The Dahmer Drama- Challenging the ethics of true crime in Media

Kate Hicks, Assistant Editor


The Podcast charts do not deceive, society is obsessed with true crime. Out of the top 20 Podcasts, four of them are dedicated to the retelling of true crime stories. Furthermore, the podcast Crime Junkie is the third most popular podcast in the world ( While crime and horror have been a popular genre in media for decades, a rampant resurgence of such content has seemed to excessively prevail since the early 2000’s. With shows such as Law and Order and Dateline having an extensive fanbase, it is fair to say that true crime is no longer just entertainment, it is an obsession. 


The ethics of true crime have always been challenged, with key points being the irreverence of discussing tragedy flippantly, the normalization and desensitization of dark subject matter, and the fetishization of criminals. These points have been noted most significantly following the release of Netflix’s new show titled, Dahmer. The show graphically depicts the life and twisted crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, a serial killer, necrophile, pedophile, and cannibal. Series such as these have been justified by arguing that the release of such content is bringing awareness to personal safety and highlighting the stories of the victims. However, what distinguishes Dahmer is the failure to gain consent from the families of the victims. Rita Issabel, sister of Dahmer’s victim, Errol Lindsay, states, “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.” This quote indicates that the motive for true crime entertainment is rarely based on good intentions, and is often used as a cash grab. Furthermore, the rampant fetishization of serial killers has become especially prevalent following the show, with several social media fan pages emerging as a result. 


True crime entertainment is unethical because of the consistent push to cross boundaries for more publicity. It seems as though the more graphic and explicit the content becomes, the more popular it is, therefore it has more profit. The primary motive of profitability takes away from the actual series of events and the stories of the victims. With Dahmer, for example, it is difficult to present the serial killer as a dark, cold-blooded psychopath when Evan Peters, the actor depicting him, was on the cover of ICON magazine just recently. Entertainment fails to do justice to the tragic events that occurred, and even when the media is intensely graphic and borderline perverse, which may seem to do justice to the crimes, the content is adding to the issue of desensitization and somewhat normalization of graphic imagery. While true crime is arguably unethical, it is undeniable that it will continue to prevail in the entertainment industry as Netflix continues to become synonymous with true crime.