Why Do We ❤️ SERIAL KILLERS!?

Press Start for “Why Do We ❤️ SERIAL KILLERS!?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, concepts, and more. In this episode, we reflect on the question of SERIAL KILLERS – specifically why we are so fascinated by such evil and horrible criminals.

Written by: Tom Head
Directed by: Alec Opperman
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Edited by: Mark Potts
Animations by: Dean Bottino
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Produced by: Jacob Salamon

Why Do We ❤️ SERIAL KILLERS!?

Have you heard the news, dear viewer? It’s horrible—they just caught the Killer Clown of Charlotte and found the bones of 47 people buried under his bungalow.And it seems he didn’t just strangle his victims, as the early cases suggested. He had moved on to feasting on their bodies.

It won’t be long before someone sets up an online repository of information on the Killer Clown’s victims. 911 calls, crime scene photos, and the original FBI profile. Well, that’s going to be a few hours of browsing, but maybe you want to watch a few dozen interviews with former friends and family members first.

If you’re amazed by people’s Netflix-fueled obsession with murderers consider the centuries old case of William Corder. After he murdered his lover Maria Marten in 1827, the subsequent trial captivated the British press so thoroughly that people bought and sold pieces of the Corder’s body after he was executed. And you thought Craigslist was weird. What makes people fascinated by something so horrible?

One historian argues that our fixation on notorious killers is a way of getting close to our mortal fear without the inconvenience of actually experiencing it. Just as skydiving provides us with a relatively safe way to plummet 18,000 feet to the ground, wrapping ourselves up in the mythology surrounding a notorious murderer gives us a relatively safe way to experience the depths of human depravity that we secretly crave. Serial killers and other murderers appeal to this impulse Stephen King calls “feeding the alligators,” Carl Jung called “integration of the shadow self,” but it all means the same thing: that entertaining our own dark side can be therapeutic.

This isn’t isn’t anything new. More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle wondered why his fellow Greeks were drawn to tragic plays about things like murdering your father and falling in love with your mother.He came to the conclusion that experiencing dark emotions like fear and disgust from a comfortable distance can help us scrub them away. He called this process catharsis, from the Greek word for “cleansing.” According to Aristotle, experiencing negative emotions on purpose can make us braver by purging them from our system. Could all of this morbid interest be a normal, healthy expression of what it means to be human?

Or does our fascination with serial killers have more sinister roots? Do we find serial killers fascinating because we share an urge to conquer and dominate rooted in human nature? German philosopher Theodor Adorno argued that the fear of the unknown inherent in all of us drives the dark impulse of domination.

Medieval maps imagined dragons lurking outside the lines because the things we don’t understand terrify us even more than the things we do. The unknown makes us anxious about what could be out there, dragons or otherwise.This fear drives us to dominate nature, its unpredictability is far too worrisome. When we’re done with nature, we begin dominating each other. By dominating everything around us, we conquer it, domesticate it, and make it safe for us. Putting a notorious killer’s jawbone on display in our living room, like a hunter who mounts a bear head on the wall,—shows that we’ve conquered the terrifying indifference of nature.

As political historian Karsten Fischer has pointed out, the typical trajectory of a serial killer’s life seems to mirror Western culture’s trajectory towards domination, much like Adorno described. For instance, Western civilization used its talents for domesticating animals to later enslave their fellow humans. Similarly, serial killers first torture and mutilate animals, and then they move on to human beings. When asked why they kill, serial killers will often say that they enjoy the sense of dominance it gives them over their victims. While they’re certainly no role models, maybe we can relate in some limited way. After all, we often enjoy the sense of dominance we have over nature and other human beings. Do serial killers give us a way of vicariously extending that sense of dominance into morally unacceptable realms?

What do you think, dear viewer? Is our cultural fascination with serial killers just an ordinary, healthy way of exorcising the demons of our own negative emotions? Or are we drawn to them because we know we’re lurking in the shadows ourselves?

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