Murphy and Peters have worked together on multiple seasons of American Horror Story, where Peters has been no stranger to cruel criminal characters, playing a school shooter, a hotel-based serial killer and a radical political cult leader. He will now follow in the footsteps of Zac Efron's turn as Ted Bundy in 2019's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, as he takes on the role of one of America’s most notorious criminals, in this case the cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.
Revisiting these cases of ruinous serial killers runs the recurrent risk of giving them the fame and attention they often narcissistically craved, especially when they are played by popular heartthrobs like Efron and Peters. Murphy himself brought the ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez to the screen in the “1984” season of American Horror Story and a spike in the 'fandom' following of Ramirez came soon after, with fan edits being made of Ramirez and shared on sites like TikTok.
The risk of stylising such abhorrent acts for television always runs the risk of giving too much humanity to those who so ruthlessly took it from others. Our cultural obsession with these horrific murders is longstanding, and Peters won’t be the first to play Dahmer on the big screen, actors such as Jeremy Renner, Rusty Sneary and Ross Lynch have already played this part.
The conversation surrounding the portrayal of serial killers in art and documentary has shifted in the past few years, with an emphasis on creating something that focuses on the impacts on the victims as well as general society more than creating a spectacle of the most evil amongst us.
For example, the Netflix documentary, Night Stalker, briefly critiques those who idolised Ramirez after his arrests through the words of his victims, as it attempts to revisit Ramirez in a less sensational way, from the perspective of survivors and the police officers who caught him. This new, more sensitive approach towards true crime is also evident in Netflix’s mini series on the Yorkshire Ripper which is portrayed through the frame of a criticism of the sexism of the police force.
It seems “Monster” will attempt to follow this new brand of true crime in the drama genre, as similarly to the Ripper documentary, it will focus on an analysis of the police incompetence that allowed Dahmer to stay at large. Hopefully, the stories of his victims failed by the police force will be brought to greater public attention- such as fourteen year old Laotian immigrant Konerak Sinthasomphone, who was briefly rescued by three women as he wondered, naked and drugged in the street outside Dahmer’s house, but was returned to Dahmer by police who were convinced they were gay lovers involved in an argument.
This intersection of homophobic and racist attitudes amongst the Wisconsin police is set to be the focus of the show that concentrates on Dahmer’s neighbour, Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash), who repeatedly reported her suspicions to the police- unsuccessfully. If successful, this new miniseries will bring to light the incompetence that allowed Dahmer to rise to his level of notoriety he is known for today, and won’t allow him the same privileges and sympathetic attitudes he benefited from while he was at large.