Ever since the release of Netflix’s thriller series “Dahmer-The Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” there has been nothing short of critical social upheaval and controversy to stem from its birth. Some of its most notable grievances include widespread indifference to the well-being of the victim’s families, Netflix’s bewildering sense of comfort with packaging real-life violence as entertainment for profit, the vast desensitization to violence against LGBTQ+ people and people of color among other things.
While all of these dilemmas are valid, inauspicious and deserve to be heard, “Dahmer” does get one particular thing correct: it effectively paints a vivid picture of the harrowing sociopolitical underpinnings that enabled a white, able-bodied man to get away with such heinous activity for years. Out of everything one might glean from this series, this epiphany yields not only the most disgust but it also underscores the many facets wrong with American society.
Created by Ryan Murphy, who is no stranger to the genre of thriller by virtue of some of his most reputable works: American Horror Story and Scream Queens, “Dahmer,” who is played by Evan Peters – a thespian notorious for embodying demented figures, seeks to reexamine the motives and execution of Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous killing spree of 17 men between 1978 and 1991. While the show does provide concrete reenactments of how some of the murders took place and the circumstances surrounding them, this is not the focal point of this series.
The mildly gruesome, eerie scenes merely exist as bait to pique curiosity. What is at the root of this show’s allure is how ostensibly clear it places a magnifying glass on the very real systemic, sociopolitical ills of American society during this time frame, many of which continue to persist even up until today.
Given the characteristics of Dahmer’s archetype: an able-bodied, blonde white man, living in Milwaukee and Ohio, the series is tactful at illustrating his inability to be perceived as any tangible threat, let alone, a full-blown serial killer except by members of the underprivileged and disenfranchised. On multiple occasions, it is illuminated that police enforcement were guilty of “aiding and abetting” Dahmer’s nefarious acts on the basis of racial bias.
The first time this occurs is following his first murder during 1978 in Ohio. After being pulled over by two officers when they witness Dahmer evidently being under the influence, one officer recognizes that he was 18 and greets him with the kindest sentiment: “You have your whole life ahead of you and I’m not gonna f**k that up.” The second instance ensues when Dahmer lures a 14-year-old Filipino boy named Konerak to his house. After drugging him, Dahmer goes out to buy more alcohol, Konerak awakes and tries to escape but only makes it to the stairwell, where his neighbor Glenda, who is played by long-time TV star Nicey Nash, finds him. In spite of Glenda’s cynicism about the boy’s age: “are you positive that this is an adult?,” the police ultimately escort Konerak back inside and Dahmer kills him after they leave. Due to Jeff’s status as a white man, police enforcement freely gave him the “benefit of the doubt” without ever second guessing him nor his actions.
Another social plague this series aims to tackle is the drastic level of apathy police officers have when it comes to the well-being of Black people and members of the LGBTQ+ community during the 80s. Subsequent to the Konerak incident, Glenda Clevland, a Black woman who was also the neighbor of Jeffrey Dahmer, called the police to express her concerns about Konerak’s age.
Instead of properly addressing her concerns, they were vehemently opposed to investigating the situation further due to Dahmer’s claim of being homosexual. As a direct and inadvertent consequence to their neglect, Konerak was killed. In addition to their homophobia, Glenda Clevland lived adjacent to Dahmer for years during his murderous rampage. Amid this time, she complained to the police on innumerable occasions only for her grievances to be belittled, oftentimes ignored and ultimately silenced for years.
In the grand scheme of “Dahmer,” there’s quite a bit that makes this series tone deaf when it comes to today’s social climate. It isn’t necessarily kind to the contemporary LGBTQ+ community. It totally disregards the victim’s families and their feelings. However, despite all its evident downfalls, “Dahmer” does a remarkable job at underscoring the sociopolitical tribulations of the time. Whether this was intentional or not, it begs one to ask the question: has anything actually changed?