Sunday, February 12, 2012


To quietly take a page out of It'll Be Dark Soon, I decided to create an obssession journal of sorts.

With the exception of the films Haywire & The Artist and a couple of others, January and February have been devoted to nothing but documentaries. In addition to this, true crime books have been an obssession. Serial killers being the big fascination.

Serial killers have always fascinated me. But one in particular has captured my attention more than any other- Jeffrey Dahmer. His story stands as a prime example of a soul that was truly lost in the world. With no one willing to guide him. This makes reading about his childhood and adolescence all the more haunting.

I write this having just finished reading My Friend Dahmer. A graphic novel authored by one of Dahmer's high school friends, Derf Backderf.

What immediately strikes me about this book is its intimate depiction of an adolescent's descent. Countless kids have had rough childhoods. Many don't grow up to be a serial killer. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, his adolescent years were increasingly draped in isolation. His ability to harbor secrets are a constant theme throughout Derf's novel. These secrets and fantasies would only materialize into his love of skinning animals. A hobby he would take further as time went on. Another thing he was known to do was having fake epileptic fits. Something he pulled quite often in school. This would garner him attention. The heartbreaking part of Derf's account of his friend is how this attention would slip. Tracking the changes all the way up until that fateful day post-graduation. When Jeffrey Dahmer would pick up Steve Hicks, a hitch-hiker.

Derf's book shows the 70's as an institutionalization of weirdness. How certain events cause further isolation from his friends. These events triggered by him being neglected by his constantly arguing parents. The boy who skinned animals and smacked trees with bats wasn't getting any help from anyone at the high school either. More than anything I've read on Dahmer, this firsthand account paints him as a tragic figure.

In October 1977, Dahmer would pull a prank in the yearbook. His friends were on the yearbook staff and one of the running gags was to slip Dahmer in to one of the photos. Once the editor got ahold of the picture and discovered Dahmer was in it, the editor blacked out his face with a marker. As Derf Backderf put it "This photo was a symbol of Dahmer's wasted youth."

So does this graphic novel answer the question: Why did Jeffrey Dahmer turn out the way he did? Well, to pin it down to one thing would be misguiding and incorrect.

One of the biggest misconceptions of serial killers is that they were all sexually abused as children. The truth is that an abusive childhood is only one factor that comes into play. This abuse not being solely sexual. Sometimes it stems from psychological abuse. Pete Vronsky's book Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters dwells on this topic. When asked, only 53% of the serial killers felt themselves to have been treated unfairly as children. So to pinpoint the root of all evil on sexual abuse is wrong.

In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, family instability can be seen as a major contributing factor to his personality. Vronsky's book tells of an FBI study in which 72% of convicted serial killers have had parents with negative relationships toward each other. Dahmer's adolescent years are a key example of this. Couple this with his intermingled fantasies of violence and sex and you have a deadly mix.

If anything, My Friend Dahmer does what Unbreakable does to fictional characters. It acts as a mere prologue. While so many books and films are obssessive on the crimes committed during the reign of a serial killer, this one sits back and observes 4 years into the evolution of one.

Required viewing for more info:

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