I grew up watching crime shows like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Bones” and “Criminal Minds.” These shows helped shape my personality. It gave me a passion for history, forensic science and psychology.
I thought I was alone in feverishly googling H.H. Holmes and the Son of Sam, but I now see America has an obsession with killers.
First, we often misclass who is a serial killer and who is a mass murderer. The two are vastly different.
Mass murderers typically know their victims and have almost no “cooling off period,” as criminologists describe it. Serial killers often don’t know their victims and take time to calm down between each kill.
I understand the public allure of serial killers. Many of them have charming personalities like Ted Bundy, and give a glimpse into the more twisted perversions of the human mind like Richard Ramirez.
They haunt the very nature of horror stories, as infamous killers like Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer and Holmes influence our cheap thrills through recountings of their gory crimes, both in fiction and nonfiction.
Scott Bonn, a professor of criminology, is an expert on criminal behavior and criminal motivation.
“Real-life serial killers are transformed into larger-than-life celebrity monsters through the combined efforts of law enforcement authorities, and the news and entertainment media, that feed the public’s appetite for the macabre,” Bonn said in his recurring series about serial killers on psychologytoday.com.
The problem lies in the romanticization of the qualities which make killers so dangerous.
As Zac Efron prepares for the debut of his Ted Bundy movie and Penn Badgley basks in the success of the Netflix hit “You,” the internet is abuzz with desires of finding partners with the same disturbing qualities.
“@PennBadgley kidnap me pls,” Twitter user @MalikaPlays tweeted the star who was quick to respond with a no.
This is not the only tweet where Badgley had to remind his fans that his character, Joe Goldberg, is not someone to idolize or hope to be with.
“In many ways, serial killers are for adults what monster movies are for children, that is, scary fun,” Bonn said. “However, the pleasure an adult receives from watching serial killers can be difficult to admit, and may even trigger feelings of guilt. In fact, my research has revealed that many people refer to their fascination with serial killers as a guilty pleasure.”
We need to understand serial killers are not just scary stories to tell as we stay locked away in the coziness of our blankets and stuffed animals. They are dangerous, and we give them infamy as we incorporate their crimes into popular fiction like “American Horror Story” and crime shows.
Serial killers may bring out our strange desire for gore, but our fascination brings out the worst in them.