Jeffrey Dahmer Vs. Evan Peters
By Jini Seok
Jeffery Dahmer, the coldblooded serial killer who sexually abused, dismembered, and cannibalized 17 innocent lives – or the handsome, misunderstood guy who isn’t all that bad. Shockingly, the answer isn’t as obvious to some as it should be. With the recent release of the Netflix series titled Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story in September 2022, some have become fans of the serial killer. A trend on TikTok, nicknamed “Hey Jeffery”, consists of girls posting photos of themselves with the caption “Hey Jeffery”. It essentially follows the format of an imaginary conversation with Dahmer where he responds with “Hey darling” and the girls reply with something along the lines of “He broke my heart” or “He hurt me”. This is followed by screenshots from a scene in the Netflix Series where Dahmer is sitting at a dinner table eating, presumably one of his victims. The participants of this trend are essentially calling for Dahmer to murder and cannibalize the particular person they are referring to as a means of getting revenge on behalf of the participants. It is simply difficult to put into words just how disturbing and disrespectful this trend is. Its controversial nature is glaringly obvious, so what sparked this trend into existence? How did things get so twisted in the first place?
Films and TV shows have the curious effect of creating devoted and passionate fan bases almost instantaneously. They’re similar enough to reality that we can personally relate to them, but also fantastical enough to be exciting and desirable. Either way, regardless of the specifics, we are quick to attach ourselves to characters we see on screen and soak up the plot with every ounce of our sponge-like brains. We often take in what we see at face value and enjoy the simple, surface-level entertainment that only serves to pass the time. This unhesitating absorption of visual media seems to produce an interesting and problematic effect on the way we understand and respond to it.
Not taking an extra second to think about the context or intent behind a film or show can lead us to form misconstrued ideas and opinions. Take Evan Peters, who many people agree does a chillingly accurate job of portraying Dahmer in the show. Regardless of Peters’ acting skills, his charming persona and reputation of being conventionally attractive, have seemingly led some viewers to project those traits onto Dahmer, igniting the “Hey Jeffery” trend. Is the idea that Dahmer would respond by saying “Hey darling” based on our understanding of Dahmer? Or, is it based on our idea of Peters? Failing to separate the actor from their character is an inevitable challenge, but is in some cases very necessary, as proven by the “Hey Jeffery” trend where audiences who do not distinguish between actor and character end up making idols out of criminals.
It should not be prohibited to recreate or retell events out of fear of how the public will respond. There are stark issues surrounding some pieces of media that romanticise events, people, and/or ideas that should not be romanticised. However, artists have an obligation, and in some sense a duty, to stay as truthful and accurate as possible when retelling real world events. The creators and cast of the show are not at fault for the idolisation of Jeffery Dhamer considering their noticeable effort in recreating the story as faithfully as possible. Rather, the viewers are the ones who should be held responsible. Those who, perhaps unconsciously, projected their opinions of Evan Peters onto the character of Jeffery Dahmer should have realised the importance of separating the character from the actor given the context.
We should always question what we are watching and regulate how we respond to it. In other words, we should make sure we view things with a critical eye rather than get lost in thoughtless consumption. Though being critical sounds as if it demands brain power that entertainment shouldn’t have to require, being thoughtful shouldn’t feel like unsolicited homework. Rather, shouldn’t it allow you to appreciate media, as well as art, more thoroughly? Analysing an artwork’s themes and giving yourself the chance to ask questions would not only allow you to develop informed opinions, but also enable you to resonate with the piece more profoundly. If the viewers of the Jeffery Dahmer series had considered these things, we would have avoided such abhorrent idolisations. Thoughtless consumption, though seemingly harmless, has proven to be much more damaging than we think. When watching TV shows or films, we should not simply sit on our couches and mindlessly take in what we see, but keep in mind the harmful nature of ignorance and practise a bit of thoughtfulness.