Thursday, January 26, 2023

Opinion: Real-life storytelling, a double-edged sword

OpinionOpinion: Real-life storytelling, a double-edged sword

BY
Staff Reporter

The release of “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix this past September, has resulted in conflicting opinions. For those who may be unaware, this miniseries depicts serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s real-life evolution into a gruesome murderer. 

Some individuals maintain that the making of the show was a necessary evil, in order to accurately inform later generations about the atrocities that Dahmer committed. Others see it as a cinematic masterpiece — considering that the series holds an 8.2 rating on IMDb, and a 94% approval rate on Google — praising the cast’s performance and the show’s storytelling abilities. 

However, some people of color have shared their perspective on the racial aspect of Dahmer’s murders. Besides being a serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer was also racist — as the majority of his victims were Black and/or African American, and were targets for this reason. These victims were portrayed in “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” but this decision caused more harm than good. None of the deceased’s family members were notified about the portrayal of their loved ones in the show. 

Creators Ian Brennan and Ryan Murphy’s failure to notify the involved families contributes to a long-standing tradition of Black and African-American individuals’ voices being ignored. This example, in addition to many others, displays just how much of a weapon that real-life storytelling can be if it falls into the wrong hands.

Since the series’s release, many relatives of the victims have publicly spoken out about the injustice they feel has occurred. Shirley Hughes, mother of the late Tony Hughes, spoke briefly with The Guardian, relaying her opinion of the show. She spoke about an episode focused primarily on a fictionalized depiction of her son, and his fatal interaction with Dahmer.

“It didn’t happen like that. I don’t see how they can do that. I don’t see how they can use our names and put stuff out like that out there,” Hughes said.

Eric Perry, the cousin to one of Dahmer’s victims, Errol Lindsey, possesses a similar outlook on the show and its effects. This disapproval is mainly because he and his family were only informed about the depiction of the late Lindsey upon the series’s public release, according to The Guardian. However, this is not the only instance where failure to inform relatives about a tragic circumstance has taken place—considering that the same phenomenon was seen in the media’s reaction to the sudden passing of Kobe and Gigi Bryant.

Jan. 26, 2020, was a day unlike any other. During the morning hours, a plane crash was reported to have taken place on the West Coast that somehow involved acclaimed basketball player Kobe Bryant, amongst others. Immediately, misinformation began to be spread, which contributed to mass confusion. Some individuals even believed the entire ordeal to be completely false, due to the amount of absurd rumors.

The tabloid website TMZ initially broke the news, but it did so, “before all the families [of the victims] were notified,” Washington Post reporter Margaret Sullivan wrote. TMZ was also the first organization to correctly report that Bryant’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, was among the nine victims. 

“TMZ isn’t admirable, but it’s usually right … The celebrity-oriented site [is] often the first to report high-profile deaths … And in this case, the grim development was reported correctly.” Sullivan wrote.

BuzzFeed News reported that Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, “is suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for emotional distress and negligence, among other harms,” an action that largely stems from, “first responders allegedly [sharing] unauthorized and disturbing pictures of the human remains at the crash site.”

From an objective perspective, I can attempt to understand why trained professionals are encouraged to report on sensitive topics held in the public’s eye. The human desire to inform the public of unsafe situations is something we all possess. An intention like that is how real-life storytelling comes to be — with The Washington Post and The Guardian being responsible examples. However, Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and TMZ are irresponsible examples, due to their exploitation of sensitive subject matter — and complete disregard for the people involved in such circumstances — all in the name of making an extra buck.  

The Guardian’s Ramon Antonio Vargas summarized both the Jeffrey Dahmer and Kobe Bryant situations best: “The way things went down re-traumatized the loved ones of those murdered.”

Nicole is a staff reporter at The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff. She may be reached at ncozz@udel.edu.

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