It’s time to confront Netflix’s long standing issue: ethicality vs. entertainment


Annie Hsu

The Netflix series, Dahmer, raises questions about ethicality over a corporation’s greed.

Netflix’s newest hit show “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” retells the story of the Milwaukee serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, who, on a rampage from 1978 to 1991, killed 17 men and boys. In the series’ first 28 days since its premiere on Sept. 21, the show has already accumulated 701.5 million views, climbing to the second most-watched English-language series right behind Stranger Things. 

While the series has gained national recognition, an underlying question still remains: Was such a T.V. Show necessary? Or was it simply a corporation’s greedy attempt to gain profit? To understand this question, it’s important to take a look at the views of the victims of the murders’ families and their reactions to the film. 

One voice that stood out in the wave of controversy over Netflix’s release of “Monster” was Rita Isbell, whose brother was murdered by Dahmer in 1991. 

In an interview with Insider, Isbell explained how the series “brought back all emotions [she] was feeling [during the trial of Dahmer].”

I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it,” she said.

Isbell’s experience is not uncommon. Large corporations like Netflix have indulged in such behavior ever since the start of the film industry, publishing movies without the consent of the victims. Take the release of “The Haunting of Sharon Tate” in 2019, for example. Immediately after the release of this true crime show, victims such Sharon Tate’s sister called out Netflix for their “tasteless” nature in depicting their lives without consent. Indeed, Scott Grunkel, who was a bartender for Dahmer at Club 219, agrees and comments that watching the Dahmer true-crime show was almost unbearable. 

“The first [episode] really didn’t have any context of the victims, I was taken aback,” Grunkel said. “It brings back some trauma for the LGBTQ community here. Especially those who knew the victims. They all had families. It’s unfortunate they keep having to see these new movies and series come out. It’s hard to get closure.”

After hearing the views of the many victims, I implore the reader to take a moment and reflect on Netflix’s decision. Should films be published with the intent of entertaining the public, or should they be postponed to respect victims of such atrocious crimes?

I acknowledge the argument that others might have: “Doesn’t the movie help educate the general public about the injustice that Dahmer committed?”

While I do agree to an extent, the portrayal of events in “Monster” is a complete step in the wrong direction. 

The first issue with the show is that it glorifies murder. The film isn’t surrounded around the victims of the murder. It follows the series of murders, sexual violence and cannibalistic behaviors that Dahmer exhibits. It is this centralization of Dahmer as the “main character” that ultimately causes so many people to fixate on Dahmer instead of the victims. 

While watching the show, it’s hard not to see the resemblance between DC comic character Joker and Dahmer. The release of the recent Joker film (2019) outlined the painful and traumatizing life that the Joker had gone through, justifying his path to becoming a super villain and building a feeling of empathy from the audience, dubbed the “joker effect.” This “joker effect” seems evident throughout “Monster,” as the series begins with the depressing childhood of Dahmer. In one scene, his mother is depicted as secretly attempting to abandon him, evoking sympathy from the audience and ultimately deterring from the more important message.

In fact, a pair of Dahmer’s glasses recently sold for $150,000 at a collector’s auction. Such a transaction clearly marks the unsettling public interest in Dahmer following the release of the Netflix series. It is clear that Netflix has failed to present the murderer as unacceptable. But most importantly, it’s a failure to protect victims’ emotions. Just recently, Ebay was forced to close down the sale of Dahmer costumes as sales skyrocketed this Halloween. These aren’t people dressing up as normal super villains like Darth Vader or Voldermort; these are people dressing up as a true crime murderer who has taken away so many lives. It’s clear that the show has started to shift people’s perspective into viewing Dahmer as more of a fictional character rather than a true murderer that once walked the Earth.

Adding fuel to the fire, social media sites like TikTok have recently seen the rise in the trend “#dahmer,” where creators post about the attractiveness of Dahmer. The failure to recognize the boundaries between remarking about how attractive a murderer is and their past injustices highlights the large fault that Netflix has in releasing their hit show, and its toll on society.

While many suggest that the film’s intent is to be educational, they fail to see that the film has instead led to the glorification of Dahmer and has traumatized the lives of those close to the victims. 

However, large corporations ignore these calls for change. They ignore the years of pain that victims had to endure. They ignore the true message that they are trying to send. The injustice to gain profit at the expense of others must stop. It is time for Netflix to reform.