The error of true crime The error of true crime
The public’s appetite for true crime has grown over recent years. Whether the story was delivered on a podcast, docuseries or movie, audiences will... The error of true crime

A black man and white man sitting across from each other at a restaurant.

Rodney Buford portrays Tony Hughes and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in Netflix series Dahmer. Photo credit: Netflix

The public’s appetite for true crime has grown over recent years. Whether the story was delivered on a podcast, docuseries or movie, audiences will flock to listen to podcasts or watch films and TV shows about real-life cases murders, kidnappings, assaults, fraud and all the different variations of high-profile crime that are all-too-morbid to put into text.

For a lot of true crime enthusiasts, this genre is more than just a form of ‘entertainment.’ We are drawn to true crime for various reasons. Consumers of true crime engage with such content for various reasons: sheer curiosity, psychological awareness or simply because of great storytelling, according to Super Summary.

There are plenty of true crime series, both audio and visual, that allow the audience to understand a crime more thoroughly. The podcast Serial or series Making a Murderer are some popular ones, to name a few.

There is, however, a fine line between education and exploitation. As the true crime genre continues to amass popularity, creators of this form of so-called ‘entertainment’ have capitalized off its growing viewership, going as far as exploiting stories behind some of the most devastating crimes. Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is an example of that.

The limited series, released on Sept. 21, is a dramatization of the crimes committed by American serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys, mostly men of colour, between 1978 and 1991. The day of its release, it immediately swept the #1 spot on Netflix’s Top 10 list. According to Forbes, the series solidifies itself as the streaming service’s largest debut of the year.

Viewers indulged in almost 300 million hours of the gruesome and cinematic reenactment of crimes and court hearings since its release, according to Netflix. But the series was traumatizing, insensitive and takes advantage of true crime’s virality at the expense of the victims and their families.

Upon the release of the series, a clip of Rita Isbell, sister of victim Errol Lindsey, giving her victim statement against Dahmer, was spread widely across the internet. It was played side-by-side with a clip of the series’ actress replicating Isbell’s words, actions and anger for all to watch.

In an as-told-to essay with Insider, Isbell writes that Netflix did not reach out to her about the series. “I was never contacted about the show. I feel like Netflix should’ve asked if we mind or how we felt about making it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just did it…But I’m not money-hungry, and that’s what this show is about, Netflix trying to get paid.”

Netflix, like many true crime content producers, do not require permission to recreate crimes for cinematic film or meticulously engineered podcasts. Through this, true crime has become an avenue for creators and businesses to receive financial gain at the expense of victims and their families. The Netflix series is another one of at least nine films and documentaries based on Dahmer and his crimes, and it was plain exploitation.

Netflix had an array of missteps following the release of the film. The series was initially tagged as “LGBTQ” and released only weeks before Halloween. Did Netflix tag the series as LGBTQ because Dahmer preyed on men? Did they think that the viewership of a dramatization of these murders will peak during this specific holiday when horror film viewership peaks? People will defend the series, and maybe even defend Dahmer. Critics say that the series has fed into the fandom that criminals like Dahmer have built under-the-radar. These missteps, and this series, damage the integrity of the late victims, traumatizes those directly affected by such crimes and rehashes stories in ways that glamourize atrocity.

Veronica David