After “Dahmer”, Ryan Murphy must reconsider his way of fighting true crime

Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix’s “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” Picture: Netflix

I am physically uncomfortable watch Netflix’s first episode “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” and not just because of the painfully redundant title.

Beyond the grotesques and violence that gave me the #criingies, I couldn’t find a reason why this series was made. I had no interest in listening when it debuted in late September, even though it stayed in the top streamer spot for 28 days.

And now the show’s mega-producer, Ryan Murphy, is turning it into an ongoing serial killer anthology, highlighting the life and crimes of a different real-life subject each season.


There have been so many accounts of the Milwaukee serial killer’s heinous crimes in the 1980s, where he primarily targeted gay people of color. There have been at least four films, several documentaries and docuseries, countless books, and two stage works based on Dahmer. He’s up there with Ted Bundy when it comes to the most used serial killers for entertainment in American culture.

The first episode of “Dahmer” was – as is often the case with Murphy’s work – elegant, suspenseful and chilling, successfully employing the prolific writer-director’s usual queer cultural tropes (nightlife, dating, identification with the stranger). As heartbreaking as the details of the episode’s crimes are, it’s well-crafted entertainment. I just couldn’t bear to see the pain of Dahmer’s victims, their families and neighbors who warned the police for months that something bad was happening in his apartment, turned into just one more content to watch excessively. It looked like exploitation.

Ryan Murphy and Evan Peters speak at Netflix’s ‘Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ event in Los Angeles. Photo: Jerod Harris/Netflix

“Dahmer” is just the latest development in my complicated relationship with the world of Ryan Murphy. For one thing, I’ve been a fan of many Murphy shows since his plastic surgery drama “Nip/Tuck” in the early years. There is a decidedly queer aesthetic and many specific LGBTQ cultural references present throughout her work that have now been brought into the wider culture. I love the artistic references of “American Horror Story” and the way it features often underused veteran actresses like Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy and Patti Lupone.

His screen adaptations of two classic gay plays – “The Normal Heart” and “The Boys of the Band” — are a cannon service. He’s also brilliantly told queer stories inspired by real life in some of his best projects, including the ballroom drama “Pose.”

But lately, it feels like he’s turning to the darkest chapters of our history, not to raise awareness but to cash in on them for good. This season of “American Horror Story”, subtitled “New Yorkmanages to use the AIDS crisis, hate crimes and police discrimination in the service of fear. It’s as nauseating as “Dahmer”.

Joe Mantello as Gino in “American Horror Story: NYC”. Photo: Bet Dukovic/FX

Maybe my tastes are changing, or maybe (hopefully?) the culture is changing. I’m not the first person to make this point about the show; other cultural critics and family members of the victims questioned how their pain was used for entertainment. Or maybe it’s just disgusting and inappropriate to use Ryan Murphy’s bag of tricks to tell the stories of these real victims. Since the announcement that “Monster” would have future seasons, even more have talked about Murphy creating what will essentially be “a serial killer cinematic universe.”

In light of this, I also had to re-evaluate my own relationship to serial killer spin-off entertainment.

Growing up with a cultural diet of turn-of-the-millennium irony, I think I was at times flippant in my consumption of real criminal content and didn’t center the real people affected by these terrible crimes when I saw them. . Even with the continued popularity of shows like “Dahmer,” I know I’m not the only one considering what Buzzfeed News writer Stephanie McNeal called the “real industrial crime complex”, and how it can both glorify the murderers and re-traumatize the families of the victims.

That said, projects like “Dahmer” and now the expanded “Monster” anthology series feel like a step backwards – just smoother celebrity worship for horrible people. at the expense of those who suffered.