Should We Be Okay With 'My Friend Dahmer?'
Media resurrecting serial killers' likenesses - going so far as to glamorize and inevitably further immortalize their lives - should be scrutinized. Any scripted project based on a killer worth his weight in dead people is proceeded by ample actual coverage of the actual events. So what is the purpose of TV or movie-fication of a serial killer's life? Hollywood continues to rehash tragic events that happened at the hands of murderers in buzz-worthy projects, often casting attractive actors and going into salacious detail - heavy on the sex, light on the moral ambiguity.
Ryan Murphy's casting of Darren Criss as serial killer Andrew Cunanan on American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is an obvious example of a Killers Gone Wild! project. The Gay Internet was drooling over Criss' behind-the-scenes shirtless Speedo teases all throughout 2017, and when he finally bared his buns in the season's first episode, the Internet actually almost broke. But Cunanan was a killer who destroyed people's lives. So, how do audiences reconcile that with tuning in each week to see what zany shenanigans our dashingly disturbed Cunanan is going to get into?
My Friend Dahmer explores the teen years of the most talked about gay cannibal around, Jeffrey Dahmer, and casts the handsome former Disney starlet Ross Lynch as the titular character. As was the case of Garrett Clayton in King Cobra, the casting of a Disney alum in a controversial adult role is like catnip to headlines. And as if Lynch's presence alone isn't enough, in one scene we see him strip down in front of his doctor.
But by potentially sexualizing and romanticizing yet another killer, are we dampening any larger lessons that could be learned from My Friend Dahmer about mental health, bullying, or domestic abuse? All of these contributed to Dahmer's very real crimes, all of which had very real consequences for very real people.
While Dahmer's victims were marginalized gay youths not particularly sympathized with by news organizations, the lightheartedness with which we view is crimes, as well as those of Cunanan, isn't reserved for groups that were considered fringe in decades past. The explosive popularity of the true crime story - spurred in part by the NPR series Serial - is fueled by detached rubbernecking, not by genuine sympathy. Sex sells, and so apparently does murder. But should we be buying it?