“Monster” fails to capture the true magnitude of Dahmer’s crimes


Photo of a monitor showing "Monster"
Photo of a monitor showing "Monster"
Photo by Abigail Heckbert

The romanticization of Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix’s new series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has been in mass circulation on the internet for the past two weeks. Whether it was my for you page on TikTok,

Instagram or Twitter feed, the series almost felt inescapable.  

In anticipation of an outstanding performance after discovering Emmy award winner and heartthrob Evan Peters was to play the role of Dahmer, I finally caved in and watched the first episode. As expected, Peters did an excellent job and, in actuality, maybe too much of a good job.  

Although a self-proclaimed horror fan, the show was far more unnerving than most films I’ve seen. I summed this up to the knowledge that most of the depicted events have actually occurred. Yet, despite the inner conflict within my mind, I sought to know more with little to no hesitation to begin the next episode.  

In the face of disgust, I was indeed engaged. Flattering shots of Peters made it slightly more stomachable in contrast to the more gruesome scenes. My inner conflict consistently rose as scenes only seemed to get more morbid with each episode. But still, like many other views, I couldn’t turn it off.  

So why was it that Netflix was able to break records, with 196.2 million hours of streaming of the series within five days? While I tried to rationalise this casual viewership of gruesome violence, philosopher Edmund Burke’s notions of the sublime quickly came to mind. The sublime combines strong, complex feelings, from happiness and excitement to feelings of fear and terror, working as a balancing act. It produces adrenaline without putting ourselves in danger, enabling us to identify pleasure and beauty.  

Without spoiling too much, the series certainly evokes these feelings. It takes its viewers through periods of justice and malevolence. It probably doesn’t help that Peters’ body is in impressive shape. In fact, due to the nature of some scenes, the show is flooded with aesthetically pleasing montages of him. It was no longer a depiction of the events but instead an idealised version of them. The series felt meticulously composed with a provocative appeal to stir-up complex feelings. Reflecting on all this, I thought that the sublime was present with the romanticisation of Dahmer as one of its elements.  

Regardless of the series’ inclusion of gory scenes and the word ‘monster’ in its title, I think the series failed to wholly capture the results of Dahmer’s crimes and, in some ways, took a neutral point of view in their illustrations. 

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