When Jeffrey Dahmer’s infamous and horrid crimes were discovered and the world learned the terrible truth, I was in middle school. I have no recollection of the event, although I’m sure every adult around me was captivated by every gory detail as the case unfolded, and more and more of his crimes were discovered.
It was one of those cases where fact was stranger than fiction. I was too young to be interested, although if social media had existed at that time, I’m sure I would have been exposed to certain pictures and reports, not to mention a dozen or more memes. But at the time, I was more interested in getting the new Pearl Jam album or whether or not the girl who sat behind me in class would “go out” with me (whatever that means). I had no idea that I was living through one of the most notorious and sadistic serial killers in American history.
Fast forward 31 years. Netflix releases the 10-part series based on Dahmer, his life,his family, and what led him to commit the crimes.
Ok Netflix, you win. I’m in. Despite the morbid nature of the show and story, I got pulled into this series. And yes, I am aware that it is loosely based on actual events and there are some discrepancies. But, through a little research and my own knowledge of the terrible events, much of it does follow his morbid and sinister timeline.
Despite those discrepancies, I enjoyed the series. I thought the acting was wonderful. Evan Peters as Dahmer was a masterclass in restraint, poise,and control in his acting. Richard Jenkins as Dahmer’s father (Lionel Dahmer) was a powerful acting performance, and was the picture of parental commitment and dedication. There were scenes of his that had me tearing up, as his emotions seemed so raw and vivid. Niecy Nash also turned in a wonderful performance, as she was consistently in character, focused and intense.
Molly Ringwald as Shari Dahmer / Richard Jenkins as Lionel Dahmer
But this article isn’t about the acting, the cinematography, or the writing. It’s about the lessons learned from this case, as well as those I feel the show tries to highlight.
There are 3 life lessons I took from this show. Lessons that we should all know and follow. As a father, as a teacher and as a human, I see this as a cautionary tale. These lessons come from this awful and heartbreaking case.
1. Use your 6th sense-If something feels wrong, it probably is.
Time after time in this show, we see people getting lured into situations where they go against their instincts and it ends terribly for them. As a viewer, it is apparent and obvious, but clearly not for the characters on the screen. As we watch, we are pleading with the characters and imploring them to use discretion, but it never happens. The director and writers seem to be telling us to follow our instincts and use discretion, and many of these types of situations could be avoided.
2. It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch
Throughout the series, Dahmer is depicted as a quiet, introverted and harmless young man. He is soft-spoken and reserved, and despite several scenes of him losing his temper, we view him as a quiet and silent predator, ready to strike. The show seems to be suggesting that if we are really observant, there are usually signs about someone’s intent. We have to be observant and aware, and equally watch those who sit quietly observing in the corner. Sometimes, they’re the ones we should be watching. This show certainly proves that.
3. Nature vs. Nurture: No amount of nurture can beat nature.
Ok, I know this one is controversial. I am certainly not a therapist or psychologist, but it’s clear from watching the show that the director and writers are suggesting that nature will always beat nurture in the long run. Although Dahmer’s family had their issues, (what family hasn’t!) the show depicts him as having several strong and supportive family members in his life. His dad was impossibly patient, even after Dahmer makes repeated mistakes. When Dahmer finally gets convicted for his heinous crimes….even then, his dad is loving and supportive,and refuses to give up on his son. Dahmer’s grandmother is also incredibly loving, supportive and patient. Despite all this support and love surrounding him, Dahmer still succumbs to his darkness. This is clearly the show telling us that nature will win, even with the best laid plans of mice and men.
I really enjoyed this show, despite what critics are saying about its authenticity. It was well crafted, amazingly cast and acted, and the story was told in such a way that you feel connected to the characters, and you care about their struggles. Although every detail may not be accurate, that doesn’t detract from the effectiveness and strengths of the show, and the lessons it teaches us are powerful and very real. It’s definitely worth watching.