true crime

Please Don’t Be Jeffrey Dahmer for Halloween

Photo: Netflix

Since its unceremonious release on Netflix last month, Ryan Murphy’s limited true-crime series Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has spent 21 consecutive days as the platform’s most-watched show. The series, which details the murders of the notorious “Milwaukee cannibal” Jeffrey Dahmer, who between 1978 and 1991 killed, dismembered, raped, and cannibalized 17 boys and men — many of them Black, brown, and gay — has been criticized for fetishizing Dahmer’s violence and exploiting his victims and their families. But that hasn’t stopped viewers from feeling sorry for Dahmer or thirsting for him on TikTok. It also apparently hasn’t stopped sellers on eBay and Etsy from peddling Dahmer-inspired Halloween costumes, like his signature wire-rimmed glasses and button-down shirts. While major Halloween retailers like Spirit and Party City reportedly aren’t selling Dahmer costumes and eBay now claims to have banned them, the disturbing surge of fanfare has drawn backlash from Shirley Hughes, whose son was murdered by Dahmer in 1991. Over the weekend, Hughes told TMZ that the costumes were “evil” and traumatizing, adding, “If Netflix hadn’t streamed the show … None of the families would be revictimized … and then there’d be no Dahmer costumes this year.”

Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison in 1992 and was beaten to death by a fellow inmate two years later. He murdered Hughes’s son, the deaf and nonvocal aspiring model Tony Hughes after picking up the 31-year-old at a Milwaukee gay bar, drugging and killing him and later dismembering his body and preserving his skull. Hughes recently condemned her son’s depiction in Dahmer, telling the Guardian, “It didn’t happen like that,” and calling out Netflix for not consulting the victims’ families prior to production. “I don’t see how they can use our names and put stuff out like that out there,” she said. Multiple family members of Dahmer’s victims have also spoken out about the show: Rita Isbell, whose brother, Errol Lindsey, was murdered by Dahmer in 1991, told Insider that the series was “harsh and careless” and that Netflix was “making money off this tragedy.” Lindsey’s cousin, Eric Perry, also criticized the series on Twitter: “I know true crime media is huge rn,” he tweeted after its release. “But if you’re actually curious about the victims, my family … [is] pissed about the show. It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”

Following initial Twitter backlash, Netflix removed the show’s LGBTQ label, but the platform has yet to respond to the mounting criticism from the victims’ family members. Creatives behind the series, meanwhile, continue to defend it, with co-creator Ian Brennan telling “Page Six” this month that the show is an “objective portrait as possible” of Dahmer and denying that it was “sympathetic” to him. “I think we show a human being. He’s monstrously human and he’s monstrously monstrous and that’s what we wanted to sort of unpack,” he told the outlet. Meanwhile, Hughes told TMZ that she didn’t “understand how the folks who choose to dress like him can sleep at night.” On Wednesday, a spokesperson for eBay addressed the costume controversy, telling Entertainment Weekly that the banned Dahmer items are “being removed” under the site’s Violence and Violent Criminal policy, which forbids merchants from selling items that “promote or glorify violence.” May I suggest dressing up as a pumpkin, a vaccine, or literally anything else?

Please Don’t Be Jeffrey Dahmer for Halloween