exploitation of the case is yet another reason why dramatizing murders is such a bad idea. If we hope to limit this kind of widespread exploitation, we need to continue to outwardly emphasize that it is undoubtedly a consequence of true-crime dramas like “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.”