One of america’s most notorious
The story of infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is a pretty straight forward one; there is no debate on whether or not he committed his crimes, so why cover them?
We are curious about the different portrayals of his psyche, something covered in the film My Friend Dahmer by Marc Meyers, the podcast Cult Liter, and an Insider Edition exclusive interview, all of which we will be watching or listening to and discussing.
So join us as we take a deep dive into the story of Jeffrey Dahmer and multiple media outlets that have covered him.
and Samara Gibbs
Our media choices
Throughout this series we will be covering three different forms of media: a podcast episode, an exclusive interview, and a dramatization of Dahmer’s life. Through these different outlets we will examine the many ways that the case is covered and portrayed through rhetorical devices popular to each specific form of medium.
Beginning with the Insider Edition interview with Jeffrey Dahmer, this interview focuses heavily on him explaining his own side of the story. There is no doubt or question in anyone’s mind that the crimes he committed were absolutely disgusting, however, it is interesting to listen to him try and answer the questions posed to him by the interviewee. This interview will also allow us to explore the ways that the media covered his story through the questions asked and the news anchors reactions and opinions towards him as a person.
The interview will be perfect in contrast after listening to the podcast episode from the podcast Cult Liter with Spencer Henry which is very different in comparison. This podcast is very opinion based (although when it comes to Jeffrey it is kind of hard to have any other opinion) and does not shy away from sharing how gruesome and gross Dahmer’s spree was and how it continues to haunt and fascinate society today.
The final primary form of media that we will be watching is the movie My Friend Dahmer, which came out in 2017 and chronicles the formative highschool years and experience of Jeffrey Dahmer. This movie does a superb job at bringing up the question of nature vs. nurture when it comes to the shaping of a mind of a serial killer, giving viewers insight into Dahmer’s history, relationships, and obsessions that may or may not have started him off down his murderous path.
Brain-Freeze: Inside The Mind of Jeffrey Dahmer
In 1993, the man known as “the Milwaukee Cannibal” agreed to an exclusive jailhouse interview to Inside Edition. Throughout the interview, Jeffrey Dahmer reveals his own personal insight and reasoning behind the gruesome murders of the 17 men and boys that took place between 1978 and 1991. Inside the Mind of Jeffrey Dahmer depicts Dahmer as a conduit of evil, but “you wouldn’t know that by just looking at him”.
One of the things that was most shocking during Nancy Glass’s interview with Dahmer was his forthrightness about his crimes. At one point, he claims that he had “desensitized himself” from the crimes he was committing and that it was almost second nature to him. He describes the process of injecting the diluted acid into the skulls of his victims, as well as the disassembling of his victim’s appendages as a methodical process. As he continues to detail his heinous acts, he shows no remorse for what he has done, yet he also seems to be fully aware of his actions at the same time, making his character all-the-more unsettling.
At points during his conversation with Inside Edition, Dahmer tries to emotionally appeal to both Glass, as well as the audience behind the screen. Dahmer argues that his actions were not a direct result from any childhood trauma or specific event, but rather through his own moral flaws, self-hatred (stemming from a religious upbringing), and suffering from alcoholism from an early age. It is obvious that Jeffrey Dahmer is a morally conflicted, confused man. Dahmer even tells Glass that he is, “Glad he’s in prison,” because it is, “probably best for everyone”. However, it is hard to empathize with him when you remember the 17 lives lost through this man’s hands. The effectiveness of pathos crumbles when it is revealed later in the interview, through Glass’s commentary, that Dahmer was deemed mentally sane by health professionals during his court trials.
By the end of the interview, the audience can conceptualize the notion that even the most normal-presenting people can commit unspeakable acts of violence, conceptualizing their crimes, and showing no remorse. That is exactly what makes those like Jeffrey Dahmer even more dangerous.
My Friend Dahmer
One of the biggest questions that seems to come up when talking about true crime cases, is “why did they do it?” What drove a person to want to take another’s life, and in Dahmer’s case, 17 lives, ruining countless others. What impulses, triggers and events could lead a person down such a dark path? The past can haunt and impact an individual, but how much can we attribute to the idea of nature vs. nurture, and how much is just a person’s evil self? These are the questions asked and partially answered in the movie My Friend Dahmer, based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Dahmer’s high school friend turned cartoonist Derf Backderf.
