Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What If I Were A Serial Killer?

This does not contain spoilers per se. But most folks will find it disturbing. So you have been warned...

Something about serial killers fascinates as well as horrifies. How many films, books, t.v. episodes about Jack the Ripper have attracted audiences over the years? Sir Anthony Hopkins' acting career is full of brilliant performances, but don't we most think of him as Hannibal Lecter? Some very popular t.v. shows, including Profiler and Criminal Minds, recount the hunt for serial killers. Lord knows the attraction of the serial killer as a character seems proven. Actors can really show their stuff by portraying one well. Likewise writers such as myself often delve into such as a marvelous source of stories.

Perhaps that explains this odd exercise.

Imagine for a moment that instead of the person I am now, the person typing these words was the serial murderer I might have become in some alternate reality? To begin, I am pretty squeamish emotionally. Certain types of humiliation remain intensely uncomfortable for me to watch in film, television or on stage. It physically hurts to see some scenes, even though the events are unreal and the people involved clearly aren't myself. This is pretty much the opposite of a sociopath, to whom others remain eternally other. One way to describe it is that a sociopath is the only human being in a world of walking, talking mannequins. Emotionally, that is their truth. No one is more alone than a sociopath. I have been lonely virtually every day of my life, but I've also had friends, enjoyed their triumphs and good news, felt their tragedies and disappointments--often keenly. But without that, methinks I would be a far more angry human being than I am (and my temper--although under control--remains something to be feared).

This gives my first clue to that alternate Dark-Me. A far more desperately lonely person, one boiling with much more rage and many times more frustrated in an almost-instinctual desire for connection with others.

Hiding my true nature--in this scenario, for serial killers are generally master chameleons--would have required more discipline than I've probably ever wielded. But that would also fuel the rage. Imagine putting water under greater and greater pressure.

Now--what kind of fantasy? Serial killers are trying to live out a particular fantasy, over and over again. Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, was not a sadist but a necrophile and sought a perfect zombie/love slave. An FBI profiler was interviewed for the special features of the DVD of Red Dragon, noting that Hannibal Lecter's fantasy was of superiority, reducing his victims in effect to nothing more than livestock. Edward Kemper evidently was killing his mother over and over, and when he finally killed her in reality turned himself in. John Wayne Gacy and Andrei Chikatillo had, at least as I see it, similar fantasies of potency (albeit in very different forms).

Methinks I know myself well enough to see the darkest of my fantasies would be a blend of revenge and sex. Honestly, I've even found the idea of the place where pleasure and pain bleed into each other intriguing. Stories with some sense of erotic submission and control do attract me. Somewhat. Having dipped my toe ever so slightly in those waters, I can tell you they do little or nothing for me in reality. But then, I am at most only very mildly kinky. Had my psychological development shaped me into a serial killer then my status would be "Definite Full On Wildly Deviant Pervert."

Dark-Me then would be a rapist-killer, probably with an element of torture in his kills and aiming his/my rage at women who somehow were the incarnations of those who were my greatest source of frustrations. Who would that be? Almost impossible to say. My own tastes in the lovely gender are eclectic in the extreme--heavy, skinny, tall, short, dark, light, etc. Women to me are absolutely delightful parts of the universe, a reason to have a planet and a human race to start with! Mind you, I suppose that is also a clue as to Dark-Me's issues. I have never found myself attractive, nor men in general. I've always found it slightly odd (emotionally) that anyone at all was attracted to males. Had I been born with the double X chromosome my suspicion is that I'd've been a lesbian. So perhaps my alternate self has a similar personal issue, but taking a savage and warped form? Perhaps has an alternate "identity" as a woman, one who visits lesbian bars and hunts for the most attractive women he can find there?

Wow. This thought experiment is turning creepier by the second!

Mind you, the point should be made that this person isn't really a cross-dresser. He might don the persona of a woman, but in his case this is akin to a wolf hiding in sheep's clothing. Or a better example--the so-called Hillside Stranglers often masqueraded as police officers to stalk their victims. So Dark-Me becomes a woman (and in the process tasting a little bit of female power) as camouflage.

I could go further along with these thoughts. For example, he probably kills by strangulation. The feel of life leaving the body is viscerally right there and then. Likewise no blood to clean up or hide. But more details would pretty much require a reason more than any thought experiment. Like a potential story. Nothing I'm working on right this second justifies this character. Not yet. And without that "reward" of a good story, methinks I've gotten as much as feasible or (for now) desirable from such a dive into the unconscious. Interesting. Even educational. Spooky in all kinds of ways. But perhaps a bit valuable. Hey--writers are like this. We juggle atomic bombs of the psyche, and mine our nightmares for enlightenment.

It is what we do.


Jeff Winbush said...

As a culture we have fallen in love with the serial killer, even romanticizing him (yeah, I know women kill too, but they're pikers compared to male serial killers). I don't think this is a good thing. It bothers me that if I say Gacy or Bundy or Dahmer, everybody knows immediately who I'm talking about, but nobody knows the name of their victims. The killers are famous and their victims long forgotten. I don't like shows like Criminal Minds exactly for that reason. All the attention is skewed in the favor of the murderer and not the murdered.

Zahir Blue said...

I think you have a point, but also that you're missing part of the picture.

For example "Criminal Minds" is focused upon a team of fascinating characters who make it their life's work to defend the rest of us from serial killers. They are the heroes. Likewise no film about Hannibal Lecter has been as successful as the first, simply (I would posit) because they lack the compelling story of Clarice Starling.

Another factor to consider is numbers. It is easier to remember single names than multiple ones--so single murder victims are more often recalled than serial ones. The Black Dahlia, for example, or Abraham Lincoln as well as Rebecca Staab, Rasputin, JonBenet Ramsay, etc.

However, I would also posit that rather than falling in love with the serial killer many people (including myself) have become fascinated by the darkness demonstrated by such people. Not because we think such darkness is admirable, but that we believe this is something worthy of being understood. Something we should understand, in fact. Especially for writers who deal with that part of life.

I cannot of course speak for all, but it seems doubtful I don't speak for many. JMHO.