Serial killing has become common in the Western culture and the perpetrators are usually represented as cultural monsters through the widespread coverage in entertainment and news media. Research shows that mass media portray serial killers as both a celebrity and monster. The use of extreme images in mass and entertainment media reveals the impact of serial killers and the monster culture in the Western world (Hodgkinson 282). Serial killers comprise of individuals that do not feel sorry for the mass killings and pain inflicted on others. The relation to monsters emerges from the social perception that serial killers enjoy causing others pain. Britain and American news and entertainment media outlets have been in the limelight for a long time for representing serial killers and trying to reveal the connections to deeper cultural meanings. This article explores the link between serial killers and the monster culture.
In the modern human society, serial killers have become common and they continue to appear in films, magazines, books, and TV shows. The mainstream description of a serial killer is more often misleading because they come in different forms and shapes (James 1121). The serial killing world has diverse groups that portray diverse aspects and traits. Unlike the traditional serial killers, modern serial killers now have access to many resources that can make their acts more heinous and hard for a detective to unravel. The advancement of the current global society presents both opportunities and challenges. The emergence of challenges relates to the ability of serial killers blending in the society without anyone knowing about the heinous activities they undertake. Some of these individuals have mastered the art of appearing and looking normal in all ways possible. Hence making their detection even more challenging and difficult.
Each serial killer has a different drive to kill including psychopathic tendencies, sociopathic tendencies or mental disorders. A killer must have murdered at least three people to be classified as a serial killer. In the American history of serial killers, Ted Bundy is a recognizable name. Bundy was a notorious criminal who admitted to killing 30 people. The homicides spread across different states and took place from 1974 to 1978 (Picart 173). Such traits have only resulted in the development of increased fear from the public. A horror story was covered on 30 Nov 2018 on Express UK about a serial killer who admitted to having committed over 90 murders. A former boxer, Samuel Little was convicted in 2014 for murdering three females in California in the 1980s (Hodgkinson 285). The convict was sentenced to serve three consecutive life sentences for his crimes. A report prepared by FBI also indicated that they are pursuing other unresolved cases related to the same perpetrator. According to the Ector County district attorney, Little, 78, started admitting to having committed the skilling from 1970 to 2005 after James Holland, a Texas Ranger gained the convict’s trust.
Christina Palazzolo, an FBI crime specialist pointed out that the convict traveled across the state, and the city sharing with Holland the number of victims he had killed. Although he confessed to having committed over 90 killings, the police have only managed to verify 34 murders. The investigators affirmed that the serial killer mostly targeted prostitutes and drug addicts during the period he committed the heinous crimes (James 1125). Bland also pointed out that Little is one of the most prolific serial murderers in the history of US. Another serial killing convict, Gary Ridgway is considered to be one of the deadliest serial killers in the country and is now serving a life sentence in a Washington prison for committing 49 killings.
Although Little cannot remember the actual dates, he still remembers the details of his murders and the names of his victims. As a cultural monster, Little seems excited while describing how he performed the homicides, especially how he strangled his victims (Picart 173). Although Little will spend the rest of his life in a Texas prison, he is not in good health. The mind of a serial killer is dominated by human fascinations. Since the times of mythological serial killers in the Greek world including Procrustes through the dime novels of the 19th century about “Jack the Ripper” to the contemporary of Hannibal Lecter and Dexter, no scientists have succeeded to unravel how serial killers become cultural monsters.
One of the main traits of serial killers is the fact that they do not kill people out of greed or jealousy. The continuous killing involves numerous victims for different reasons. The perception that serial killers just wake up one day and start killing people is wrong and misguiding. The individuals possess psychopathic traits that act as the main instigator behind the decision to kill others.
In the 1800s, European serial killers were portrayed in fictional writing as the natural result of sociocultural and socioeconomic factors. Psychologists have deeply explored the connection between the neural frameworks that determine human behavior. Neurologists began to explore the “monstrous brain” of serial killers in the mid-1930s when Neuroscience became more advanced and widely acceptable (Wiest 328). The first generation of neural specialists managed to establish a precise link between specific deficits in the human brain, and the criminal behavior portrayed by serial killers.
The main controversy about the biological determinism of a serial killer is trying to establish whether the perpetrators were destined to become serial murders from birth or are shaped by other environmental and sociocultural factors. Behavioral psychologists have also provided new and more reliable insights about serial killers and their monster behaviors (James 1129). A recent survey on the psychology of serial killer shows that over 68 percent of serial killers have experienced one or more forms of childhood abuse. Some individuals argue that serial killers are born with the innate desire to kill and harm others, due to the psychopathic traits. Other individuals argue that serial killers emerge based on their upbringing. The argument pushes the narrative that children who undergo increased harassment, abuse, and torture from a young age can become serial killers. The type of abuse includes physical, mental, and emotional.
Research from the past decades has leaned more towards nature instead of nurturing. The results reveal that the psychopathic traits that most serial killers possess have a connection to their DNA. The brain of a serial killer is different from that of a normal person due to abnormality caused by the psychopathic traits. The social factors also play a crucial role in the creation and emergence of serial killers. Some of the serial killers endured childhood abuse, while others faced normal childhoods. The lack of moral sensibility is a challenge that most psychopaths possess. The challenge results in serial killers facing difficulties in following rules.
