The latest internet sensation ‘MONSTER Dahmer, The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.‘ has just been renewed for two more seasons, so far Netflix has expressed the ‘MONSTER‘ franchise will “tell the stories of other monstrous figures who have impacted society” and is yet to release more information. The first season has achieved immense success, ranking on Netflix’s top-ten list since its premier in Dubai, and several other countries which has motivated their decision to renew the series.
If you haven’t seen the show, it depicts the story of the gruesome murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed over 17 boys and men, mostly Black men, in the most spine-chilling methods from 1978-1991. The most upsetting factor remains, that despite suspicious demeanour and several complaints by neighbours, the police decided to turn a blind eye.
It is no surprise that Hollywood and viewers alike are obsessed with everything macabre. It has been a huge multi-million genre for years. Why is that? And who is to blame for this endless cycle of gory-cinematography? It is psychologically proven that a lot of us enjoy the thrill and excitement that the genre ignites in our brains. This is where Hollywood interjects, to capitalise from this almost innate, biological response to the unknown by adding an element of romanticism. Portraying the most notorious serial-killers through rose-tinted glasses. Some might argue the reasoning behind the strategy, is it to highlight a deeper psychological concern or a neurological disturbance. Perhaps it’s to get the viewers to understand the killers’ reasoning, or maybe to even ‘humanise’ them. Regardless, the very nature and existence of these films is questionable, because despite turning into a phenomenon on the internet, these serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez, have committed crimes and atrocities that have had very real, life altering implications on the victims and their families. Turning them into fictional characters make us forget that the stories we’re watching on TV are not fiction at all.
Greg Polsyn and Vanessa Richardson, the hosts of Spotify original podcast Serial Killers discuss how Dahmer once told the police that a 14-year-old victim of his who escaped and was found on the street half-incapacitated and half-naked was his boyfriend, and the police believed him. Despite, the opposing statements from two eye witnesses, who were black women and the victim who was an Asian man. Polysn and Richardson also highlight how there is an ideology surrounding these killers, specifically in the ’70s, a time when it was easier to outsmart the law, especially for a Caucasian man. The podcast hosts argue that “Dahmer didn’t get away because he was a genius, he got away because no body ever suspected him, even when they had overwhelming evidence… it wasn’t tactics, it was a systematic flaw that allowed him to flourish.” This similar theme remains prevalent in other cases as well. White men are often given the benefit of the doubt compared to other criminals of colour.
The co-hosts also declared that “white men are more likely to be elevated to legendary status, when they commit acts of violence,” providing Hollywood the perfect storyline to glamourise attractive serial killers and turn them into protagonists. Casting Evan Peters as Dahmer exemplifies this, why is a conventionally attractive man cast to play the role? This is not the first time attractive men and teenage heart-throbs are cast as serial killers: Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in both films ‘Extremely wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile‘ and ‘American Boogeyman,’ along with other good-looking men such as James Franco, Christian Bale and Darren Criss who were all cast to play villains and antagonists. If appearance takes precedence, what is the point of making these documentaries, if not to glorify violence and ignite an individual’s saviour complex, especially within women. It is a common theme to glorify violence in all shapes and forms, to portray the traumatised ‘bad boy,’ think Jacob Elordi as Nate in ‘Euphoria,’ Ian Somerhalder and Joseph Morgan as Damon and Klaus from ‘The Vampire Diaries‘ and lastly, the famous Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in ‘You.’ These characters, albeit fictitious, perpetuate the same toxic behaviours and ideologies repeatedly.
It might not be the most politically correct behaviour, but most of us have rooted for one of the characters or even tried to justify their behaviours, so why do we keep rooting for the bad boys? The Good Housekeeping highlighted Dr. Melancon’s statement who specialises in the study of sexuality, she expressed that often “when we want something we can’t or shouldn’t have, our desire for it grows exponentially.” Additionally, according to the Good Housekeeping, Dr. Margaret Seide, a psychiatrist, explains that some women enjoy the challenge that follows a bad boy with commitment issues, “if you can convince one to commit, it can feel like quite an accomplishment,” she says. “You think that if you can land one, you must be pretty, funny, and smart enough to have won this prize.” It seems like we naturally gravitate towards these men, whether it is to accomplish a challenge we set out for ourselves or for external validation that we crave due to societal expectations.
Circling back to whether or not Hollywood needs to stop making these documentaries about serial killers, perhaps we as viewers also need to analyse where the line between reality and fiction is blurred, and question ourselves as to why we find these dangerous criminals attractive, rather than abhorrent. We need to remember that the victims were not just characters, each had a life and a family.