With Errol Lindsey’s cousin calling out the Netflix show on Jeffrey Dahmer, debates about the value of true crime have resurfaced.
In case you missed it, everyone’s been talking about Netflix’s latest true crime series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Following the serial killer’s rise and fall closely, the series clearly pulls no punches in showing how he brutally murdered numerous people, and how he was eventually brought down.
Except, the series’ popularity is also bringing back arguments about whether true crime is actually worth it. Especially when many of the victims’ families are still around and dealing with the trauma of a lifetime.
Shortly after its release, a Twitter user posted a side-by-side comparison of a scene from the series and an actual clip from the courtroom. In said clip, Rita Isbell (played by DaShawn Barnes in the show), sister to Errol Lindsey – a black man who was brutally murdered by Dahmer – confronts Dahmer in court.
— Carol DaRonch (@CarolDaRonch) September 21, 2022
The shot-by-shot similarity between the reel and the real is uncanny, which is probably why the clip went viral. Eventually, it caught the attention of Lindsey’s cousin – who was not happy.
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“I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge rn, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?” the user, identified as Eric, tweeted.
He also went on to add how surreal the scene was to watch: “Like recreating my cousin having an emotional breakdown in court in the face of the man who tortured and murdered her brother is WILD. WIIIIIILD.”
I’m not telling anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge rn, but if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family (the Isbell’s) are pissed about this show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need? https://t.co/CRQjXWAvjx
— eric. (@ericthulhu) September 22, 2022
The tweet hit a nerve with people, many of whom are revisiting arguments about how much value true crime series – at least the ones that take a fictionalised route rather than a documentary – add to the landscape.
CW: serial killers, racism, hate crimes
One of the reasons, as I stated the other day, why I genuinely do not understand the glorification of white serial killers. Dahmer intentionally killed mostly men of color for pleasure—what about that deserves a TV show? https://t.co/DqIxzbCMzL
— Breeedo (@breeedo_) September 23, 2022
This isn’t the first time the argument has been resurfaced either. Back in August, numerous true crime victims and their families took to social media after Mariah Day called out NBC’s treatment of her mother’s death, which was the inspiration for their series The Thing About Pam.
Calling the series a ‘mockery’, Day said to Buzzfeed: “I mean, my mom’s [alleged killer] is the main character. There’s parts of it where she’s consoling me and that’s never happened in real life. It’s just really cringey to watch.”
Doesnt effect you until its your loved ones death. #EthicalTrueCrime
While some series do reach out to the victims’ families, there are others who have been called out for serialising the victims’ lives without consent or permission. Shortly after the release of Hulu’s Dead Asleep, victim Brooke Preston’s sister Jordan revealed on Tiktok that Hulu had gone ahead with the show despite the family’s refusal to approve it.
“You think you can hurt me? Hulu just released a documentary on how my sister was brutally murdered without out family’s consent so now we get to relive the worst day of our lives.” Preston captioned her post at the time, even as Hulu claimed they had tried reaching the family but failed to receive a response.
Granted, in certain rare cases, the genre has been instrumental in changing cases completely. Just this week, a US court judge overturned the conviction of Adnan Syed. Syed was arrested in 1999 after being suspected of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee – his story, case, and investigation later became the subject of the uber-famous true crime podcast Serial, which not only became a cultural phenomenon but also sparked numerous other similar other podcasts.
Over its run, Serial poked holes in the case from every possible angle, questioning evidence, statements from witnesses, and even the competency of lawyers on both ends. Whether the podcast itself had a hand in the overturning of the conviction can be debated, but its popularity and the sustained publicity around it certainly must have.
Even so, despite Serial’s mega-popular status, questions about how much value it contributed to the real world – other than bringing attention to the case – remain. “Serial set fire to Adnan’s story, to some extent deliberately, and has never apologised or made amends,” said Rabia Chaudry, whose brother is a friend of Syed and who spent years looking into the case herself.
Serial set fire to Adnan’s story, to some extent deliberately, and has never apologized or made amends. Should I be grateful? I find it hard to be.
— rabia O'chaudry (@rabiasquared) September 16, 2022
More than the debatable value-add, it’s how the stories are presented that also raise eyebrows. Netflix, in particular, appears to be a repeat offender – in both fiction and non-fiction. In 2019, for example, YOU star Penn Badgley called out people for romanticising his character from the show, who is essentially a stalker, serial killer, and psychopath.
A: He is a murderer https://t.co/g2g4f3JvaF
— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
Also in 2019, the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and Netflix’s The Ted Bundy Tapes sparked another conversation about just how much true crime was exposing us to the harsh reality of the world when serial killers were being played by handsome men like Zac Efron.
After people started losing their minds about “hot” Ted Bundy was (and not in jest), even Netflix stepped in and tweeted: “I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers.”
I've seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers
— Netflix (@netflix) January 28, 2019
While Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story pulls no punches in showing the grisly reality of Dahmer and what he did to his victims, it would be disingenuous to claim that one doesn’t have a morbid fascination with the story – really, isn’t that drives our obsession with true crime? That is the root of the problem: in a world where suffering is entertainment, what is the cost of showing stories that affect people on a daily basis?
Read more reactions to the viral clip from Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story:
Something wrong about the internet and our culture .This obsessions' with retraumatizing victims and their families because you want to create spectacle out of trauma and grief, AND for what? exploits the worst events in peoples lives for entertainment https://t.co/rZei1IqAv7
— Gio (@TheSportProhet) September 23, 2022
The morality of depicting this moment aside, when did verisimilitude become the ultimate mark of quality for so many people? If you're retelling a true story, what makes a shot-for-shot remake of reality more interesting or impressive than creative adaptation? https://t.co/RBg3vGtg0G
— Louis Peitzman (@LouisPeitzman) September 23, 2022
This is fucking disgusting. We don't need a reenactment (WE HAVE REAL FOOTAGE) of a case already exploited by the media. There was a movie with Jeremy Renner as Dahmer in it!!! Leave the families alone and stop making true crime "dramas" when there are so many! https://t.co/P7teLWyX2x
— ⚡🔪Jack🔪⚡ (@saintcrimes) September 23, 2022
i really cant believe we’re still making shows and movies basically glorifying these monsters with total disregard for the victims. just because it sells. i’m sorry. https://t.co/esEnEkyO9T
— steph (@keysinmytwat) September 23, 2022
"It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what?"
Seriously. It's not just the reckless profiteering on the part of the makers of the show, it's the entire ecosystem. Like why is Women's Health magazine running a story about Jeffrey Dahmer? https://t.co/qPi5D9luWG
— Mikki Halpin (@mikkipedia) September 23, 2022
A documentary is one thing. A series? Nope. I like true crime, especially from a woman's POV, but this show is just incredibly disrespectful. There's no catharsis or care. And the whole 'poor little boy' is just not fair on the victims' families. https://t.co/YSbZxdMwki
— Champagne socialist (@Aneshree6) September 23, 2022
this is my gripe about the ethical viewing and production of true crime stories. often, people forget these were real people- real families- and they get swallowed up because some creator thinks they can bring something new to a violent crime that traumatized a community https://t.co/JNOaSmdEBa
— san ☻ slots open! (@sandiinas) September 23, 2022
Also want to point out – it’s incredible the difference in how cases are treated when the victims aren’t white. Every time media has asked my family to speak about my aunts murder, it’s been respectful and polite — yet Black and racialized victims get brutalized 1/2 https://t.co/XtJJtzTuXm
— Christy Somos (@C_Somos) September 23, 2022