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2022 was another big year for serial killer portrayals in the media and Hollywood’s continued obsession with making “hot” monsters.

Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

Netflix recently released its list of the most popular shows and movies on the platform in 2022. Unsurprisingly, the first installment of the new anthology series from Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story) and Ian Brennan, Dahmer (aka Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story), landed in the number three slot for most-watched series (just behind the juggernaut that is Stranger Things and the surprise sensation Wednesday).

Just last month, Netflix announced that Dahmer joined Stranger Things Season 4 and Squid Games in reaching an impressive milestone: surpassing the billion-hour mark in viewing time in just 60 days. It’s only the second-ever English-language series to accomplish that.

Dahmer made its debut on Sept. 21st and spent seven weeks in the Netflix Global Top 10, eventually surrendering the top spot to Murphy’s other smash hit, The Watcher. 

Both series have now been renewed. That means we can expect two additional installments of Monster, focusing on other monstrous figures who have impacted society.

The heavily buzzed-about and controversial series starred the talented Evan Peters as the notorious serial killer.

To be honest, I did not watch the show, and in spite of my appreciation for Peters as an actor, I have no intention of ever doing so.

Though I hear he did a phenomenal job in the role, which is not surprising, I refuse to watch the show on principle. Though I would never intend to tell you what you should or should not watch, I’d like to explain my reasoning.

One day, while scrolling on Tiktok, I saw an edit of Evan Peters playing Jeffrey Dahmer. I went to the comment section, curious about what others were saying. The creator of the video defended themselves by saying that because Evan Peter is their favorite actor, it only makes sense to create an edit of him playing Jeffrey Dahmer.

This was not the only edit I saw of Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer. Many of them made it appear that Evan Peters playing Jeffrey Dahmer was just SO HOT.

Then, of course, I started seeing people ACTUALLY defending Jeffrey Dahmer and ACTUALLY believing he was hot.

What I found to be the most horrifying part was that most of these people saying these things weren’t children; they were adults.

I decided to stitch a video and say something when I saw someone “fan-casting” Penn Badgley as Charles Manson. In the video, the creator said that since we had Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer, now we could have Penn Badgley as Charles Manson. The message in their video didn’t sit right with me.

It is one thing to raise awareness of serial killers and cultists and explain the horrific things they did, which, in and of itself, is not problematic.

Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

I can also appreciate Dahmer‘s attempt to give a voice to the victims and shed light on the institutional failures, systemic racism, and pervasive homophobia that enabled Jeffrey Dahmer to murder 17 young men over the course of 13 years.

But when we start romanticizing these killers — even going as far as to fan-cast which hot young actors we hope to see portray these monsters — that’s where I have a problem.

Once we go down that road, we no longer respect the horrific nature of those crimes but begin to glorify what these killers did — as if they are some kind of fictional horror movie monster we want to see on the big screen over and over again.

That leads me to my whole reason as to why I’m writing this.

I believe Hollywood needs to stop with their depictions of serial killers and cult leaders. How often do we have to see the same stories of the same awful men? We now have countless documentaries and books telling their story. There’s no shortage of information for those who are curious.

But these depictions aren’t about education; it’s sensationalism.

We are fascinated by these crimes and by the men who commit them. But we don’t crave realism. An ultra-real, non-romanticized version of these stories would challenge even the most hardened horror fan.

In fact, the films that depict this kind of monstrous violence in an authentic way are not the ones from Hollywood. They are the indie or foreign films you’ve likely never seen — films like Angst (1983), Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), and the impossibly hard-to-watch The Golden Glove.

Hollywood seems interested in only hiring the most attractive men to play these real-life monsters.

Zac Efron as Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

In another hit series on Netflix, You, the aforementioned Penn Badgley plays the fictional killer and stalker Joe Goldberg, which left many viewers with conflicted feelings for the charismatic but dangerous character. Speaking to VICE, Badgley shared his confused feelings on the matter:

“Every one of my greatest fears and hopes for people’s engagement [with You] came to be fulfilled. There were the reactions of overlooking all of Joe’s faults, which is the whole point of the show, and just being really into him. … It was both gratifying and troubling.”

Writer Caroline Kepnes, who wrote the book the show is based on, was asked if Goldberg was based on Ted Bundy. She responded that he is not based on Bundy because that would be perverse.

Kepnes took care to remind people that Goldberg was fictional and that Bundy killed real people with real families and real consequences. 

Speaking of Bundy, the hunky Zac Efron made headlines when he took on the role of the notorious killer in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. In the ’70s, Bundy terrified the country by abducting a suspected 30+ victims across multiple states. In spite of that, he’s widely romanticized as an attractive ladies’ man who met and married a woman while on trial for slaughtering dozens of women.

In another Ryan Murphy Production, American Horror Story: 1984, actor and musician Zach Villa (Hypochondriac) plays Night Stalker Richard Ramirez with rock-star swagger. Murphy also cast another dreamy actor/musician, Darren Criss (Glee), as serial killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

And prior to Evan Peters tackling the role of Dahmer, the equally handsome actor/musician and former Disney star Ross Lynch (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) took on the role for My Friend Dahmer, playing the young serial killer as a high school student.

The only notable exception I can recall was when Hollywood cast the stunning Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film Monster. 

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster

However, unlike the men, the filmmakers for Monster actually worked to make Theron as unglamorous as possible so she could truly embody the role in a realistic portrayal. Of course, that was the rare case of a female serial killer in the spotlight. And it represents a deviation from our society’s endless fascination with and romanticization of male serial killers.

After Dahmer became the it-show on Netflix, I started seeing children on TikTok talking about how much they love Jeffrey Dahmer.

To clarify, they weren’t talking about how much they love Evan Peters and his portrayal of Dahmer. No, they meant the actual serial killer and sex offender — the real-life monster who butchered so many men and young boys between 1978 and 1991.

They expressed love for the man diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and a psychotic disorder — the man involved in necrophilia, cannibalism, and the permanent preservation of body parts.

This is what is so concerning. This is what happens when we turn monsters into rock stars and glamorize, fetishize, and sexualize sadistic killers. 

Unfortunately, as long as there is a demand for this kind of content, we can expect many more Hollywood depictions of serial killers and dangerous cultists. And, as long as they keep casting Hollywood hunks and teen idols as these killers, millions of Americans — and countless throes of impressionable young people — will flock to watch these programs.

Written by Allyssa Gaines; edited by Stephanie Malone

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