Netflix’s harmful obsession with serial killers

Graphic by Aliza Kibel
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Content warning: This article discusses murder, cannibalism, violence, rape and necrophilia.

Last month, Netflix released a new series about notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s murders of 17 men, where he not only slaughtered them but also had sex with and photographed their corpses. The series seems to disagree with Dahmer’s horrendous actions, but nonetheless has put them back out into the media during a digital age where everyone can access all sorts of information. 

The series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” has become Netflix’s second most popular English series in the time since its release. However, it is not the first to talk about a serial killer’s story — not even the first series to talk about Dahmer, joining “Jeffrey Dahmer: Mind of a Monster” (2020) and “Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes,” (2022) along with “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” (2021) on Richard Ramirez and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” (2019) on Ted Bundy.

It is one thing that Netflix keeps publishing gruesome content, but it is another when they do not contact the people affected by the events behind their series before production. The relatives of Errol Lindsey, one of Dahmer’s victims, in particular, have been vocal in condemning the release of the new series.

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Rita Isbell, the sister of Lindsey, has described how uncomfortable she felt when she saw a scene where an actress played her, saying how she feels as though she is going through those traumatic years again. Tatiana Banks, daughter of Lindsey, was disturbed by the show to the extent that she had nightmares of Dahmer. She was also not contacted about the show. Eric Perry, cousin of Lindsey, tweeted that his family was “pissed” about the show.

It is incredibly ​​traumatic to go through the experience once, but to go through it again, just because of Netflix’s economic motivations, is an entirely unnecessary experience. Isbell told Insider that the shows are only “Netflix trying to get paid,” going on to say that she thinks that Netflix at least should be providing monetary compensation to the victims’ children instead of taking all the profits. Clearly, Netflix’s series has not provided victims’ families with relief for telling their story, only exacerbating their grief.

On top of the disturbing nature of Netflix insisting upon selling evil, young adults’ reactions to serial killer stories is also a cause of concern, as TikTok has popularized a trend of people reacting to crime scene photos regarding the Dahmer case. More people have been exposed to grisly, grimy and gruesome content, as they would have otherwise likely not have googled “Jeffrey Dahmer polaroids” if it weren’t for these videos. On TikTok, there have been at least half a million searches for these reaction videos. 

In addition to this, young adults, mostly young girls, have started to post content imagining how Dahmer would murder and eat boys who hurt them. As we get exposed to such violent content everyday through platforms such as Netflix and TikTok, these violent actions get normalized to the extent that they become the subject of jokes. It’s as if people think it’s fiction just because it’s a series on Netflix, which is also Netflix’s fault. But who is to say Netflix cares about the feelings of victims’ families or the welfare of their viewers when they have demonstrated a willingness to dramatize the story for profit without consulting real witnesses and families?

If Netflix wanted to do justice to the victims and their stories, there was a very easy way to go through: asking them how to tell their own story. Jan Broberg went through this process with Peacock for the series “A Friend of the Family,” which tells the story of Broberg being kidnapped by Bob Berchtold during her childhood. She reveals how involved she was with the production of the docuseries, being able to make detailed suggestions to the writers, with the team constantly consulting with her. Netflix should take notes.

No series related to any person getting hurt by another should be published without consent. This is hurtful to people who had to live through this tragic experience. In addition to this, the popularization of gruesome fiction has blurred its own lines with real life horrendous crime, partly because of various platforms such as TikTok giving us 15 seconds to process a video, which gives us the ability to go through a range of emotions in under a minute, slowly desensitizing us to these emotions. As we get thrown more violent content at our faces, we slowly become numb to the emotions that these should make us feel.

Streaming companies should consider the risks of publishing violent content in terms of both hurting victims’ families and influencing the perception of true crime among their audiences and prioritize the welfare of people affected by these incidents over their monetary gain.

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