After watching the incredible HBO mini-series, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which is a story about the Golden State Killer and Michelle McNamara’s obsession with the case, I started thinking about why I am obsessed with true crime stories. There are many theories about why women in particular have a fascination with true crime, but none that I have personally responded to. To analyze my personal obsession further, I decided to watch 2017’s My Friend Dahmer
, a movie adapted from a comic book (which was also adapted into a play) by Derf Backderf. The film follows Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) in high school during a brief friendship with John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff) and his group of friends who used Dahmer as a puppet for their own enjoyment. Instead of playing into my true crime interests, it made me consider something else: Why do we care? Why does it matter? Dahmer has interested true crime media since 1991, so what does that say about media representation of killers?
Most of us know a little about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. As a true crime buff, I know the story front and back. However, I would be curious to know if anyone saw My Friend Dahmer
without prior knowledge of his full story (comment if you are that person).
Here is a brief summary, just in case:
Jeffrey Dahmer was a cannibalistic rapist and murderer whose reign of terror lasted from 1978 to 1991 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (some of Ohio as well). He was arrested and confessed to these crimes, showing little to no remorse, and was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1994.
I want to be sure to acknowledge these men and boys’ names and ages because oftentimes the perpetrator is given all of the attention while the victims are just numbers. Also, note that almost all are men/boys of color.
This brings us to the film. Well, not exactly. My Friend Dahmer
covers Jeffrey’s life before his first known crime. We meet Jeffrey in 1974 when he is a freshman in high school and the film ends a few months after he graduates in 1978. Why make a film (or comic book or play) about this time? Perhaps true crime fascination is rooted in the need to know why. Why does someone become a serial killer? In knowing the why, we can work to prevent future Dahmers from society, or at the very least, understand the warning signs. But