Jeffrey Dahmer has been the subject of many works, from films to documentaries to podcasts, and now Netflix had released a series with Evan Peters playing the notorious Milwaukee Cannibal.


One of the big critiques of the true crime genre is that it often disregards the lives of victims and focuses instead on the people who hurt or killed them – with this being especially true for media that surrounds serial killers.

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story – co-created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan – has been marketed as having subverted that approach, choosing instead to be told from the perspective of his victims. And while it does make some effort to distance itself from the worst of the genre, it still ends up falling short.

The first five episodes are very much focused on the eponymous killer and don't do much to give attention to his victims or their families – instead, it’s Dahmer’s childhood, alcoholism, struggles with his sexuality and arguments with family that are in the foreground.

This feels especially egregious when it comes to the death of Konerak Sinthasomphone, the 14-year-old boy who Dahmer killed. While the show is critical of the racist and homophobic police response depicted, and later displays the trauma of his family, you never get a sense of who this child was as a person. As such, he becomes less of a human and more of a prop to demonstrate how evil Dahmer was.

More like this
Rodney Burford as Tony Hughes in DAHMER.
Rodney Burford as Tony Hughes in DAHMER. Netflix

Beyond the first five hours, the victims and their families do begin to take focus. Arguably the most compelling part of the miniseries is the 15 minutes which focus on Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford) and his friends living life as deaf queer men in 1991. It's one of the few times where it feels like the victim is a person and not just a tragedy waiting to happen.

On top of that, whenever Niecy Nash (playing Dahmer’s neighbour Glenda Jackson) is on screen, she steals the show and makes everything we’re seeing feel more grounded in the trauma of the people affected.

However, those moments are still too few and far between. Instead, the camera moves back to the Dahmer family and gives us more about them. If the case for Dahmer not being exploitative lies in its focus on the victims then it fails, because Murphy et al cannot let the Dahmers be off-screen for long.

Niecy Nash as Glenda Cleveland in DAHMER. Netflix

There are moments of attempted critique on the culture through which murder and death become entertainment, as seen when one of Jackson's co-workers asks her if she'd ever seen one of the 'zombies' Dahmer made. Still, this is ultimately a show defined by that cultural context dominated by Netflix documentaries with varying levels of ethics and a broader exploitative true crime media industry.

This means that so much more time is spent trying to portray all the different things that could have caused Dahmer to kill, and his methods of doing that, than we see of the lives of his victims before they encountered him.

The misplaced priorities also emerge when the series brings notorious serial killers Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy into frame. With the latter, we get a graphic on-screen recreation of one of his kills, which introduces another victim that we are told next to nothing about.

Ron Bush as Jeffrey’s Lawyer and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in DAHMER.
Ron Bush as Jeffrey’s Lawyer and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in DAHMER. Netflix

While this does add a poetic analysis of the period of time in America that was particularly rife with serial killers, there isn't a real attempt to centre the victims of that violence, because the focus of the series remains ogling gruesome murders and the man who performed them. Even the seemingly genuine desire to give some more weight to the victims and their families succumbs to the theorising and grim fascination.

That fascination becomes even more of an issue when we consider that the victims of Dahmer were near-all queer and/or POC - with over half of them being Black gay men. Serial killers tend to prey on marginalised communities (especially if those people are poor and/or sex workers), so the use of these deaths as fodder for bingeable entertainment feels fraught - even more so if the families whose loved ones are shown on-screen don't give permission.‌

The exploitation of the suffering of marginalised people for entertainment, grim fascination and financial gain isn't exclusive to Murphy and Brennan's DAHMER – it isn't even exclusive to true crime.

From The Birth of a Nation to the wealth of "trauma porn" queer media, there is a long history of this sort of exploitation in western media – but Netflix’s latest does little to subvert or defy it. In fact, despite efforts to the contrary, DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story ends up contributing to a toxic cycle.

DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is available to stream on Netflix now. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.


The latest issue of Radio Times magazine is on sale now – subscribe now and get the next 12 issues for only £1. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.