With Dahmer – Monster: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ryan Murphy wanted to tell the story of the murders of the man who is nicknamed the “monster of Milwaukee”, but from the point of view of the victims. As a tribute to their memory. Except that the effect was the opposite, and many people developed compassion for him. This is the problem with true crime films and series: the central character is a serial killer.
True crimes: the staggering success of this cinematographic genre
By definition, the true crime is a literary genre that aims to describe the reality of crimes and the criminals who committed them. A genre that has been adapted for cinema and on the small screen, giving life to films such as Scream, The Silence of the Lambs, The Irishman, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vileand series like Mind Hunter, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story or The Watcher. Productions halfway between journalism and fiction, since investigations have been carried out to tell the different stories as accurately as possible, which are also told for television.
This genre is also particularly loved by the public, since it arouses a certain morbid curiosity among viewers. Just check the top Netflix series to realize the extent of true crime series like the one on Dahmer and The Watcher: the two productions signed ryan murphy are in the top since their releases, respectively on September 21 and October 13, 2022. To give you an idea, the series carried by Evan Peters generated no less than 893,260,000 viewing hours worldwide. Results of which the director is particularly proud.
It is possible to explain the success of true crime films and series by what is called the desire for protective vigilance. Coltan Scrivner, a researcher at the Recreational Fear Lab at Aarhus University in Denmark, explains that “one of the reasons the true crime genre is so interesting to people is that it helps us identify these people. dangerous in society by showing us how they live their daily lives, what their behaviors are…”. In other words, it is the unconscious desire to learn about the danger. He also underlines the fact that the way of life of a serial killer as it is depicted in the Dahmer series, is an unprecedented and rare thing, which arouses our curiosity.
Between TikTok trends and fantasies, the morbid impact of true crimes like Dahmer
We have seen it with the Netflix series, true crimes are not always welcomed in the right way by the public. If as Evan Peters explained to Netflix Queue, ryan murphy didn’t want the show’s point of view to be that of the killer, some “fans” developed a form of empathy for him. Others have even noted the physical assets of the criminal.
Social networks have, in fact, transformed a cannibalistic serial killer into an unhealthy trend, with TikTok trends and theme parties. For example, we could see circulating on Twitter this famous announcement for a special Halloween night in a nightclub in Aix en Provence, entitled “Dahmer is back”. On the promotional video, images of the real victims.
In Texas, a restaurant decorated its counter with a special fake Jeffrey Dahmer pizza for Halloween. A pizza made of meat, fake blood, and rubber body limbs. Also on the occasion of the Day of the Dead, some TikTok users did not hesitate to proudly show off their costumes for the evening: a panoply of the Milwaukee monster. Disguises that others have even chosen for their children. From the Netflix series were born TikTok trends, with for example in the background the music Dark Horse by Katy Perry, which mentions the murders of the serial killer.
But suddenly, should we stop producing true crimes?
The problem is not so much the idea of the series in question, but how it is carried out, and also the way it is received. It is indeed interesting to return to the murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer, told by supporting the point of view of the victims. Some people will also find it fascinating to understand the thinking mechanism of a serial killer, as well as his motivations. But Ryan Murphy, even if he contacted twenty relatives of the victims before the shooting, as he mentioned during a screening in Los Angeles, perhaps should have waited for their consent and their testimonies.
Also, it’s a fact, Ryan Murphy is one of the kings of psychological thrillerand has a knack for telling harrowing stories with incredible aesthetics, as he does in American Horror Story. Except that aesthetics has surely made some people forget that we are talking about a necrophiliac and a murderer. As the magazine mentions Collider, giving the title role to Evan Peters, icon and sex symbol, also contributed to the romanticization of the character of Jeffrey Dahmer. And yet, this is not the first time that a director entrusts the role of a serial killer to a sex symbol. Zac Efron has, indeed, played Ted Bundy in the film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.
The difference is that Joe Berlinger, director of the film, only mentioned the rapes and murders committed by Ted Bundy, without ever showing them. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a film that is part of the female gaze movement, the female gaze, since we are mainly from the point of view of Liz Kendall, the ex-wife of the serial killer. The guru is depicted as he is, without justification for his actions. In Dahmer, we witness particularly violent scenes, which are cut by flashbacks of his “difficult” childhood.
In short, producing true crimes is not a problem, as it is quite normal to want to watch them. When telling such dark stories, it’s all a question of point of view, direction, and especially interpretation.