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Should Netflix’s ‘Dahmer’ Be Considered Exploitative?

Netflix’s new Jeffrey Dahmer show has stoked some criticism. Is it part of a wider trend of exploitative true crime shows?

Credit: Shutterstock / JOCA_PH

The new Netflix show, starring Evan Peters as the infamous 90s serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, has been criticised for its depiction of some of the killer’s victims. But why has the show been targeted and should audiences be aware of this?

What Makes A Show Exploitative?

It can be hard to ascertain exactly what makes a show exploitative, and sometimes we’re talking about different things when we talk about exploitation. Shows like Love on Spectrum have been criticised in recent times for this reason. Representation, i.e. the patronising way in which it was given, was was the pressing issue which hampered that show. The Rehearsal is also an example of a very recent show which has been accused of exploitation only in recent months. Accusations here stem from the show’s use of real people for comedic effect, with some arguing that their image was skewed by the show’s producers.

These shows are reality television shows and the controversy surrounding them is derived from the people directly involved with the show. Those that star in the show. Dahmer, meanwhile, is an example of a show that dramatises real events from history. These are horrific events in which the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes suffered greatly. The major problem that the new Netflix show suffers from is its depiction of the real people involved with these crimes. The question is, why is this proving so problematic?

Credit: Netflix

Why Is The Show Being Accused Of Exploitation?

Dahmer is causing a bit of a stir in the wake of its release. Particular controversy has occurred with regards to the way in which real events and people have been portrayed. Rita Isbell, sister of Erol Lindsey who was murdered by Dahmer in 1991, has spoken publicly about this. Isbell admitted that the attention to detail involved with re-creating a particular courtroom scene (see below) has ‘bothered’ her. This is especially because she was not consulted by Netflix or any of the production companies during production. Many have expressed discomfort at Netflix profiting from a story, especially without contacting the families involved.

The show’s release comes among a cloud of controversy surrounding the true crime genre more widely. Indeed, an academic named Amanda Vicary has recently spoken on the subject with The Independent. They highlighted the increasing frivolity of true crime depictions and the fact that there has been a diminishing social justice impact with their increased proliferation. Some shows have been praised in this regard. The show Serial, is a good example of this. It highlighted the case of Adnan Syed, helping to free him by making large audiences aware of his wrongful incarceration.

A Little Bit Of Empathy?

Other cases such as Dahmer have, however, revealed the darker side of dramatising instances of true crime. The show tries its best to stick to the facts of Jeffrey Dahmer’s killing spree. Despite this, however, it has not been able to escape criticism for its depiction. Western culture is engaging with true crime on a never-before-seen level. Many seem captivated by these stories of horrific suffering and pain. Perhaps greater sympathy for the victims of these crimes and their families should be considered, however. Profiting from such stories without this kind of empathy ensures that shows will never escape their ‘exploitative’ tag.

See the trailer for Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story below.

Credit: Netflix

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