“If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you” – Friedrich Nietzsche
It is a supreme contradiction that the group of people who, by all rights, shouldn’t be loved are absolutely mesmerising to the media, personality profilers and the general public. Serial killers may be the closest a human ever gets to ultimate evil; killing time and time again without any meaningful reason. But yet, this apparent absolutely incomprehensible behaviour may explain the boarder-line love of serial killers. What is it inside these men and women which makes them act in this way without a second glance? In this article, I will look at examples of fictional serial killers who have become hugely popular, as well as the various reasons for our love toward them.
Defining Death Dealers
But first, a definition of what constitutes a serial killer needs to be in order. Professor of Criminology, Scott Bonn defines serial killing as the ability to murder at least three victims at different times and places with, crucially, a “cooling-off” period between each murder. This cooling-off period is simply defined as the phase of the killer returning to normality. His/her urge to kill has been satisfied; for now.
A great difficulty in trying to understand the love for serial killers is common-sense; why do you love something which is bad? Shouldn’t we hate these people for their antisocial behaviour? Indeed, in a 2011 study conducted at the University of British Columbia, psychologist Kiley Hamlin found that 8 month year old infants preferred animal hand puppets who helped other puppets, over puppets who hindered other puppets.
However, what was really striking about this study was what happened next. After the previous exchange between puppets, the helpful or hindering puppet was playing with a ball which they dropped. Another animal hand puppet came along and either gave the ball back to the first puppet, or took the ball from them. Interestingly, the children preferred the puppet who took the ball from the bad puppet.
This striking experiment has been flaunted as evidence that at an incredibly young age, people have a deeply ingrained sense of right and wrong. Furthermore, people also quickly develop a preference for social justice; they approve of evil getting squashed and the bad guys getting their just desserts.
But yet, in one of the greatest movies of our time, this innate feeling was turned on its head. The Dark Knight – aside from being a zeitgeist film of the brooding, weakness-strewn modern hero – was rightfully famous for including a spell-biding rendition of the insane mass-murder/serial killer The Joker, played to perfection by the late Heath Ledger. If humans have this need for justice and villains getting punished, why did The Joker gain such popularity in the movie? Why did people prefer, indeed remember him over the boring Batman and why, after all the lives lost, did it feel like an anti-climax when he got caught?