Ever since Netflix released the Ted Bundy documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”, everyone seems to have become obsessed with not just Ted Bundy, but other serial killers as well. Several YouTube videos and articles have begun to pop up with facts all about serial killers as well as some that focus on the lesser-known ones. And based on the views alone on some of these videos, people can’t get enough.
For many of us, the biggest question on our minds is, “when is the next video coming out about X killer? I want to know more about him/her.” Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that mentality, but have you ever stopped to wonder why we’re so fascinated by serial killers? Well, whether you’ve been wondering that for a while or it’s just now entered in your brain, we’ve sought out expert advice to explain this weird obsession. And before you start panicking, no there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you or your interest! It’s perfectly normal.
The birth of serial killers
Serial killers have been a part of our lives since arguably the dawn of time. Most were just headaches that the public only thought about when venturing out at night. In other words, the general public was only concerned with their safety; they could have cared less about the killer themselves. Sure, they wanted to know who the killer was, but they were less interested in why they did it. Of course now, curious onlookers want to know everything about the serial killers and can do so from the comforts of their own home by tuning into YouTube or plugging some keywords into Google.
The first serial killer in the world that we took note of was Herman Webster Mudget who was probably better known as Dr. Henry Holmes/H. H. Holmes. Holmes confessed to a shocking 27 murders in the United States but experts have only confirmed 9. Supposedly several of the victims that Holmes confessed to killing were also later found alive. However once Holmes was arrested, the public quickly forgot about him since it was safe to venture out once again.
2 short years later, Jack the Ripper emerged and started killing people in London. Although Jack the Ripper is one of the infamous and well known serial killers today, he was really only the subject of discussion in 1888 because nobody knew who he was and no one could seemingly figure it out. People were also afraid to go out during the night so the discussions were limited to safety concerns rather than what the killer’s favorite color and least favorite foods were.
The birth of our serial killer obsession
While it’s next to impossible to trace back to when the obsession started, experts estimate it began around the mid-1970s. During this time, serial killers became a main staple of our pop-culture. During this period, serial killers began to regularly appear on television and experts around the world began to dissect their motives. Why did they kill so many people? Why did they target a certain type? Can you predict serial killer moves? The world tuned in and we all became hooked.
In a way, the serial killers became celebrities. News crews followed them around, journalists wrote constantly about them, and anyone looking to add more views to their airtime actively discussed any and all things related to the murderer. A lot of what was discussed was of course speculation, but it nonetheless roped in viewers from around the world who tuned in while they ate their dinners.
People like John Wayne Gacy went from serial killer to large-than-life celebrity nearly overnight. People were fascinated by the man and were quick to devour anything that was put out regarding him and the case. Thanks to law enforcement officers as well as the entertainment media and even the evening news, programs were quickly feeding our growing appetites for all things macabre. And honestly, what’s more macabre than someone who’s murdering an overwhelming number of people for nothing more than the pleasure of it?
But why are we so obsessed with these dark celebrities?
The obsession is pretty easy to explain during the 1970s; not too much was really going on in the world and we weren’t as connected by the Internet. Since the Internet didn’t exist, people were incredibly limited with their news and content. You couldn’t get online and see what was going on in a different part of the world; you were limited to happenings in your own town and what the news decided that you needed to know about the rest of the world.
And when something “interesting” (i.e. macabre) happened, all of the news stations and newspapers swarmed to cover it extensively. Everyone was so inundated with the dark celebrities that they couldn’t get away from it even if they wanted to. Not that many did; it was one of the more interesting things that was happening in the world. And it also helped us feel connected to those in different states as well as different countries.
Some experts suggest that this obsession with serial killers could be for the same reasons that we rubberneck in traffic to get a better look at a catastrophic car accident: morbid curiosity. We’re drawn to this type of thing whether we like it or not. Just like it’s been buried deep within our subconscious to look at the wreck, our fascination with serial killers is also a part of who we are. So for better or for worse, we’re here for the long haul.
Scary stories for adults
Do you remember being a child and sneaking a scary movie in that your parents told you many times over was forbidden when they went to sleep? Do you remember the rush you felt when you picked up books like Goosebumps and shook with both fear and delight at the spooky parts? Well, in many ways serial killers have the same affect on adults that creepy movies and books have on children- it’s spooky fun!
As adults, we’re not as easily scared by creepy stories and monster movies; it takes a lot more to scare us. And even horror movies that are well done and actually invoke a jump or scream from us are quickly forgotten and laughed off. After all, the movie or book isn’t reality; it’s just a cheap thrill meant to entertain us. And once the credits roll, we’re back in our reality: safe and secure in the world where the ghosts and demons from the film don’t exist.
