When we walk into a stately home, we experience the sublime in that classical sense: the simultaneous sense of terror and amazement. According to Raymond Williams, in The Country and the City, this sublime experience is due to the scale of a stately home far exceeding both the needs and capabilities of any one family. For that home to exist, generations and generations of unnamed and unacknowledged labour would be necessary. The end result, however, is a ‘national inheritance’ that only acknowledges — in name and narrative — one family.

This all bears striking similarity to serial killers, particularly the latest installment in a long line of explorations (read: tributes) to Jeffrey Dahmer; confusingly titled, as Red Letter Media observed Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The title of the program repeats Dahmer’s name twice and, despite any progressive intentions behind the production, it is this name that is remembered and, indeed, sought by the audience. We finish this docudrama with only Dahmer’s name in our minds and, perhaps, Glenda Cleveland.

For this feat in memory making to be achievable, the lost lives of many — and their being forgotten — are essential to concretising and cementing the name of Dahmer. The stately home and Jeffrey Dahmer are entirely dependent on the loss and forgetting of the many lives that created them.

A question that arises, then, is why are stately homes and Jeffrey Dahmer docudramas visited by the masses? If they are horrible, intergenerational monuments to trauma, why do so many people regard them well? The National Trust and their custodianship of National Heritage Sites are popular if controversial, esp. amongst Middle England. Many, many people visit National Trust sites every year. Similarly, many, many people know of Jeffrey Dahmer and some of them will have seen the latest Dahmer flick. To my mind, both acts are a recapitulation — a repeat — of that ancient quarrel, that ancient struggle, to develop a mastery over death.

Both visiting a National Trust site and witnessing Jeffrey Dahmer media are acts of trespassing. A middle class family basks in a country estate that they could never possibly occupy or create for themselves. And yet their enjoyment of this property, this exercise of their free time as flâneurs, is a statement of domination and mastery over the social death, the exploitation, the forgetting, that quashed their forebears — those masses of labourers responsible for such an estate entering into existence.

Similarly, as we know, the primary receivership of Jeffrey Dahmer media — indeed, all serial killer media — are women. The vast majority of listeners, watchers, and observers of the true crime genre are women. Like the middle class family visiting the country estate, this too is an intergenerational statement of domination. Women are the primary victims of murder, assault, and sexual violence and men are the biggest perpetrators of these crimes. Learning Dahmer’s story and bearing witness to it and his crimes are, then, a form of trespass — these primarily female listeners would, if Dahmer was alive, be denied access to such an awareness as so many were at the time, as this killer sleuthed amidst the masses. But in using their free time to learn of these crimes and this criminal, these women are perhaps performing an act of epistemic justice, trespassing into knowledge otherwise denied to them and yet around us all every single day: male violence is everywhere.

Yet, despite any radical potential this trespass may have, this potential is denied and overturned by the affective experiences of that trespass. The middle class family enjoy their temporary occupation of a monument to murder. The women are amazed, astounded, and stimulated by the sensationalism of ‘The Serial Killer’. Neither party tears down the stately home or changes its function irreperably. Neither party is capable of seeking reparative and epistemic justice for those victims of Dahmer and other serial killers, despite the traumatic impact of their actions living on today. Because true crime media and stately homes are there to be enjoyed and nothing more, as the trespass of particular groups. And whilst Raymond Williams focused on the stately home as the connection between country and city, the true crime media nexus is perhaps the connection between suburbia and reality.

Published by CJGriffin

I am a PhD Researcher of Contemporary Anglophone Literature at the University of Warwick. I mainly research 'the secret', neoliberalism, and the novel since the turn of the twenty-first century in Britain, drawing on literary studies, politics, philosophy, history, poststructuralism, postcritique, affect theory, and aesthetics.

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