The Controversy Surrounding Dahmer

By Tara Thompson

Ryan Murphy is known for a lot of things, mostly for the creation of American Horror Story. Today, his new show, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is causing a riot online. With a whopping 496 million hours viewed in the first two weeks, Dahmer is one of Netflix’s most successful series of all time. But with Dahmer taking the media by storm, it’s bound to catch the attention of Dahmer’s real-life victims’ families, and they have a lot to say about the matter. 

Eddie Smith and Anthony Hughes were two of the 17 young men Jeffrey Dahmer killed, they were dismembered and cannibalized in a serial murder spree that largely targeted the gay community in Milwaukee between 1978 and 1991. Dahmer found the majority of his victims in Club 219. 

In an essay for Insider, Rita Isbell, sister of victim Errol Lindsey, described watching a portrayal of her character’s statement at Dahmer’s trial in the series as “reliving it all over again.” In the show, they have an actor playing Rita, wearing the same clothes and saying the same things. “It brought back all the emotions I was feeling back then,” she wrote. “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.” For more in-depth information about the victims, visit:’s-17-victims 

Nathaniel Brennan, a professor of cinema studies at New York University (who is teaching a course on true crime this semester), said that it “is by nature an exploitative genre.” Even with the best intentions, he said, “the victims become the pawn or a game or a symbol.” Contemporary true crime often falls victim to an unresolvable tension, Brennan said. “We can’t tolerate forgetting it, but the representation of it will never be perfect.” Criminals are often portrayed with tragic backgrounds. “There’s an idea that if society had done more, it could have been avoided.”

Black queer people from Milwaukee before Dahmer’s arrest, say they are reliving painful experiences due to a new dramatized Netflix show about the murders. Some described the series as too personally difficult to watch, while Eric Wynn, a regular Black drag performer at Club 219, said he believes the director, Ryan Murphy — who is gay and nearly always includes queer representation in his projects— owes the LGBTQ community and the victims’ families an apology. 

“Ryan Murphy has just been so amazing for the community,” Wynn said, adding that he’s a big fan of another show Murphy directed called “Pose,” a subculture created by queer and trans people of color in the late 1960s. “And then to turn around and just slap us like this for profit and sensationalism — I was so disappointed.”

Needless to say, the family and friends of the victims aren’t taking this lightly. They’re really upset with how Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan wrote and created this, many would argue, false narrative and depiction of what really happened.

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