Why are we interested in serial killers, mass murderers, and notorious thugs in the same light that we wonder what Kim Kardashian has been up to? In the past I have watched episodes of Kardashian’s show Keeping Up With The Kardashians on occasion. Now. I didn’t find them fascinating or iconic or even hard working. Nay. I was more interested in trying to understand exactly why Jane Doe next door looks at Khloe Kardashian and thinks “yes. I need to let everyone know what I’m doing at all times so I can appear as glamorous.” Watching the Real World is not watching the real world.
I am done talking about the Kardashians.
I had to discuss this because I watch reality television based on my fascination with people who are absorbed by reality television on a level of empathy towards its cast and characters.
I have a less conceptual obsession with serial killers, mass murderers, and notorious thugs. I have come to the assumption that they do things that are so horrendously counter-culture, we as a people need to know why. Bigger than the anything in the news recently has been the man in Miami who allegedly chewed off the face of a homeless man. I would give a link to one of the many articles on it, but I know you’ve read/heard about it. It is the only thing people are discussing. (and it’s an election year!!!)
There are many celebrity killers. John Wayne Gacy, the Unabomber (Theodore Kacynski), Jack the Ripper, The Zodiac Killer, Albert Fish, and of course, Charles Manson and the Family, and, of course, Jeffrey Dahmer. (for Zita’s blog on the John Wayne Gacy book go here) To a lot of people Jeffrey Dahmer is THE serial killer. Why wouldn’t you be interested in him? If you’re a rubber necker, which most serial killer enthusiasts are, you just turned to see the most gruesome wreck. Dahmer would perform brain surgery on his victims while they were still alive in an attempt to make them zombie slaves. Dahmer was a cannibal. Why would anyone do these awful things? That is what makes him a celebrity. How could a member of OUR culture become this sinister? That is what is interesting.
Derf Backderf is an alternative cartoonist who grew up with Jeffrey Dahmer. He has been steadily writing a graphic novel about his time with Dahmer since Dahmer’s death in 1994. My Friend Dahmer was originally published as a 24 page comic book in 2002. In March, Backderf released a 226 page graphic novel under the same name. He doesn’t give the reader all the gory details of the murders. He focuses on Dahmer’s high school experience, and how it shaped him into the iconic serial killer that he is. I have not read many graphic novels, but I enjoyed this one for its art and its interest in how a killer becomes a killer.
For more cultural writings on the subject, read Chapter 15 of Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs entitled This is Zodiac Speaking.
Below is Sonic Youth’s classic Death Valley ’69 from 1985’s Bad Moon Rising about Charles Manson and the Family.