The movie, while not filled with violence and gore, does portray the growing traits and “serial killer tendencies” of Jeffrey, also portraying him in a much deserved creepy light. We get scenes of him killing animals and dissolving roadkill, stalking a hiker on his neighborhood jogs, drinking heavily at school and at home, and countless other actions that are not normal or acceptable. Through the characters around him, mostly the small group of friends that he gets grafted into, we get to see that there is just something not right about Dahmer, something that we see them come to realize as well.
Jeffrey is played by Disney Channel star Ross Lynch, a choice that most people wouldn’t have seen coming. Most Disney stars are associated as being automatically innocent and kid friendly, their images must be pristine and they must be good role models, so it is interesting that the casting directors chose Lynch to play such an uncomfortable role. It seems like a way to earn young Jeffrey some sympathy points, something that we, as viewers, want to refuse giving his character.
In fact, this whole movie seemed to be trying to award Dahmer with some sort of sympathy. We get throughout the movie a clear picture of his home life: his mother has been in and out of psychiatric facilities, his parents separated and then divorced, both of them leaving him at their house alone with no supervision. He was ignored and isolated at school, and his only friends only seemed to want him to make a fool out of himself for their own entertainment. All of this considered, if this movie was about any other person it may have been easier to feel bad for him.
However, despite our own personal opinions, there is no denying that the movie was asking an important question about the role of his adolescence in how he turned out. It is clear that he was already having some very disturbing fantasies and tendencies that got worse and worse to the point that he said he could not control them. But can we blame his actions on his neglectful and enabling parents (oh yes, his dad provided the chemicals for him to dissolve animal bones by the way) or the individuals that bullied him at school? Well, the movie never gives us a clear answer. They show us a pained and disturbing character and his sad story, but none of his actions are ever shown justified by this upbringing.
Cult Liter, Episode 31 – Jeffrey Dahmer – With Spencer Henry
Everyone has a past and things they enjoy doing for personal interest, but have you ever wondered how these ideas play out in the life of a serial killer? If you answered yes, or no, to this question, the true-crime podcast Cult Liter offers quite an insight on such topics, especially Episode 31: Jeffrey Dahmer.
In this episode, the host, Spencer Henry takes listeners into a dark and twisted journey through the life of the notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. Henry begins the story with a description of Jeffrey’s childhood. We learn about Jeffrey’s “nutty, temperamental, attention starved” mother (Joyce Dahmer) “who blew the littlest things out of proportion”, as Henry describes, and his inattentive father (Lionel Dahmer) who allows Jeffrey to play with animal carcasses as a child.
The audience then gets introduced to some facts that might be “unknown” to some people such as, Jeffrey enlisting in the army, Jeffrey getting sent to live with his grandmother after his parents decided not to deal with him as his problems with alcohol worsened, or even Jeffrey working as a phlebotomist in the Milwaukee Blood Plasma Center, etc.
But of course, like many other true-crime podcasts/series that cover serial killers, Cult Liter provides the audience with disturbing and graphic details on how Jeffrey Dahmer murdered his victims, which many true-crime fanatics seek for entertainment. The episode also includes Jeffrey Dahmer’s bizarre sexual habits, mainly his interest in inanimate objects like mannequins or the remains of his victims, which Henry mentions Jeffrey would collect and preserve after committing the murders. On a more gruesome note, the audience- if unfamiliar with the case- learns that Jeffrey also collected human body parts and stored them in a refrigerator for “future consumption”. With that said, this episode focuses primarily on the murders and how Jeffrey Dahmer carried them out and includes some of Jeffrey’s own unsettling motives, narrated by Spencer Henry, for the murders as well.
Overall, Spencer Henry’s very informal approach to this case, since the tone is very conversational, delivers this dark case as if your friend is telling you the story after researching about it. Although the sources are not mentioned in the conversation, the storytelling remains intriguing due to the notoriety of the infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. In terms of credibility, would this podcast serve as a credible source for a research paper you may, or may not, be writing on serial killers? No. However, if you are a “true-crime junkie” this podcast episode is definitely one to tune into if you don’t mind descriptions of murders or a serial killer’s demented sexual habits.