Why are we so captivated by the Jeffrey Dahmer series on Netflix?
The gruesome new series Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is the second most watched English-speaking show on Netflix ever. At least 56 million households have tuned in. And yet the graphic and eery show about the serial killer cannibal is by no means an easy or comforting watch.
Watching this show and actively engaging in its hype can almost feel perverted and voyeuristic. So why do viewers enjoy watching stories of bleak suffering and violent death? What does our consumption of these types of shows reveal about our human nature?
Widely Appreciated Production
To begin, let’s start with the obvious. Ryan Murphy is a popular producer of previously successful series such as American Horror Story and Glee. Then we have actor Evan Peters who takes on the challenging role of a horrifying murderer, Jeffrey Dahmer. By coupling up this already famous and highly respected duo, people are likely to see what they have to offer this time around.
Aside from the widely appreciated cast, true crime shows have a magnetic appeal that cannot be justified by the appearance of actors or directors themselves.
According to Dr Harrison, a psychology professor, we watch and enjoy true crime shows since subconsciously they allow us to “prepare” for worst-case-scenarios. There are evolutionary explanations behind why such morbid stories are so appealing to us. Women are the primary audience for true crime shows and podcasts. Studies show that women like to hear about these stories as a way to potentially avoid such crimes themselves. (Vicary, A. M., & Fraley, R. C. 2010).
The Alluring Art of “spectacle”
Humans enjoy a show, even if this “show” is portrayed under the most macabre conditions. Like natural disasters and car crashes on the highway, we’re drawn to observing chaos, and the Jeffrey Dahmer portrays a form of psychopathic chaos so accurately and eerily that viewers find it difficult to look away. In this respect, being drawn to chaos is not an occurrence of the 21st century with the rise of streaming services, we’ve always liked it.
Observing Danger – From Afar
In an almost selfish and primal way, studies have also found that we are comforted by the idea of seeing danger that does not directly impact us. Our curiosity about danger and threats have been rooted in us since early childhood. Similarly, to children watching cartoons about monsters, adults absorb media on the real threats to society, murderers, and rapists.
While these explanations may help us to understand our captivation to true crime shows, such as the Jeffrey Dahmer Netflix show, we can simultaneously criticise the over-glorification some of these types of series present.
On one hand, we are monetizing murder and to some extent, exploiting a victim’s trauma under the guise of entertainment. Some viewers take their enjoyment of the show to an inappropriate extreme with the creation of fan edits on YouTube and TikTok. Such edited content romanticises and glorifies people like Jeffrey Dahmer, only contributing more to the unfortunate fame and notoriety murdering people comes with.
On the other hand, some can argue that there are plausible points to exposing such atrocities on Netflix. Some feel that such shows can promote awareness on the dangers of trusting strangers. Others say, these types of series can act as voice of the victims.
Nonetheless, critics of the Jeffrey Dahmer show are angry with the choice of the young and good-looking Evan Peters as the embodiment of a shameless serial killer. In a similar fashion, there were criticisms made when Hollywood’s sex symbol Zac Efron played the role of serial killer Ted Bundy.
Questions to Reflect On
Should we allow objectively handsome actors play out some of history’s most evil characters simply for entertainment purposes? Should such shows even be produced at the expense of victims having to re-live their trauma through a cinematic lens on Netflix? How far should our curiosity with true crime go? Should our intrigue in true crime be actively encouraged on our screens?