Jeffrey Dahmer: a convicted serial killer and sex offender. This man is a monster, yet he has been consistently sexualized by the media. The 2017 addition to the Jeffrey Dahmer franchise came in the form of “My Friend Dahmer,” inspired by a graphic novel of the same name. It was written and illustrated by John “Derf” Backderf, a friend of Dahmer’s in high school. The movie looks into Dahmer’s experience as a teenager in Ohio. True crime is a giant business and is highly popular. But has this interest gone too far?
The term “serial killer” was popularized in the ‘80s, which is also when serial killers really started to make their mark as a public fascination. There were 104 serial killers in the ‘80s, classified as someone who killed three or more people. The highest recorded peak of serial killers was in 1989. True crime media involves movies, TV, books, podcasts, and merchandise about serial killers. The demographic for true crime media has often been young white women. In classic horror movies, they are also often the protagonist. This has brought forth the archetype of the “final girl” — the last girl left alive, often the narrator of the story.
These violent monsters often have their crimes put aside because of their looks. Ted Bundy and Dahmer are notoriously sexualized, which is not helped by the fact that they are often cast as conventionally attractive men in movies and TV. Even celebrities contribute to the lore around serial killers. Camille Rowe, a French-American model, has talked publicly about her love and obsession with Charles Manson. People have even gotten the faces of serial killers as tattoos — Bundy, Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy being the most popular.
I’ve struggled with watching true crime media, and “My Friend Dahmer” was no different. I found it difficult when the red flags in Dahmer’s behavior were passed off as teenage quirkiness and awkwardness, which I found unrealistic in depicting how teenagers would actually react to him.
In the ‘80s, men of color didn’t have a place in the mainstream LGBTQ+ community. They were also often abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves, leaving them isolated and looking for support. Dahmer used this to his advantage and targeted an especially vulnerable group.
A victim’s family isn’t helped by countless media money grabs where their family member’s stories are glossed over. True crime media desensitizes people from the reality of these horrors, but also normalizes them. It distorts the reality of the occurrence of crimes and the demographics they affect. There are plenty of real monsters in this world; let’s stick to depicting the fictional ones.