Why are we so in love with serial killers?
A whole industry and genre is built around our obsession with crime and murder. Why?
I started reading crime novels when I was around 12 years old. Maybe even younger. My favourite novels were written by P.D. James, Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter, and James Patterson. Over the course of a couple months, I had probably read the whole crime section in my school library.
I read about murderers who had killed multiple people in extremely horrific ways, and I read the violent acts of these killers from the perspective of the victims or from a detached third person point of view. I read the gory details. I read about the pain staking process of autopsies. Most importantly, I watched people suss out the clues and catch the killer.
Looking back, I was clearly too young to start reading about murder and violent crime. I don’t know why my school librarian and family friends kept giving me these books.
What is probably not surprising is that I loved these books and today, I am fascinated with true crime and shows like Bones.
I am not the only one who is still an addict and for some people, our preoccupation with a person’s lack of morality is becoming a problem.
Tell me the gruesome details
As a society, we have a scale of evil. There are levels of bad.
We like to be able to evaluate the amount of wrong that has taken place. We need to know the details like when, where, how and what to analyse how evil the killer is. We need to know they did it in cold blood instead of self-defence.
It becomes trickier when we want to know details that don’t help us in our daily lives and we then use the smallest details to make our own profile of the killer. We need to know what made them do it.
We need to know absolutely everything to be involved.
Evil fascinates us. It certainly fascinates me.
Sure, my interest in crime has changed from the gory details to the way we perceive killers and victims. The way we can dehumanise the wrong-doer to make the whole thing seem less disgusting. It’s easier to remove the humanity from someone who has done something against the core protective instinct of being human.
Our fascination has changed from basic curiosity to a cultural obsession.
Are we disgusted?
According to a psychologist we enjoy learning about crimes as we are able to experience danger without actually being in danger. We can sit at home on our comfy bed watching and learning about violence which has happened no where directly near us.
We understand that murder is bad. Yes, I had to make sure we all know that. Murder is very bad and we shouldn’t do it.
While some of you may find this unpalatable, we get a rush of adrenaline for watching someone kill another person. Criminologist Scott Bohn explained to Grazia that because of this shot of adrenaline we may still watch crime shows we know will be depressing or gruesome.
Inside the mind of a killer
As Dr Gail Saltz, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, told Metro.co.uk about the infamous Ted Bundy film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile:
“We are so curious about what the mind of someone like this is. We’re also trying to look at them and figure out how someone can be so different to us, and why we would never be them. That makes us very drawn to trying to understand them.”
We are so interested by the actions of those we view as monsters. We obsess over the why and what they believed their motivations were whilst at the same time we try to separate from the rest of humanity. They become monsters instead of people. They are the cautionary tale of real-life demons that we warn our sons and daughters about.
Why wouldn’t we be fascinated with them?
They have a power that just comes naturally. The most notorious killers were successful in manipulating and controlling others. They were seen as powerful and charming by those who fell in love with them. They have this strange control over their environment that for some makes them so hard to find and prosecute. This isn’t romanticisation, it’s a fact. Sometimes the worst serial killers were charming.
Despite their crimes, some want to be applauded for their work. They want credit for taking lives. They view the world so differently from the majority that they become people to study and analyse.
Taking the most infamous examples of Mansen and Bundy, these were men who were smart. They were intelligent. You can’t say they weren’t. They managed to smartly manipulate those around them. They played a game.
Are we glorifying murder?
The number of true crime shows that have made their way to streaming services over the last year has been staggering. We have documentaries that have been going on for years that have finally been released to the public, we have mysteries that are still unsolved that the average amateur internet detective has spent hours trying to piece together, and we have articles and stories which show murder isn’t going away.
We’re the ones not looking away this time. We’re staring straight at it. Drinking it all in.
Do we romanticise murder by putting it on television as entertainment?
I’m not so sure.
I guess it depends what kind of rush you get from it; films and shows can show prospective future murderers that they will receive some sort of recognition. They give them something to aim for.
On the other hand, if we do not share the murders publicly and show the intricacies of killers and their personalities people will have no warning when a murderer turns up at their door or worse, someone close to them is revealed as a killer.
If you don’t know what the threat acts and looks like, how will you know if it is a threat?
How can you prepare yourself for an unfair world if you don’t know what possible situations you could get into?