The Ethics of Writing Real People: Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

Evan Peters on the poster for the Dahmer series

Deadline.com

Evan Peters on the poster for the Dahmer series

Gianna Amato

“I don’t need to watch it, I’ve lived it,” declared Rita Isbell, older sister of Jeffrey Dahmer’s 11th victim, Errol Lindsey (LA Times). This was in response to Netflix’s latest docuseries, Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which details the serial killings of Dahmer. The show has come into the spotlight for many reasons since its release. Some good reviews, others bad, but the most debated point has been whether or not dramatizing events like these for television is ethical.
Creator Ryan Murphy’s limited series on Jeffrey Dahmer has been one of the most talked about shows this fall. While gaining a Rotten Tomatoes score of 84% by its audiences, it is not exempt from criticism. Whether you’ve watched it or not, it is common knowledge that the show is graphic. And yes, that kind of imagery is typical to see in media nowadays, however, it’s much different when it comes to true crime. A few of the victims’ families have expressed their distaste for it. Due to the case being a public record, none of the involved parties had to sign off on it or even be told about it. According to Men’s Health, the mother of victim Tony Hughes has been quoted saying that the events did not unfold exactly as the show depicts them. With this, and other drawbacks from affected parties and even watchers of the series, people have mixed feelings.
The people behind Dahmer took creative liberties when writing and planning out the show. Certain events and people had to be combined to make for a more cohesive story, and other parts had to be dramatized and assumed because no one was around to witness them. Alexa Topolski, a senior at Ramapo, felt that they did a good job with the show but believes “Netflix should have taken the time to address such writing changes in order to spread the truth of the situation rather than just what is most convenient for filming and making a storyline worth watching.”
Ramapo Spanish teacher Señora Fernandez explains that, although no viewer “could justify what Jeffrey Dahmer did,” the series does “try to ‘humanize’ the Milwaukee Cannibal by showing his sick and profound fear of abandonment” and “at some points during the show, almost understand why he became the way he became.” However, she does believe that “the miniseries does not try to show Jeffrey Dahmer as a ‘celebrity,’ but rather a tormented human being who could not himself fully understand what made him do what he did.”
When Friday night rolls around, people grab their popcorn and blankets and turn on Netflix looking to be entertained. Naturally, when they click on something like Dahmer thinking it will be an interesting watch, it’s easy to forget that this happened to real people. So, is it right to make media like this knowing it will be profited off of and marked as “entertainment,” or does it contain information and an understanding of these events that should be shared?