‘Monster:’ enlightening or exploitative?

The ethical dilemma behind Netflix’s newest hit


Fair use from Netflix

Johanna Kaplan

Currently sitting at number one on Netflix, “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is the streaming service’s latest controversial addition. The 10-part miniseries follows the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters) and the progression of his crimes. The show has sparked a plethora of ethical concerns, as many viewers feel it tailors this real-life story for the purpose of entertainment. 

Dahmer’s story is no stranger to the big screen. In the last decade alone, this is the third on-screen adaptation of Dahmer’s life — with “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” being released in 2012 and “My Friend Dahmer” in 2017. It’s clear that people are fascinated with this man and Hollywood producers know that. So this begs the question: was creating yet another retelling of Dahmer’s story worth it? 

Dahmer killed, assaulted and dismembered 17 young men in the span of 13 years. After his arrest in 1991, he became a national villain and psychological mystery. To my surprise, the series sticks closely to the real-life events. There are many details that we have no way of knowing, such as the dialogue during private conversations. There is an element of fiction in the series, but only serves to fill in these blanks. 

The intent of the show was to tell Dahmer’s story from the perspectives of his victims and avoid glorifying him. Although the first half of the series felt a lot more centered on Dahmer, the later episodes came around to shine light on specific victims. 

The best representation of this (and truly the best part of this show) was displayed in episode six. This episode follows the story of Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), a mute and deaf black man who met Dahmer and subsequently developed a relationship with him. Watching an in-depth account of a victim’s experience — or what we know of it — was the most insightful way to engage viewers. Instead of establishing Hughes as nothing more than a victim, the show delved into his life aside from Dahmer’s role in it. They showed him as a complex human being instead of merely another murder victim. This story is heartbreaking, and the show did a brilliant job of unfolding it. 

The most impressive aspect of the series was the acting, with top-notch performances from Evan Peters, Neicy Nash and Richard Jenkins. After playing all sorts of different characters throughout his career, Peters continues to demonstrate incredible range with this performance. He perfectly embodied every last detail of who Jeffrey Dahmer was — from his physicality to his internal struggles. 

Despite the series doing a wonderful job of unraveling this narrative, the ultimate dilemma still stands: was it helpful to release another retelling of the same story? Victims’ families have been through hell and back grieving their loved ones. Every time Hollywood comes out with a new true-crime film focused on Dahmer, they have to relive this trauma. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how well-done this series is. If it’s disrespectful to victims’ memories, it’s not worth putting out into the world. The most respectful thing they could have done would be to simply put Dahmer’s story to rest.

The worst part of all this is that this is exactly what Dahmer would have wanted. He relished in his fame, and we continue to carry on that legacy by putting him in the spotlight. It’s been nearly 30 years since Dahmer’s death, yet he is still a prominent figure in the media.