Netflix will be showcasing plenty of big-name stars in the coming weeks as the streaming service begins gearing up for awards season. But his current leading man, his MVP of the month, is Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious serial killer who died in 1994.
“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is currently Netflix’s most-watched title, according to its self-reported data released on September 27, amassing more than 196 million hours of viewing in the past week. And in case that hasn’t satisfied the interest in all things Dahmer, it will be followed on October 1st. 7 of “Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes,” the latest installment in that docuseries franchise, which has in the past featured Ted Bundy and, more recently, John Wayne Gacy.
Obviously, there is an enduring fascination with serial killers that has fueled interest in certain strata of the most prolific and heinous of them, what criminologist Scott A. Bonn called “famous freaks” in a 2017 article for Psychology Today, so the audience is hardly an innocent bystander in this rather sordid equation.
However, the renewed fascination with Dahmer again raises questions about whether these Hollywood productions starring charismatic actors (here Evan Peters, while Bundy has been played by Mark Harmon and, in recent years, Zac Efron, Chad Michael Murray and Luke Kirby) can’t help but romanticize them in a media-obsessed age. (In an interview last year, Kirby admitted to having to overcome “a ‘disgusting’ factor” before taking on the role of Bundy in “No Man of God.”)
“Monster” producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan were clearly aware of those concerns and sought to put more emphasis on Dahmer’s 17 victims and a justice system that allowed him to get away with it while he did it.
Yet there is a haunting quality to the way the show, with the benefit of 10 episodes to tell the story, prolongs some of those encounters and depicts the lurid evidence of Dahmer’s crimes.
Netflix opted not to make the series available for review before its debut, which didn’t hurt a commercial performance that ranks among the best of its dramas, such as “Stranger Things” and “Bridgerton.” That strategy might also have side-stepped some of the controversy that subsequently arose over the production’s impact on the families of the murdered Dahmers.
In a first-person account of well-informed personFor example, Rita Isbell, the sister of Dahmer’s victim Errol Lindsey, said of appearing on the show, “I feel like Netflix should have asked if we cared or how we felt about doing it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did.”
As noted, interest in “famous monsters” is nothing new, and Dahmer’s current revival is not the first nor will it be the last we see of him, whether in documentary or dramatized form. In a media-saturated landscape, serial killers have acquired their own brand of currency.
What the genre’s popularity doesn’t address, however, is, as Kirby put it, the “yuck” factor. While “Monster” might have sought to preempt certain criticisms, that’s one that Netflix, and indeed the entertainment industry, hasn’t resolved.
“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is currently streaming on Netflix, and “Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes” will premiere on October 1. 7.