Like millions out there, I enjoy true crime. I like documentaries and articles on how people got away with the horrible things that they’ve done. I’ve watched Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, Sins of Our Mother and Our Father this year. I’ve always been fascinated with cases like Jack The Ripper and Charles Manson. So when Netflix came out with Dahmer, I wanted to give it a try.
I only managed to get through two episodes.
Thankfully, that isn’t that uncommon for people who’ve watched the show or attempted to watch it. I decided to sit on the sidelines and watch the reactions to this series by audiences everywhere and oh boy, did I notice something interesting.
The reaction to the new Dahmer series is split down the middle, primarily on racial lines. For many white people, it’s yet another true crime series that depicts a disgusting cannibalistic man. Dahmer is a savage spectacle that has sex with corpses and eats them. Some even find the man to be attractive because of his savage behavior. They have humanized him and even mythologized him, similar to the infamous Jack the Ripper.
However, to a lot of people of color, the horror isn’t just about what Dahmer does, it’s the fact that he got away with it for so long. It’s the fact that people like him exist and are created in our culture all the time. It highlights one of our greatest fears when interacting with white people: that they may kill us. For us, Dahmer is like a boogeyman brought to life.
Much has been said about the fact that the series exposes the racism that enabled him, but nothing has been said about the racism that allows our bodies to be exploited for entertainment. This violence is racial, both the literal visceral violence that Dahmer committed and the violence that Netflix has committed toward the victims’ families and communities of color by turning this horrid case into a bingable Netflix spectacle for millions to watch everywhere. That violence will continue when this show inevitably gets Emmy noms and other award noms for Evan Peters’ performance.
There’s a specific kind of racism that allows white people to separate themselves from us when looking at media. It’s a specific kind of dehumanization that takes place in the writer’s room to not just make Dahmer another documentary, but a drama series. That type of dehumanization is why the current culture of white anti-racism work should extend to turning down indulging in pieces of media that make a spectacle of harming black and brown bodies.
Just some food for thought.