How to make your obsession with psychopaths productive

Water cooler catch up time is getting progressively stranger.  The trend a couple of years ago when answering “so what did you get into last night?” was to say something like – “I watched a documentary about how they make the boxes that bonbons come in.” Odd, sure but harmlessly odd.

This year, however, is very quickly establishing itself as the year we normalize gushing over certified monsters. “You know, I was really freaking out about turning 24 next month but then I remembered Teddy Bundy didn’t commit his first murder till he was 27, so I have plenty of time to figure out what I want, you know what I mean?”

We’re not too far from the internet being hijacked by articles like “Top 5 things Jeffrey Dahmer taught us about meal preparation.” or “Which member of The Memphis Three Are You? Take our quiz now!”

I get the idea. It’s two-fold. On one hand,  it’s fascinating  for us non-murderers to get a peek into the kind of things that have to go wrong to lead someone to use a machete as often as the rest of us use the word “and.” The other side of it is a sort of perversion of the power fantasy. The same way Superman is a “you can’t make me eat broccoli” analog for little kids, “what if I just murdered Dave from accounting?” is a welcomed deviation from the pedestrian routine that clouds so many of our lives.

It doesn’t help that a lot of this stuff is marketed with that in mind. Making A Murderer could have been called “Christ, he ate that part too?! Why? Why would he do that? Dear lord.” but Making A Murderer sounds way cooler. Murderers are made. They have origins stories just like superheroes.

I mentioned Ted Bundy earlier because he’s the focal point of an upcoming biopic, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  In some ways, this is a poor example of the romanticizing-psychopaths phenomenon because “sinister charisma” was Bundy’s bread and butter; he was something of a severed heartthrob. But even still, the way our interest in the upcoming film has manifested is a little alarming. I found myself bopping my head to the trailer and when it ended I said out loud: “Man. Murder rules so hard!” (that’s on me to be fair).

It’s on all of us really. The criticism filmmakers are subjected to for making movies about real life villains seems a little unfair. Our interpretation aside, these people were and are compelling. The key may be to reboot what we’re supposed to take away from media that explores the psychosis of evil men and consider healthier alternatives to the feelings we habitually revel in when imbibing this stuff.

Sam Harris, neuroscientist and prolific member of The Four Horsemen, frequently implores us to consider empathy in the face evil.

A viable justification for enthusiastic repeat viewings of things like Making A Murderer, My Friend Dahmer, or Monster is allowing them to widen paths of empathy. Empathy for the sickness that plagues the individuals at their center and gratitude for the circumstances and brain that stand in between you and the same wicked impulses. You haven’t earned a pat on the back for correctly thinking of murder as an unthinkable thing, your biology does – however, you are not the author of it, nor do you have a say in the way you function as a result of it.

This doesn’t mean the actions of deranged individuals should go untreated or unpunished, but we could stand to allow these tragic moments to reinforce gratitude for the pure accident of birth that makes us so repulsed by them.

One of the victims of Ted Bundy’s madness is a woman named Kathy Kleiner. She survived his assault 40 years ago and recently spoke to TMZ about the release of the new film and the controversy surrounding it. She wants people to see the movie, but she urges they go in with the understanding that “he was not a normal man.” She hopes the glorifying portrayal is in service of teaching young women that not all sick men ramble about muttering to themselves in dirty housecoats.

“I think everyone should see it and understand him as what he was, even when he was the perfect son.” – Kathy Kleiner

Although I think by and large the implications of our “new” monster obsession are hyperbolized it might be a worthwhile exercise to make an effort to try and learn something from these ominous retellings. That’s true of all entertainment, really. Real or fictional; ask yourself, “what can I take away from this? I mean besides the appeasement of the morbid curiosities that live in all of us.”

Stop making coffee breaks so weird.