Serial Killers: Fascination or Exploitation?

By Celine Grajo
February 21, 2017

Serial killers, as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are persons who have committed numerous murders on separate occasions with “common characteristics.” These details are painted on bylines and billboards, television screens and psychology books.  Museums are filled with murder memorabilia, their possessions seized and auctioned off. Killers are made famous, their faces played in advertisements, their voices on the radio, worldwide, at the expense and exploitation of victims and their families. What drives this curiosity toward serial killers, the psychology behind their actions, and the violence of their thoughts?

Scott Bonn Ph.D., Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University, studied this behavior and found many reasons as to why people react may react the way they do:

  1. Serial killers are a rare species. Their brutal tendencies and inhumanity make them irresistible to the curious mind. Dr. Bonn compares this to how some are enthralled by natural disasters and accidents.
  2. The realization that you are a potential victim. Serial killers strike in opportunities and personal attraction, a fact that leaves anyone vulnerable and uneasy.
  3. Serial killers kill frequently over many years. They are “insatiable” in their appetite for violence. The longer they are free, the longer we are at risk.
  4. With no rage or jealousy or clear intention, serials killers are influenced simply by inner complications. Our inability and desire to understand them draws us dangerously close.
  5. The addictive adrenaline of a roller coaster or a horror movie is similar to the result of watching or learning about serial killers.
  6. They act as a “conduit” for our most primal feelings such as anger, fear, and lust.

Dr. Bonn also suggests that serial killer documentaries “allow us to experience fear and horror in a controlled environment where the threat is exciting but not real.” While the threat is not real for us, viewers seem to detract from the actual victims in favor of their own experience and provoked emotions. This fascination with serial killers and true crime is no less than a repeated assault on victims, survivors, and their families. There is no shortage of violence in this world; let us not continue the cycle by forgetting where it starts.