I saw a post somewhere today that wondered why we are so fascinated with serial killers, as a culture. It isn’t just on a cultural level, but many have groupies who rearrange their lives to be near the killers in whatever jail they are in. There are women who want to have their babies, etc. There is even a “philia” for the love of a serial killer, polycidophilia. And the fascination grows stronger all the time.
I believe that we are becoming more and more obsessed with these killers because as our society becomes more stress inducing and we become more primal and less civilized to survive in the jungle that the cities of the world have turned into, we become more violent. Society frowns on our just being violent for violence’s sake, so we become obsessed with those who do not care about what society thinks of their behavior. They become our outlet for our every wicked thought, need, desire.
We can look at what a serial killer has done in a removed, detached, and safe way on television or in the cinema. And most of us delude ourselves into thinking that we watch because we are appalled at what humans can do to each other. Only a few of us are brave enough or in touch with our inner monster enough to admit we are living vicariously through these deviants.
This is not to say that the sane, seemingly normal housewife in suburban America dreams of eviscerating some guy she picks up at a bar and lets take her back to his place. Or that a surgeon automatically wonders what it would be like to cut someone open without the excuse of surgery. Or that the butcher wonders about butchering a person. Or the chef is curious about human rump roast with potatoes and gravy.
What I mean is that if we are honest we are pretty pissed off with the world in general and often someone in particular. We have very few safe outlets for this anger. It gives us an outlet and a thrill to read a book, watch a television show or movie about someone who lives outside the societal norms of not killing, who instead kills, develops a taste for it and continues to kill, until they are locked away.
There is a part of every being that admires those who can live outside of the group or pack dynamic. Serial killers are our rogue lion, killer bear, lone wolf, or maverick horse. In the most forbidden corners of our minds they are strong, maybe even a little sexy, because they are different and can thrive outside of the group.
One of my favorite shows deals with a group of government agents who hunt down and catch a different serial killer every week and the more perverse the killer they are after the higher their weekly ratings. One of the characters on the show has stated that as a teenager he realized he had a fascination with serial killers. He let his fascination lead him to working to catch and stop serial killers, but he was aware that he could have gone the other way and become one. His character has even dealt with a teenage boy like him in many ways who was concerned that he was already killing and blocking it and if not he would kill, eventually.
I think many horror writers and mystery writers who use a serial killer for the terror device in their work, are tapping into a part of themselves that is capable of imagining the taboo. They are in effect tapping into their inner serial killer or monster or villain.
So my answer to the question would be we are fascinated with serial killers because they allow us for a little bit to tap into the part of us we keep hidden deep inside and let it live.