My Friend Dahmer

July 15, 2012

Maybe Mr. Rogers was right and every neighbor is a potential friend – someone worth inviting over, getting to know.  On the other hand, maybe the weird guy next door will turn out to be Jeffrey Dahmer. 

That’s what actually happened to the artist and alternative cartoonist John? Derf Backderf.   He grew up in the 1970's, in the small town of Richfield, Ohio, and among his circle of friends was a kid everyone knew as Jeff.  Jeff Dahmer.  Not a serial killer or a cannibal – just a kind of weird kid with some problems.   Backderf wrote about his former neighbor in a graphic novel called “My Friend Dahmer.”  Steve Paulson asked him to take us back to July 22nd, 1991 – the day we all found about about Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes.



I found Backderf's judgment that a switch went off after Dahmer's first murder a little troubling and I suspect that a more careful analysis would have a hard time determining some point at which Dahmer relinquished his humanity. And Backderf's impression that he should have rejoiced in Dahmer's beating death rather than feel uncomfortable about it as a result of having known him, was also extremely troubling. I was reminded of the story of Angulimala, the serial killer, in the Buddhist sutras. The Buddha, not plagued by the complex of fears that most of us suffer with, was thoroughly unconcerned with Angulimala's history. The Buddha realized that any judgment he could make about Angulimala's past was completely irrelevant, society would extract whatever it felt necessary. But the essence of the situation was that before him was a suffering human being (recall that for the Buddha that was simply the condition of being human) and he had some tips on how to deal with that. That certainly seems like a much healthier attitude to aspire to, at least on a personal level, and has little or nothing to do with what one feels are appropriate ways of dealing with criminal behavior as a society. Bacderf's analysis seemed to be a rather confused attempt to interpret his experience with Dahmer, and seemed full of societally inherited and unexamined assumptions.

I was appalled listening to this hypocrite describing his adventures with a person he identified as a very troubled teenager. The author, Derf actually admitted to goading Dahmer, laughing at him for his bizarre behavior, and stating how everyone failed him including Dahmers' failure to himself. The author not only failed him too, but was complicit in instigating and encouraging his behavior. Perhaps, if the author, (who will make money from his exploitation of Dahmer) advised someone in authority of Dahmers erratic behavior lives could have been saved. Shame on Derf for his part in the tragic events and the exploitation thzt came from being his neighbor. Derf should donate any profits to help the victims.

I agree. Given the extensive training that all kids receive in high school on how to identify teenage sociopaths, it's a mystery why Derf didn't foresee all of Dahmers's murderous behavior! Any high schooler can spot a sociopath from 50 yards, geez. And, if they can't, they should just be skewered. Or, in the least, they should never talk about it later in life - lest they be able to educate other adults.