Serial Killers, True Crime, and Me
"Is there something wrong with me?"
For a long time now, I've been wondering what my interest in true crime/serial killers means for my identity. In what world is it acceptable to stay interested in serial killers as long as I have? Can I be honest enough with myself to say that it is a deviant attitude towards crime at the very least.
By the way, I realize that this may turn some people off as this is my first post. Allow me to reassure you that my focus is not merely on the deviant and true crime pieces of pop culture. This is something that popped into my head while thinking about what to write. Who knows why?
Of course, I still have the guts to chastise those in the 1600s who watched hangings from the street, out their windows, and as they passed by in their horse-drawn carts. I have the chutzpah to give those people a hard time as they cheer and jeer the individual who is about to "...hang from the neck, until dead."
You see, I condemn, but in the next 2-3 AppleTV remote clicks, I'm marathoning the second season of Making a Murderer while fanning through my copy of Charles Manson's autobiography. It may just be one of the biggest examples of hypocrisy that I participate in.
I remember when I first came in contact with curiosity about this horrific and deviant behavior. In graduate school I was interested in studying the mind, while at the same time I was taking a child development class as an elective. In some ways this class taught me that there is a beautiful art to learning how people tick. Of course, I began to apply this to my interest in serial killers.
What makes them tick?
What happened that allowed them to justify and glorify the horrific acts they were to commit?
Why did they feel morally and lawfully innocent of their crimes?
Did they care at all?
There are so many questions I had. These questions intensified the curiosity; they stoked the fire. So I began with Charles Manson. It's a bit cliché I know, but he has a multitude of pages written about him. I decided that I should go to the autobiography Manson in His Own Words: The Shocking Confessions of 'The Most Dangerous Man Alive. His story was gripping and heart -wrenching, but ultimately violent, manipulative, and ghastly.
I was on a rollercoaster and couldn't put it down. I sat in Starbucks as I received dirty glances in the Bible Belt city of Greensboro, NC. I sat in the library at school as I received concerned looks from the undergraduates. I read at family functions where I received some neutral/negative feedback from my father.
This just propelled me further. What have these people done to our culture, to society, that would prevent me from even reading about them or having others judge me immediately? Obviously I know the counts and charges from the legal perspective, but people who get speeding tickets or who even toss bomb threats around are not vilified for decades after their crimes. This became the foundation of my interest.
Wanting to discover how these people click + the small amount of deviance achieved by reading and studying them = A scholarly interest that's fun to scare people with.
Since my first delve into Manson, I've also read Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi the prosecuting attorney, not to mention a series of scholarly articles about him from various perspectives (psychological, communicative, etc.).
How fascinating it is to read both sides of a story! Where the information connects and disconnects is beyond interesting, and it drives me to learn more about serial killers.
I think for me, the casual studying of the serial killer allows me to delve into the mind of madmen/women, with a decent academic foundation of understanding, in order to determine the patterns between many of these criminals. I am, in no way, a couch-clinging Law and Order SVU critic. Crime and law doesn't work like that and so many people have fallen victim to just assuming a criminal can be brought to justice in 60 minutes. I've met folks like that, with very little to say of value regarding the study of true crime, and I have always refused to be that person.
Of course, my interest in serial killers and deviance has branched out from simple studying of the actions and histories of these men and women. I've also moved into the study of behavioral science, nonverbal reading of micro-expressions, the Behavioral Analysis Unit in the FBI, terrorism and national defense studies, etc.
What is fascinating and scary at the same time, is a lot of these things blend brilliantly together, especially serial killers and terrorism.
Lodged in the mind of both categories of people is a feeling of superiority or inferiority. Either they feel as if they are invincible and what they are doing is justified and free of any consequence, or they feel less than others, as if they don't matter, and they are looking for an answer and a purpose. Looking for this purpose, without a decent level of empathy/sympathy created by psychosis or sociopathy leads them down paths that are horrifying but that are ultimately easier than earning a decent job or getting married and having a family (there are more ways to feel as if you have a purpose, but I'll leave it at this for now).
There is so much to study, to learn, and to find out regarding these people. They are, indeed, much more than the simple classification of psycho/sociopath we have placed on them. I'm not saying that they deserve much more than what they have received over time, but from a scholarly perspective and from the perspective, they fit in a multitude of areas, each one with their own specific niche and purpose.
So I continue to read, to watch, to study, and to interpret. I continue to work out what makes people tick. As I continue this adventure I've found that a lot of my studies also apply to people I've worked with, are friends with, and talk to. No, not all my friends and coworkers are deviant criminals. What I mean is that there are so many crossovers, and we are so close to crossing that fine line (more of us than would admit), that there are similarities. The more you study these similarities the more you realize how common they truly are.
So, if you are interested in this, leave me a message down at the bottom, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to chat about the various pieces of true crime/serial killer culture with you.
Serial murder may, in fact, be a much older phenomenon than we realize. The stories and legends that have filtered down about witches and werewolves and vampires may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend the perversities we now take for granted. Monsters had to be supernatural creatures. They couldn't be just like us.
John E. Douglas, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit