This review of Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is non-sponsored.
Jeffrey Dahmer, a bespectacled alcoholic from Milwaukee, murdered seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991. He'd enslave them while they were both alive and dead, dismember them, and leave bits aside to either eat or keep as prizes.
I don't treat this laundry list of untenable activities as an indulgence, at least not in the way that Ryan Murphy's clumsily-titled Netflix show Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story does. It's worthwhile to mention as a reminder of what, exactly, is being discussed here as entertainment, as well as of the prevailing fascination with this kind of true crime that contemporary viewers seem to harbor? What does it say about ourselves that we're willing to pay for exposure to the worst
I'm not being all preachy, of course. Some of the appeal is obvious; there's a fascination with the most extreme of human behaviors because, inevitably, they seem so far removed from our everyday lives. Seeing people like Dahmer makes us feel better about ourselves, about the time we've told a white lie or stole a Twix, or whatever it is we're afraid of making us terrible.
The reason we'd want to know remains, and why would we want to see it in this form, which lacks the authenticity that documentary films provide. (Next month, Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes will be available on Netflix, in case you wanted to hear all this again from the horse's mouth), which is a horrific display of pain, terror, and suffering.
The problem with Murphy's show is that it's entertaining, not morally, but as a technical marvel, rich with impressive performances and disturbing visuals. Dahmer, who is so awed by his own suffering, is portrayed as a sort of looming android, someone who has been whittled away from any real humanity by his past trauma. But when his real fantasies come to the fore, Peters pitches them somewhere between delight and misery.
Dahmer tries to deduce the bad smell coming from his apartment as leftover pork chops, then dead tropical fish. When his latest victim escapes and summons the cops, Dahmer tries to explain why he's wearing handcuffs as "some homosexual stuff." It's like some perverse version of that Steve Buscemi "How do you do, fellow kids?" meme, a monster play-acting as a human being trying to fit in where he doesn't belong.
The whole story, without a doubt, is that Dahmer has convinced the cops. However, savvy audiences are less easily baffled. In the BBC's Four Lives, Zac Efron played Stephen Port, another bookish-looking guy who raped and murdered young gay men, and in another series framed solely – and, it must be said, more sensitively – around the victims.
Dahmer isn't accused of being sensitive. It's a bleak endeavor that goes out of its way to put viewers' limits to the test. It'll certainly be at least the ten episodes that the series will run, as it'll be sure to be hugely popular and inspire a meme-fest on Twitter.
Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story may be seen exclusively on Netflix.