However, serial killers have a tendency to leave a much longer lasting mark on us. Even long after we’ve turned off the documentary we were watching regarding the serial killer of our choice, our muscles are still tight, our hearts are thumping, and we’re a bundle of nerves. That’s because these spooky stories are actually true and in the back of our minds, we know that any point in time we could become a victim.
However, this pleasure that’s derived from soaking up serial killer content is hard for adults to admit; nobody wants to come right out and say that they enjoy serial killers. After all, that just sounds morbid right? In other words, there’s a certain of guilt associated with this fascination. After all, the victims were very much so real and the emotions felt by their loved ones is also real; it’s not some fabricated Hollywood story meant to entertain.
Research suggests that many people describe their fascination with serial killers as a “guilty pleasure”. We’re hard wired to look at car accidents and other accidents; that’s why the news is full of them. “Bus carrying students crashes into 50 foot ravine” and everyone can’t help but click. There’s definitely a level of guilt associated with our morbid curiosity/fascination. So why the guilty feelings?
Well, it’s not something we’re supposed to be interested in. We’re not supposed to look at the wreck and we shouldn’t be engaged with the bus crash story but we are. It’s not like we want the people to be hurt, but we can’t help but look. The same applies to our love of serial killers. They hopelessly fascinate us even though we don’t want to be and the guilt arises from the fact that we’re interested in them despite all of their victims. It’s as if by entertaining the serial killer, we’re showing little to no regard for their victims and their families.
You can be interested in serial killers but still sympathize with their victims, but it’s easier to say that than it is to stop feeling guilty.
The average person can’t relate
The world of serial killers is strange to us; it’s like an alternate reality where everything is completely backwards and we simply can’t understand it. We’re born into a world where we’re conditioned to respect life and those around us. We also feel a variety of emotions that are considered to be the norm: shame, pity, love, and remorse. Because of this, we find it so hard to understand why someone would rape, kill, torture, abduct, or engage in these horrific acts. And as far as the necrophilia and cannibalism associated with many serial killers; this is about as foreign as it gets.
We can’t relate to the serial killer mind that sees no problem with taking an innocent life and do horrendous things to another living creature. This leads us to want to understand why and how their brain works. Like we mentioned, it’s such a foreign concept that we can’t help but be intrigued. How can they take someone’s life so brutally then sleep peacefully afterwards? And how in the hell can they murder so many people in such horrible fashions repeatedly?
Like we said, these are all foreign concepts to the average person and our brains are hard wired to try to understand it. And the best way to understand something is to do as much research as possible on it, right? Many researchers believe that our inability to relate and our need to understand why are some of the primary forces driving our obsession with serial killers.
Not to mention, this lack of humanity shocks us to the very core and it also makes us concerned for our own personal safety. If someone out there can murder and torture people, what’s to stop someone on the street from doing the same to us?
The public and its love for serial killers: a recap
In short, there are a number of interrelated reasons as to why we love serial killers. For starters, they’re a really rare occurrence; only 25 tend to operate at any given time within the United States and even then only a handful are actually deemed newsworthy. Because of this, their crimes seem heightened and over sensationalized and like a train wreck we can’t help but look.
The fact that they seemingly kill and pick their victims at random or based on personal attractions gives us a heightened sense of fear. This means that anyone can be a victim and the odds are ever increasing against us. Walking outside begins to feel a lot like stepping into the waters of a beach where sharks have been known to frequent and attack. And because serial killers are so good at what they do and are insatiable when it comes to brutality, our odds of becoming a victim are significantly increased.
Serial killers are driven by an inert need to commit inexplicable crimes and the majority of the public can’t relate/understand these strange inner workings. As we said earlier, it’s like a strange new reality in which everything is backwards. Thus, we’re helplessly drawn to the serial killer’s violence because it doesn’t make sense to us. It’s our brain’s way of trying to make sense out of something that it simply can’t understand.
Lastly, our fascination is like that of being drawn to horror movies as an adult: they give us quite the adrenaline rush. However, since these monsters are based in reality, the antes are upped so to speak and we’re given that childlike sense of fear. However, the fear doesn’t necessarily go away just because the program is over like it does with a horror movie. Instead, the fear tends to linger and present itself at random times like we’re out late or night or pass by a spooky alley.
What are your thoughts?
So what do you think of this piece? Does it make sense to you and are you more at peace with your love of serial killers? We also want to know if you’re just as enraptured by serial killers as the rest of the world or if you think they’re overrated. Did any of the reasons listed surprise you? We also want to take a moment to offer respects to the families of the victims. May they rest in peace and may the families find comfort.