“How bad can it really be?”

Students respond to Jeffrey Dahmer documentary series on Netflix

To watch or not to watch; that is the question currently among students on Ripon College’s campus and people across the nation. The documentary, “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” has been a popular topic of conversation on campus, and there is a mix of opinions on the documentary. A poll was posted on the Ripon College College Days newspaper’s Instagram asking followers if they have watched the documentary. Fifty-six people responded, primarily current students, and 43% reported they had watched the documentary while 57% reported they had not seen it.

The students on campus that watched the documentary series did so for a variety of reasons. Richard Contreras, a senior, initially started watching the series because of a post he saw on Facebook.

“I saw a post on Facebook that said it made people scream, cry and throw up, seriously,” he said. “Also described in the post how the watcher started seeing demons that warned them about watching the show in his dreams. Legitimately made people scared and anxious while watching the show, as described on the Facebook post. Basically overhyped the series. So I was like, hmm how bad can it really be?”

Kaitlyn Gennaro, a first-year student, started watching the series for personal interest.

“I’ve always been interested in serial killers. I’ve studied them for many years and have even incorporated my interest in them into school projects. So any documentary, series, or movie that comes out about them, I watch them,” she said.

Paige Hauck, a sophomore, initially started watching the series because “I know Evan Peters from American Horror Stories and really enjoy him.” However, Hauck has some concerns about watching the rest of the documentary.

“I have not decided if I am going to finish it. I am not afraid of gore, but after seeing spoilers from TikTok, I’ve seen the show has been using people’s words without asking permission, like one of the victim’s sisters,” Hauck said.

Other students, such as Trevor Roberts and Delaney Sherry, also finished the series.,

“It took me two days, and I would have watched it all in one sitting but I started watching it at 10 at night,” Roberts said.

Sherry took a little bit longer than Roberts, but not as long as some viewers.

“I watched it in about a week and a half,” Sherry said. “My friend and I were intrigued with the story but only watched about one episode a night.”

Contreras took a few weeks to watch the documentary, but not for the reasons one may think.

“If I could’ve sat down in one day and watched it, I probably wouldn’t since it was a bit slow. My attention wasn’t as invested as I thought it would’ve been. I wasn’t disturbed by the things I saw rather just wondered as to why/how someone would actually do the things he did. But it did feel a bit more disturbing knowing the accuracy of his crimes and knowing that it was real,” Contreras said.

Students also mentioned how the series taught them about the crimes Dahmer committed. Before watching the series, some students did not know much about Dahmer and used the series as a resource to learn more.

Even though Contreras grew up relatively close to where Dahmer committed some of his crimes, he did not know a lot about Dahmer.

“I actually didn’t know much about him. I’m from Milwaukee and actually never knew he also lived there,” he said. “After finding out the location of his apartment I discovered that I have driven through there multiple times and felt a little creeped out. It’s such a big city but feels so small after knowing that.”

Roberts also did not know as much about Dahmer before watching the series. All that Roberts knew was that Dahmer “was a killer and ate his victims.”

On the other hand, some students knew some background information about Dahmer before watching the series. Hauck said, “I did know of Dahmer before as there are many movies about him. I knew quite a bit about who he was not as much about the specifics of his murders. He’s a horrific monster, and I knew that before hand.”

Gennaro also knew a lot about Dahmer because of her research on serial killers.

“I knew a lot about Dahmer and his backstory and murder spree. I’ve always found him very deranged mostly because of what he did with the victims after he murdered them,” Gennaro said. “His sexual desires with the bodies were a lot worse than most other serial killers not only because he cannibalized, them, but because of how Dahmer felt when he cannibalized their bodies, which were sexual arousal and a feeling of not being alone.”

While watching the documentary, viewers gained a better understanding of Dahmer.

“While watching it, I learned more about where he was from and where he did all the killings,” Sherry said. “The things that most stood out was that they were in Milwaukee and his grandmother lived a few blocks from the elementary school I went to, and in the same town I’ve lived in my whole life.”

Gennaro also added that, “I learned a lot more about Dahmer and his crimes when watching the documentary. I enjoyed learning more about him through that. Some parts disgusted me and nearly made me puke watching what Dahmer would do with the bodies of his victims and such. It was gnarly. I also felt a lot more angry towards Dahmer when I learned he murdered a deaf man. It makes you think how remorseless you have to be to do such a thing. Watching the series definitely made me hate him more.”

Beyond learning more about what Dahmer did, students had different reactions to what they watched.

Hauck said that, “The shots were very uncomfortable. As good as the photography was, it was extremely uncomfortable to watch and heartbreaking to see.”

Roberts also commented on the series saying that it, “Creeped [him] out” and “what stood out to me was how well Evan Peters, actor for Jeffrey, did in the series.

Contreras said, “While watching the show, I wasn’t really as shocked as I thought I would be but it still made me feel uneasy knowing the things he did. some things that stood out were choices that could’ve been avoided in different scenarios like the dad allowing Jeff to dissect roadkill, his grandma throwing away his mannequin or him not being able to fully explain his feelings with his father.”

After watching the series, Gennaro thought about her feelings about Dahmer and his situation.

“I feel a lot more hatred for Dahmer himself because of the stuff he did,” Gennaro said. “But after the documentary, you can clearly understand why he ended up the way that he did.”

Roberts added, “I still thought of him as a killer… but I thought it was interesting how he started to try and change his life once in prison.”

Contreras said, “If anything, it solidified the idea of him being a horrible person. Somehow the series tried showing more of the reasonings as to why Dahmer did the things he did, sort of making you feel bad, especially in the last episodes.”

Sherry also reflected on the series with an emphasis on the victims of Dahmer:

“After watching the documentary it made me feel bad for all the victims and all the people affected. The people who lived in the apartment lost their home because of him, the people the cops didn’t listen to, the victims and people he killed. It was just bizarre and unbelievable to see,” Sherry said.

Hauck, who did not finish the series, also focused on the victims.

“I do think the fascination with serial killers is a big thing right now, but the way they speak about the killers pushes the narrative that the killer will go down in history when they do not deserve to be remembered,” Hauck said. “What should be highlighted is the victims which is what the documentary fails to do.”