The new Netflix series Dahmer – Monster: the Jeffrey Dahmer story causes quite a stir. Far too gruesome and explicit, or so it sounds in the international press and on social media. Meanwhile, the series does break a viewership record.
When Jeffrey Dahmer’s father reports to the police station, the officers have some unpleasant news. They found “several objects indicating that your son committed multiple murders”. As there are: a human head, two hearts, male genitalia, five skulls, a complete skeleton and a vessel of acid containing three torsos. The ‘different objects’ are also depicted. After all, such a summary is only abstract. Based on the remains on the cookware, the police also believe that Dahmer ate some of his victims. Officer to father: “We’ll leave you alone for a while to get yourself together.”
A little earlier we saw how things usually work. From Dahmer’s dingy apartment comes the sound of a power saw. The next shot, he rinses a bloodied carving knife. He then picks up his next victim in a gay bar. Dahmer ostentatiously locks the door. Just as emphatically he mixes a narcotic substance into the beer. And so the horror is staged for twenty minutes.
The new Netflix series Dahmer leave little to the imagination. The perversion is especially good in the first two episodes. That has come to be criticized by the makers. The explicit scenes are disrespectful to the victims and their relatives, it sounds like. After all, the series is not fiction, but true crime. Between 1978 and 1991, lust killer, necrophile and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer murdered seventeen boys and men. He could go on for far too long. He ended up getting 15 life sentences. After two years he was murdered by fellow inmates.
It is striking that Netflix launched the series almost silently. When a producer like Ryan Murphy, who was brought in by Netflix for a record amount of 300 million dollars, comes up with something new, it is usually preceded by a sophisticated promotional campaign. This time, the promotion was limited to a trailer that was dropped on the internet five days before release.
Among other The Guardian suggests that Netflix itself may also realize that it did not produce an overly sophisticated product. “Hard to watch and nauseating,” the British newspaper said. “It seems like something has gone so wrong that Netflix has decided to create as little attention as possible.”
That didn’t work out too well. In the five days after its release, the series had already been watched 196.2 million hours. In comparison: the second most watched series reached 60.97 million viewing hours. Dahmer therefore sets a record: never before have so many people watched a series on Netflix in the week of the premiere.
Film critics, however, are a lot less enthusiastic. Metacritic, a site that brings together reviews, calculated a score of 4.5 out of 10. “A carnival of horror”, for example, writes The Telegraph.
Netflix itself emphasizes in a message on the website that it gives Dahmer’s victims a voice. The streaming service says it will show the story from the victims’ point of view. In addition, they take “a critical look at institutional racism, white privilege and homophobia”. Initially, Netflix labeled the series – in addition to ‘dark’ and ‘horror’ – also as ‘lhbtq’. Community members were outraged and eventually the tag was removed.
The makers show themselves, certainly later in the series, critical of society. After all, the police action in the Dahmer case was lax. Not least because the perpetrators were white and the victims of color, and often gay. For example, episode two shows how black local residents find a bloodied, unconscious and unclothed boy. They call the police, but when Dahmer approaches and claims it is his drunken eighteen-year-old friend, they believe him. The agents will still go to Dahmer’s apartment. For fear of “walking into something” they barely get past the front door. Konerak Sinthasomphone, aged fourteen, is murdered.
The episode also makes clear why the makers are accused of sensationalism. Horrifying is the scene in which Sinthasomphone undergoes a primitive kind of lobotomy. That ultimately overshadows Netflix’s “critical eye.”
Relatives of Dahmer’s victims are also not very impressed by all the good intentions. Rita Isbell, sister of Errol Lindsey, one of the victims, wrote a personal essay on insider. The series reenacts her emotional speech in court: “I was never contacted about the series. I think Netflix should have asked us if we objected and how we feel about it. They didn’t ask me anything. They just got to work.” As far as she’s concerned, the streaming service is all about money: “Netflix wants to earn.”
Her cousin Eric Perry also makes himself heard. On Twitter, he addressed those planning to watch the series: “If you’re really curious about the victims, my family is frustrated with the series. It traumatizes again and again. And for what? How many films, series and documentaries are yet to come?”