Jeffrey Dahmer's disturbing newfound popularity, from offensive Halloween costumes to themed pizzas

Ryan Murphy's Netflix series sadly awoke our society's monstrous celebrity worship mindset – for a serial killer

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published October 26, 2022 3:00PM (EDT)

Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in "DAHMER Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" (Courtesy Of Netflix)
Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in "DAHMER Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" (Courtesy Of Netflix)

A middle-schooler with excellent musical tastes recently related that Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" had been ruined for him. He couldn't listen to it anymore. Why? The song is being used incessantly on TikTok for videos about convicted killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Dahmer is the latest crime figure to be given the Ryan Murphy treatment in "Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story," a splashy dramatized series on Netflix that soared to the top of the viewership ratings, despite vocal criticism of the series' very existence. People still watched it. And now its popularity is having an impact. Dahmer is back in the consciousness of a nation, introduced to a younger generation in a glamorous way that goes against the wishes of his family and victims' loved ones. And it's a similar treatment usually given to celebrities.

From "American Crime Story" to "The Watcher," Murphy is no stranger to true crime. But the crimes of serial killer and sex offender Dahmer (played in the series by the charismatic Evan Peters) were exceptionally violent, including cannibalism. Convicted of over a dozen brutal murders and sentenced to multiple terms of life imprisonment, Dahmer was beaten to death by a fellow inmate in 1994. Dahmer escaped detection for a long time, in part because of racism and homophobia. His victims were largely young gay men and boys of color, and Dahmer was white and blond. 

It's his appearance that has sparked some of the popularity, with TikToks and social media posts commenting on Dahmer's so-called handsomeness. (Search for these posts at your own risk, as they are nauseating.) Convicted serial killer Ted Bundy skated under the law for much the same reason. It was believed that a conventionally handsome and charming man couldn't possibly have done such terrible things — never mind that superficial charm is one of the tools in a psychopath's arsenal. Charm conceals, and the best mask to hide behind is an allegedly attractive one. 

The ramifications of the Netflix Dahmer series are not limited to social media.

As of this writing, Jeffrey Dahmer TikToks have received over 9.4 billion views. There is a specific challenge where TikTok users post their reaction to viewing gruesome Dahmer crime scene photos. But the ramifications of the Netflix Dahmer series are not limited to social media. A Texas restaurant has advertised a pizza called the "Jeffrey Dahmer Special" with ramen noodles standing in for intestines and lots of fake blood that appears to be tomato sauce. The pizza is not on the menu, but has been placed on public display in the restaurant window.

We're approaching Halloween, a time when some people fail to make the best judgment as to what is and is not a costume. Perhaps it's unsurprising then that Jeffrey Dahmer costumes are hitting store racks and being plotted in basements. On Monday, eBay told Newsweek the retail site had banned the sale of Dahmer costumes, deeming the getups in violation of a policy that prohibits "listings that promote or glorify violence or violent acts, or are associated with individuals who are notorious for committing violent acts."

Amazon, however, still has for sale orange jumpsuits, aviator glasses similar to the ones Dahmer wore, T-shirts with fake blood splatter and ones mocking cannibalism. "I eat guys like you for breakfast," reads the message on one of the shirts with a picture of Dahmer, while another advertises a fake "Dahmer's Deli."

And parents are dressing children too young to know of Dahmer or to have much say in the manner as the convicted killer, posting Halloween photos on social media.

Celebrities such as gymnast Simone Biles have spoken out against the costumes. Biles wrote on Twitter, "Put the jeffrey dahmer costumes back in the closet. We ain't having it!!!!!!"

Biles is far from the only one. Families of Dahmer's victims were critical of the series, and now they are speaking out about its cultural impact. Shirley Hughes, the mother of Tony Hughes, who was killed by Dahmer, had already expressed disappointment about the show, its inaccurate portrayal ("It didn't happen like that," she told The Guardian), and the fact that family members such as herself were never even consulted. The streaming of the show "revictimized" the victims' families, according to The Cut. The Halloween costumes are adding even more continued trauma.

"Fans" of the serial killer continue to show up unannounced to the elderly man's home.

Dahmer's father, Lionel Dahmer, who is 86, is considering suing Netflix over the series. Also in 2022, Netflix released a docuseries "Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes," which included recordings from Dahmer's legal team — recordings Lionel Dahmer never granted permission to be aired. Netflix did not contact Lionel Dahmer about either of the shows, according to the senior Dahmer's caregiver. As "fans" of the serial killer continue to show up unannounced to the elderly man's home, Lionel Dahmer is a "nervous wreck," his caregiver, who did not wish to be identified, told Decider.  

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We live in a time when a petition on calling for a rewrite of "Halloween Ends" to be more "worthy" of the killer Michael Myers has over 12,000 signatures. But Michael Myers is fictional, the killing he does (or at least, the length of time he continues to do it in — and somehow come back to life again and again) supernatural, bordering on the absurd. Dahmer was real. His crimes: horrific. And his survivors' families and his family: still alive. The Netflix series brought back a killer we need to forget and makes glamorous and handsome crimes that are deeply ugly. 


By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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