Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

Ryan Murphy Fails to Reckon With Criticism of ‘Dahmer,’ Contradicts Victim’s Family

Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story continues to be a problem. The show, which is just the elongated version of the 2002 movie Dahmer starring Jeremy Renner, doesn’t do much to change the story we already know—which seems odd given how this was a perfect opportunity to highlight victims versus telling us everything we already knew about a killer who was apprehended over 30 years ago.

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While the show has gotten criticism for how it treats the victims of Dahmer and the case as a whole, the show also did something horrible in the social media age: had people attracted to a serial killer. In a new interview with Ryan Murphy for The New York Times, the creative talked a great deal about Hollywood and his journey and the fight he had to go through to bring his stories to life. And while I love a great deal of Murphy’s work, this Dahmer situation isn’t a good look.

“The rule of my career has been: The more specific you are, the more universal you can become,” he said. “I also don’t think that all gay stories have to be happy stories. There was a moment on Netflix where they removed the L.G.B.T.Q. tag from ‘Dahmer,’ and I didn’t like it and I asked why they did that and they said because people were upset because it was an upsetting story. I was, like, ‘Well, yeah.’ But it was a story of a gay man and more importantly, his gay victims.”

Murphy went on, in this part of the interview, to talk about the episode of Dahmer that focuses on Tony Hughes, and the episode was a standout for me because it gave the time to the victim. “There’s a five-minute scene of three gay deaf men at a pizza parlor talking in sign language about dating, gay life and how hard is it for them,” he said. “I could not believe that I was getting the gift of putting it on television.” That episode was powerful because we see the life that Jeffrey Dahmer took. We got to spend time with Tony, and if the entire series had been focused on those victims, gave us these episodes and gave the victims their time, we maybe wouldn’t have people dressing up like Jeffrey Dahmer for Halloween and thinking that it is a fun and fine thing to do.

He talked a bit about the Halloween costume debacle, saying, “The world is a dark place and getting darker, and people are looking for a place to put their anxieties.” To that I say: No, your show glorified Jeffrey Dahmer whether you wanted it to or not, and thus gave people a Dahmer to “thirst” over because they’re attracted to Evan Peters.

Murphy went on to talk about how they did years of researched and reached out to the families of the victims, which seems interesting given that Rita Isbell said she was never contacted about the show but was depicted in the show. Murphy said that he thought the show was “the biggest thing I’ve ever seen that really sort of examines how easy it is to get away with things with the white privilege aspects.” To that I say: Every single thing we’ve seen about Ted Bundy did the same thing, and I have the same complaint about most of those movies and television shows.

We are constantly meant to look at these serial killers and learn about their past and their upbringing and what caused them to do this, but we rarely get anything about these victims. We don’t know their names or their dreams or what was ripped from them, and with the exception of the Tony Hughes episode and a few moments in Dahmer where we get to see those victims, it’s just more of the same thing.

If you’re not highlighting the victims, what is the point?

Murphy claimed that they did over three years of research for the show and that they reached out to 20 friends or family members. “I think when you make something like this, you have an obligation to history,” he said. But as I stated above, he did not reach out to Isbell, who is featured in the show.

Frankly, if I were working on something and the real-life people this person hurt were not responding to me, I’d have pause. This interview is frustrating because it shows that Murphy isn’t really willing to hear why people are having a problem with Dahmer. Instead, he’s willing to just brush it off and continue on, and if no one listens to complaints, we’re just going to keep getting serial killer shows that have hot men killing people without giving anything to those that these murderers hurt.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.