By: Mackenzie Pedersen, Staff Writer
What is it about serial killers that captivates us?
The FBI defines a ‘serial killer’ as having commited:
A series of three or more killings… having common characteristics such as to suggest the reasonable possibility that the crimes were committed by the same actor or actors.
People who are fascinated with such macabre* topics – like serial killers – occasionally feel guilty about it. These subjects are considered disturbing, and some find an interest in serial killers to be a ‘sick’ obsession. On the other hand, it is argued that humans’ captivation with these subjects, such as murder, is natural. It is part of human curiosity. Morbidity assists us in understanding the world. More so, a curiosity about morbidity provides an opportunity to understand how others view mortality and morality. Seeing a person’s reaction to morbid topics such as serial killers can provide an idea of what they believe is right or wrong. Furthermore, being interested in the macabre makes people feel stronger and better prepared. It is even suggested that this interest can help people accept death. Evidence of this can be found in the following youtube video:
Media has taken hold of our curiosity of serial killers.
The allure of serial killers has been heightened by the news, television, movies, and books. Some of the most famous examples include Criminal Minds, Silence of the Lambs, Dexter, and Mindhunter. However, the hype doesn’t stop there. Our captivation with serial killers is also fueled by the abundance of documentaries about these terrifying celebrities. Additionally, there are podcasts, as well as museum exhibits. There are plenty of opportunities to feed a person’s obsession. But, how much of what we see in the media is true?
The FBI states that the dramatizations of serial murder are:
“created to heighten the interest of audiences, rather than to accurately portray serial murder. By focusing on the atrocities inflicted on victims by “deranged” offenders, the public is captivated by the criminals and their crimes. This only lends more confusion to the true dynamics of serial murder.”
Over time, this confusion has led to myths of who serial killers are, and what they are like. For example, serial killers are not always loners. Serial killers are not only middle-aged white men either. Very often, according to the FBI, serial killers look like normal members of society. They have families, jobs, sometimes attend church, and blend in effortlessly. But this just adds to their allure.
Another misconception is that serial murders are sexually driven. But in reality, those who commit serial murders are motivated by a wide range of emotions. Motivating emotions include feelings that everyday people experience, such as anger, jealously, thrill, and wanting attention. Often, the disturbing actions are driven by financial gain.
As of 2015, there are roughly 25-50 ‘active’ serial killers at any point in the United States.
Of the roughly 15,000 victims who are murdered each year, only about 1% of those victims are killed by serial killers. So are people fascinated by serial killers because of their scarcity? Are people captivated because they have become numb to the excessive violence already in the media, and serial killers offer something even more shocking? Is the engrossment due to the need to find identifiable ‘evil’ in the world?
Perhaps this captivation is a need to demonize and control what is unknown. Serial killers force us to confront the fact that these are human beings, and yet they are able to do such ‘evil’ actions. We crave to understand serial killers because they seem to hide in plain sight within the community, but they bear this sense of ‘evil.’ Because of this, individuals strive to differentiate themselves from those who commit these atrocities. While we condemn their evil actions, we are fascinated by them. Curiosity compels individuals to ask ‘what drives someone to commit these terrible acts?’ and ‘what makes a person capable of doing this?’ Is paying attention to serial killers a way to make death feel real? Is it to create real ‘monsters’ in our world?
Stephen Kings theorizes that “we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
As one of the members of ‘True Crime’ one states in the video above, obsessing over Serial Killers is exciting but safe. This obsessing is safe because it’s happening to someone else at some other time. It doesn’t quite feel real, but provides an example of fantasy meeting reality. Our morbid curiosity has continued to grow and develop with time. True enthusiasts collect artifacts associated with particular murders. These types of memorabilia are coined ‘Murderibilia.’ This often includes, but is not limited to letters, artwork, personal items, locks of hair, and so much more. Enthusiasts sometimes write to those convicted of serial murder while they are in jail. Sometimes enthusiasts befriend them in correspondence or, if they are lucky, after they are released from prison.
No matter the method, a person’s fascination is all in an attempt to understand the simple question: ‘why?’
For those who are looking for more ways to learn about Serial Killers, I recommend listening to the Serial Killers Podcast by Parcast:
Macabre*: a subject centered around death.