Is the ‘Monster’ docu-series one we can ethically view? 

Carla Reilly

With the release of Netflix’s true crime series ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ has come infinite backlash, alongside concomitant praise.

While the families of victims of the Milwaukee Monster’s heinous acts of murder, necrophilia, paedophilia and cannibalism believe the show to be “harsh and careless”, this hasn’t stopped it receiving record-level viewership on Netflix since its release on 21st September of this year.

However, one overarching question must be posed by critics and viewers alike; what does the recent true-crime craze say about our society, and what ethics are in question when creating material to satiate this demand?

In the US alone, between April 2020 and April 2021, there was an increase of 60% in the streaming of true crime documentaries. Whether viewership has increased due to our de-sensitisation to violence because of the infinite availability of pornography, or graphic violence in the film industry, is uncertain, but this trend appears to be an insidious one.

Why does one watch a documentary reconstructing the repugnant crimes of a serial killer, purely for their own entertainment?

Moreover, if media production companies should continue to supply for the demand of such material, a distinct ethical code should be considered during their creation. It cannot be forgotten that these ‘dramas’ involve real people, whom their families have been left with the indelible trauma of a loved one being involved against their will in the Jeffrey Dahmer story.

The Netflix series ‘Monster’ is unwatchable at best, particularly if you are weak-stomached. Memorabilia he kept from his victims is remade in this series, including decapitated heads of his victims, and their blood, which he is even shown to be drinking in Episode 4, ‘The Good Boy Box’.

Evan Peters plays Jeffrey Dahmer, who is indubitably an interesting choice of actor, as Peters gained a predominantly teenage girl fan-base playing American Horror Story’s (another Ryan Murphy creation) Tate Langdon, an unlikely teen heartthrob.

Does this choice of actor to play the lead-role purposely warrant a young female audience, who will take pity on Dahmer and his duality, depicted in his back-story, in which he was a social outcast with a neglectful mother? Is this Murphy’s intention?

This is not a new phenomenon, as other conventionally attractive actors have been purposely cast in gruesome roles similar to this in recent years, like Zac Efron playing Ted Bundy in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, or Ross Lynch in yet another Dahmer recreation, 2017’s My Friend Dahmer.

Netflix have yet to expiate their recreation of the crimes, which many never want to relive, in the form of any monetary compensation to victims’ families, despite the series undoubtedly making significant profits, grossing over 196 million hours’ worth of views already.

Rita Isabell, sister of Errol Lindsey, who suffered an odious death at the hands of Dahmer, involving him drilling a hole into his skull and placing hydrochloric acid inside, has expressed her disdain for the Netflix series.

According to the personal essay which she wrote for Insider, she was not contacted by the show’s creators prior to her victim impact statement, which she gave in 1992, being acted out verbatim in the courtroom scenes of the documentary series.

Netflix had also originally tagged the series as ‘LGBTQ’, which they shortly removed following immense backlash.

Watch this documentary series if you will, but it is important to bear in mind the true impact of such a show on the victims of the story, particularly when the serial killer is made to be the star instead of his victims.

Carla Reilly