Criminals are the favorite and hottest topic for media any day. There are countless fictional TV shows about criminals from Dexter, the mentalist, law and order, CID to this is the Zodiac Speaking, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, crime patrol, and the list can go on and on. With all shows and documentaries’ ratings and viewership are skyrocketing. The media understands if it bleeds it leads. Not just in the entertainment section but news channels broadcast crime all day long.
So what is it about these killers that all of us find so fascinating?
The simplest answer is they are the ultimate human drama and terrifying stories. Since the beginning of time, humans always sought information that would help them survive. Information regarding the availability of survival and threats for survival hits us differently.
Criminologist DR. Scott Bonn says killers excite and dazzle people just like traffic accidents or natural disasters. They don’t want to look but can’t look away either. Watching such shows or reading about killers there is an adrenaline and endorphin rush in the system. They work for an adult-like monster movies work for children – scary but fun. The stories grip the audience offering them high stakes, danger, crime, mystery heroes, and victims. The rush from the fear is optioned in safe and non-dangerous surroundings.
According to Megan Boorsma, a draw towards true crime is because the focus seems to be on the threats to one’s wellbeing. Viewers take tips on how to increase their chances of survival. Studies have shown that women are more drawn towards crime than men. Probably reasons being identifying ways to protect themselves from predators. Dr S. Packer, a Psychologist calls watching, reading, or listening to true crime a dress rehearsal. There is also an opportunity to feel relief that you aren’t the victim.
A 1995 study revealed that thrill watchers enjoy the adrenaline rush from such content. Thrill watchers don’t identify with the killer nor the victim, are only captivated by the content.
Research revealed that many adults define their fascination with the crime genre as a guilty pleasure. The desire to see inside the mind of a killer can be a powerful attraction. We want to know the WHY he/she/they did what they did rather than the HOW. Kathrine Ramsland a forensic psychologist says –“It’s not really about the victims. It’s more about the puzzle—the interesting labyrinth of human emotions and human motives.”
The fascination stems from a curiosity about how one can perform such horrible acts to someone. A person who has been taught to socialize and possess emotions like love, shame, guilt, pity, and remorse cannot comprehend the workings of a pathological mind that compels them to do such hideous crimes. Knowing the back story or understanding what drove them to kill is just an attempt on our part to make sense of it all. The incompressibility of such acts is what drives us. Good vs. evil is a way to manage the incomprehensible, evil may not be understood but needs to be eliminated.
Such tragedies appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in us all – survival. Disregarding for life and the sufferings of others around us is what shakes our sense of humanity, questioning our safety and security.
All these attempts point in one direction which is in the end we try to humanize them. It is our simple attempt to create a boundary between good and evil. Some researchers go as far as calling a magnified and unleashed version of the person living inside all of us. A very provocative explanation states killers serve a social function where they indulge our most resentful fantasies without having to act them out.
The drive doesn’t just end with shows, documentaries, or news, video games also portrait the lure towards violence pushing it a step ahead. The cocktail of heightened cortisol, noradrenaline, and testosterone in the safety of your home is what drives you more towards violent games. The realistic thrill feeding your hardwired enjoyment of violence. Games like GTA, call of duty, Fortnite, etc. let you play roles of people who are frowned upon by society. They let you be the evil, be your relentless self in an imaginary world.