According to another report released by FBI, 67 percent of serial killers come from the US, which strongly supports the “blank-slate” theory that serial killing is both a monster culture and a learned culture (Wiest 335). The potential serial killer first thinks about killing deeply, before being obsessed with a killing behavior and eventual committing the act. Even the famous fictional plays like Hannibal Lecter’s fictional plays depict both sides of nurture and nature even when describing the most monstrous killings (Picart 173). Lecter’s fiction incorporates both animal tortures in childhood and a series of traumatic experiences in childhood.
In essence, Dexter managed to modify his biological instincts though he was “born bad,” later becoming a “pro-social psychopath.” Psychopathy was usually considered as incurable because biological determinism views the human brain as an immutable organ. The parole boards also pay attention to people who have been diagnosed with psychopathic conditions in the past because they rarely respond to conventional therapy and they are likely to commit the same crimes even after serving their prison terms (Hodgkinson 288). Based on neuroplasticity theories, several neuro-pharmacological medications are being developed to correct psychopathic brain patterns.
Experts at “Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center” in Wisconsin have performed extensive research on advanced neural treatments that can help the rewire the brains of children portraying extreme psychopathic and violent traits. Psychopathic children subjected to the treatment have dramatically recorded lowered rates of recidivism (James 1137). The treatment focuses more on “retraining the neural reward centers” by overemphasizing on positive reinforcement. The extensive exploration of serial killers shows that even crime fiction has played an integral role in unearthing the complexities associated with psychopathic minds. The mind of serial killers have been explored for hundreds of years by crime fiction, but it is now crucial for neuroscientists to explore the interplay between nurture and nature.
The transition to a serial killer is one that takes time and is different in most psychopaths. The first step towards becoming a serial killer is killing or undertaking an action that leads to the death of another person. The first death presents some level of fulfilment that pushes the serial killers to desire the same process repeatedly. The development into a full-blown serial killer emerges once one becomes an established killer, who is able to murder people without hesitation.
Overall, the number of serial killers has been increasing in the recent decades. The popularity of serial killing as a culture in the western nations is alarming. The different researches and studies on serial killers have been effective in helping the public gain more information about these people. One of the challenges that the global society faces is the ability of psychopaths blending in with other people. Serial killers that can achieve this objective make it difficult for authorities to discover their heinous acts. The increased access to resources is another factor that makes it difficult for the identification and arrest of serial killers. The relation between serial killers and monsters emerge from their interest in causing other people harm and the lack of remorse in their actions.
- James, Veronyka, and Jennifer Gossett. “Of Monsters and Men: Exploring Serial Murderers’ Discourses of Neutralization.” Deviant Behavior9 (2018): 1120-1139.
This article explores how serial killers employ neutralization techniques to account for their unacceptable behavior and construct a new social identity. The authors point out that neutralization techniques provide a sophisticated process, through which serial murderers “shift” between the murderer and the traditional societal links. The article also reviews several case studies and narratives to examine the accounts of serial killers and their respective neutralization techniques. The article also explains that serial killers sometimes appear normal but continue with their killing sprees. This article helps me to understand how serial killers manage to mitigate the stigma associated with committing murder to create a robust positive representation of one as one continues with the offenses.
- Hodgkinson, Sarah, Herschel Prins, and Joshua Stuart-Bennett. “Monsters, madmen… and myths: A critical review of the serial killing literature.” Aggression and violent behavior34 (2017): 282-289.
This article expounds the academic literature on the topic to correct the long-term media and public fascination with contemporary serial killing. The authors poke holes on the individualistic biographic records that have dominated the word of serial killing that mostly focus on a distorted or reductionist stereotype of the offender. The accounts provide limited opportunity for learning from the past. This article provides me with an opportunity to analyze and understand serial killers from various social-cultural contexts. The article also provides new insights into the true identity of a serial killer rather than just relying on the social constructs provided by FBI.
- Picart, Caroline Joan Kay S. “Media Myths Regarding Serial Killers: A Gothic Criminology.” The Poetics of Crime: Understanding and Researching Crime and Deviance Through Creative Sources(2016): 173.
This book explores the interactions that exist between the nature of criminality and the construction of crime by focusing mostly on the growth of media accounts and the nature of criminality from the viewpoint of Gothic tropes. The article explores the acts and the behaviors of several serial killers in history including Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, and Frankensteinian monster. This article will help me to better understand how the news media employ monstrous metaphors to depict the identity of a serial killer. The Gothic criminology strategy involves using Gothic imagery and metaphor to describe criminal activities. The authors observe that most of the media myths and illustrations of a serial killer are nothing but fiction.
- Wiest, Julie B. “Casting cultural monsters: Representations of serial killers in the US and UK news media.” Howard Journal of Communications4 (2016): 327-346.
This article explores how the news media represent serial murderers in Britain and the US. This article will help me to understand how the media portrays serial murderer as a celebrity and monster. The article also provides crucial insights into the cultural meanings augmented in the portrayal of serial killers. The theoretical arguments presented by the researchers and the extensive qualitative assessment of news articles published in Britain and the US uncover the broader cultural connections to serial killing. Based on cultural beliefs and values, the article also discusses the meanings and the implications of the shared representations.