Glamorizing murder cases for entertainment is unethical

Photo of Jeffrey Dahmer

Photo: courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo of Jeffrey Dahmer

By Christina Horacio, Copyeditor

Infamous serial rapist and killer Jeffrey Dahmer is once again trending after the release of Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series “Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Sept. 21. 

A prominent murderer from the late 1970s to early ‘90s, Dahmer has already been the subject of countless movies, television shows, documentaries, and books. Why must we continue to retell the traumatic ways in which his victims died just for the sake of entertainment? Constantly releasing new media glamorizing the Dahmer case subjects the victims’ families to unnecessary cyclical trauma.

Users on social media, specifically Twitter, share the same sentiment. One suggested that the series is adding to Dahmer’s legacy by having  “his crimes live on as entertainment.”  It is necessary to take “the glamorization and trauma that these kinds of shows are broadcasting” into consideration, another user posted. 

The family of Errol Lindsey, a 19-year-old boy who was brutally murdered by Dahmer in 1991, recently spoke out. 

 “If you’re actually curious about the victims, my family is pissed about this show,” tweeted Eric Perry. “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” 

Lindsey was described asan upstanding and generous individual who loved helping others and making new friends.” Lindsey was also said to be incredibly close to his mother and sister

A video was posted on Twitter comparing footage of Lindsey’s sister, Rita Isbell, screaming at Dahmer in court in 1992 to Murphy’s fictionalized version. Isbells cousin, Perry, expressed his dismay over the scene.

“Recreating my cousin having an emotional breakdown in court in the face of the man who tortured and murdered her brother is WILD,” wrote Perry.

Because Dahmer’s victims were almost exclusively Black and Brown men, some might argue that the societal factors of racism and homophobia that allowed Dahmer to get away with his crimes for so long need to be exposed . While this is imperative to understand, there is already a surplus of better content and resources detailing these factors in an entirely fact-based way. 

If respectful, educational content already exists, why create a show dramatizing and exploiting the case at the affected families’ expense? Allowing viewers to casually consume and repost scenes that depict real Black and Brown kids getting tortured feels entirely counterintuitive. 

“The pain never goes away,” said Stephanie McCay, the second-cousin of victim Jamie Doxtator, when asked by People about the case. “Even now, I can’t really talk about it. It’s so painful.” 

Janie Hagen, whose brother Richard Guerrero was also murdered by Dahmer, spoke out, saying, “My mind is like a VCR—it just pauses and it rewinds and it always takes me back to that courtroom.”

Although Murphy is not the only one to blame, it is certainly interesting to know this television series is not the first time he has upset families of murder victims before. His 2016 series, “The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” also upset the families of victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman who were murdered in 1994.  

The Goldmans expressed their disapproval of the series in an episode of Dr. Phil. 

“We have all the history, we have all the facts, we have all the documentaries,” said Kim Goldman, Ron Goldman’s sister. “Why are we doing this?”

Tanya Simpson, Nicole’s sister, also voiced her dismay, specifically over the fact that no one from production contacted the families “out of respect.” 

They didn’t take the families into consideration,” said Tanya Simpson. “Who is defending my sister?”

Perry also commented on Murphy’s lack of contact after his initial tweet gained traction. 

“I did not expect that tweet to get this much attention,” tweeted Perry. “To answer the main question, no, they don’t notify families when they do this. It’s all public record, so they don’t have to notify (or pay!) anyone. My family found out when everyone else did.”

In a separate tweet, he called out Murphy for citing this as a gesture of respect instead of an act of cruelty.

“When they say they’re doing this ‘with respect to the victims’ or ‘honoring the dignity of the victims,’ no one contacts them,” he wrote. “My cousins wake up every few months at this point with a bunch of calls and messages and they know there’s another Dahmer show. It’s cruel.”

The creators and actors of “Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer Story” have spoken openly about wanting to honor the victims whilst highlighting the systemic failures that delayed Dahmer’s arrest. However, going forward with such a project despite the existing pain it might accentuate within the affected families makes this claim feel entirely disingenuous. 

The argument of needing to educate the masses through an entirely fictionalized television show is particularly baseless considering the amount of content that has already been made available surrounding the case. Regardless, if it comes at the cost of harming the families of the victims they want to “honor,” it is utterly immoral and grotesque. 

Families shouldn’t have to be subjected to calls and messages from the news asking what they think about the latest exploitative project based on the most traumatic parts of their lives. They shouldn’t have to see videos praising actors and actresses for their ability to embody their family member’s real emotional wreckage—or worse, see scenes showing graphic, vivid depictions of what Dahmer did to their relatives. 

Netflix actually tweeted a scene from the show in which the real 14-year-old victim, Konerak Sinthasomphone, is being brought back into Dahmer’s apartment, naked and unresponsive. 

“Can’t stop thinking about this disturbing scene,” states the tweet, which ends with a simple “Now on Netflix.” 

The tweet currently has 3.8 million views.

To reduce this real life murder to a must-watch horror scene for millions to gawk at is outrageous. The possibility of Sinthasomphone’s relatives having to see this on social media clearly was either not considered or simply deemed a necessary risk in the hope of increasing streaming numbers. Either way, it is evident that education and respect are not valued above views and revenue. 

A review published in Variety also deemed these scenes as unnecessary, dubbing the series as a gorey, disrespectful retelling of the case.

“It simply can’t rise to its own ambition of explaining both the man and the societal inequities his crimes exploited without becoming exploitative in and of itself,” said writer Caroline Framke. “The story of Jeffrey Dahmer has been told [repeatedly]. This version has little else to add.” 

Given the show’s exploitative nature and inability to add anything of value to the conversation regarding the case anyway, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story ” should not be on anyone’s watchlist. It’s time we actually honor the victims of these cases by refusing to reduce their brutal murders to bingeworthy content to enjoy on a Saturday night.