One of Netflix’s biggest shows of the year is shaping up to be Dahmer, or Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Not only is it planted as the #1 show on the service across dozens of countries, but it’s the most-watched series debut since Stranger Things season 4 earlier in the year.
But Netflix keeps running into controversy after controversy with the show, given its depiction of the real-life serial killer. I think it’s hard to argue that the show “glorifies” Dahmer in any way, if you’ve seen it, but the issues stem from how Netflix has labeled the show, and the fact that it was made at all.
The first problem was that Netflix originally had Dahmer tagged in its “LGBTQ” category, which normally features more upbeat series like Heartstopper or Sex Education. Given that Dahmer preyed on vulnerable, gay, black and brown men, it seemed unsettling that it would appear in that category alongside much cheerier productions, and after some pushback, Netflix removed the tag from the show.
But more pressingly, the main controversy has to do with the fact that Netflix chose to greenlight and air a show about Dahmer at all, whether it portrays him as a monster and pays homage to his victims or not.
Rita Isbell, the sister of victim Errol Lindsey, told Insider, “It’s sad that they’re just making money off of this tragedy. That’s just greed.”
Given that Netflix is just a subscription service with a giant library, it’s hard to pinpoint how many dollars exactly a show like Dahmer generates, as it’s simply part of a larger whole. But again, it’s shaping up to be one of Netflix’s biggest series of the year, and as such, you could consider it at least something of a subscription driver.
The irony here is that the Netflix series itself very much deals with this issue, talking about how the Dahmer family was forced to turn over any money they made to the victim’s families. But third parties are also brought up, like comic books that were being sold telling Dahmer’s story and featuring his likeness. Granted, the point is made that those were portraying him positively, but there is a sense that no one should be profiting off a mass murderer like this.
It’s a complicated issue, of course, because Netflix also features countless True Crime documentaries, and other shows that deal with real-life serial killers like Mindhunters, but we haven’t seen quite the same level of pushback for those. And Netflix, of course, is not the only place this happens, as serial killers have been a morbid media fascination for decades across movies and television.
Still, there are calls that with the “success” of Dahmer that Netflix should be doing something like making a donation to the victim’s families. Though I do wonder if by doing that, Netflix feels like they could open a Pandora’s Box, admitting culpability for profiting off Dahmer, and potentially other “tragedy-based” projects. Again, it’s extremely messy.
I certainly do not blame anyone who does not want to watch Dahmer, given all the issues at play here. But that appears to be the minority view, seeing just how many people are tuning in daily to the series on Netflix.