TW: murder, assault
SPOILER ALERT FOR Dahmer
If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve definitely heard of Netflix’s new series Dahmer. In the very rare case that you haven’t, allow me to give you a quick summary: Dahmer follows the life of the American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (played by American Horror Story’s prince, Evan Peters) and tries to answer the question—why was he the way that he was? Throughout the short-lived series, we see Jeffrey’s quick transformation from an unusual boy to one of the most grotesque and terrifying serial killers known to man. If Jeffrey Dahmer was such a monster who did unspeakable things to 17 people, why have viewers made it a point to relay how unfazed they were by Dahmer?
With the increasing display of mental illness and violence (think Split, Fight Club, Joker), in films and TV, it’s hard to not be fascinated by someone’s gradual descent into insanity. However, it’s easy for the lines to blur when we are so used to seeing acts of killing and mental illness for our personal entertainment. At what point does constantly viewing acts of violence start to actually affect our empathy for others?
In Dahmer, an accurate picture was painted, and it told the story from the victims’ perspective to make us empathize and to show us how much of a monster Jeffrey Dahmer was. It’s different from other TV shows and I felt that it exposed how much of a monster Dahmer was instead of glorifying the killings as most media does. The reason why Dahmer is so different compared to other serial killer shows and movies is that it gives us insight into the victims’ lives. Take Episode 6 of Dahmer for instance. In this episode (called Silence), we follow the life of one of Dahmer’s victims named Tony Hughes. In my opinion, this episode was the most profound. We experience Tony’s highs and lows, and we feel for him as a person. We’re rooting for him hoping maybe—just maybe—Dahmer spares his life and we’re left crushed and sad when Tony meets his inevitable end. By just having one episode from Tony’s perspective, Dahmer seems so much more monstrous and remorseless and it’s an excellent reflection of who he was when he was alive and an active killer. Monstrous. Remorseless. Someone who murdered.
On the other side of it though, so many people commented on the lack of gore and how the show didn’t make them feel anything. Bragging about their strong stomachs and how they’ve heard much worse things on true crime podcasts, but that’s not something to brag about. Feeling nothing while watching Dahmer brutalize queer men of colour is not a good thing. These were real people with lives, families, dreams and hopes. And they all suffered at the hands of Dahmer. Not only does it display a lack of empathy to comment on the absence of gore, but it’s also a lack of humanity.
No, Dahmer wasn’t just another psychological thriller. It depicted the horror he inflicted on 17 victims and their families. It showed the long-lasting damage imposed on the families of the victims. We do not get to say there wasn’t enough gore. We don’t get to say it wasn’t thrilling enough. It was real and the suffering of real people should not be glorified for our entertainment. Not showing empathy or remaining unfazed by the torture of multiple queer men of colour isn’t a good thing. It’s a sign of reevaluation.