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Thread: SERIALITY And----Vicarious Solutions to Social Problems

  1. #1 SERIALITY And----Vicarious Solutions to Social Problems 
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    Part 1:

    Between 1983 and 1985 serial murder became one of the most intensely debated issues in the US media, both in serious news outlets and in popular culture. The result was a general panic in the USA in relation to serial killers. At the time I was living in a remote backwater of Australia, in the small town of Katherine, 3 hours by car south of Darwin, about as far as possible from this American social panic and still be on the surface of the Earth.

    Part of the essence of serial crime was, and still is, that the offender has a cooling-off period between acts, a chance to stop and think, and yet returns to commit evil once again. Augmenting the horror of the individual crimes are the attributes of delay, repeated premeditation, and compulsivity. Though the killer cools down between crimes, he never really has the option of desisting. I use the pronoun he intentionally because in addition to the fact of repetition, the serial concept also contains a whole demographic profile for both offenders and victims, a package of ideas that could back then ultimately be traced to the FBI's Behavioural Science Unit, the BSU.

    Part 2:

    As a student and then a teacher of behavioural studies from the 1960s to the 2000s I came to take an interest in this subject after I retired from a 40 year working life in 1999. But in the early 1980s, I was working some 60 to 70 hours a week as an adult educator. I was a father of three and a husband in addition to having many community responsibilities as the secretary of the local Baha’i community. I did not keep abreast of the events in the media at the time. I knew nothing about serial killers, although I could have told you a little about the famous Jack-the-Ripper. These killers were viewed as predators, metaphorically as wolves, preying on weaker human beings. These victims were the "silent lambs" commemorated in Thomas Harris' celebrated book, and the even more influential 1991 film: Hannibal Lector.

    The popular magazine Psychology Today asserted that "in an increasingly large number of stranger homicides, the killer seems driven to murder not by some rational reason but by a serious psychological disorder.” A whole new officially-inspired mythology of the serial murder came to emphasize that the monstrous behavior was distinctive to a time and place, that it had never really occurred before the late 1970s, and that it was extremely rare outside the United States.

    Part 3:

    In reality, though, multiple homicides have been the prerogative of no particular society; serial murder has always existed in the United States, and has often been the subject of extensive writing and debate. It is also a highly infrequent phenomenon, accounting for only one or two per cent of all homicides—nothing like a quarter as the popular mythology was telling the media when I was living in the Australian outback.

    From the late 1970s moralist campaigns emphasized threats to children and women. They were presented as the victims of lascivious hedonistic males who pursued an anything goes hedonism to an unacceptable logical conclusion. Hedonistic America had become a society of wolves and lambs: such was the popular view. By about 1984, American media and popular culture were more dominated by scare stories about lethal dangerous outsiders than perhaps at any other time in the nation's history. Serial killers joined drug-lords, molesters and Satanists in the popular demonology.

    By the first decade of the third millennium I had retired from the world of jobs. I have watched many a who-dun-it in the years 2000 to 2012; serial killers have been all the rage. For an extended analysis of the compulsive and addictive, obsessional and driven, irrational and rootless, lustful and violent, individual, sexual, and repetitive aspects of serial killers go to Philip Jenkins, “Catch Me Before I Kill More: Seriality as Modern Monstrosity,” Cultural Analysis, Volume 3, 2002.

    The opposite of serial killing is control
    in self and society. The more luridly &
    improbably we portray serial murder,
    rape, or molestation, the more we are
    exalting the need for control, restraint,
    and authority. Packages of ideas about
    serial killings are deeply conservative, &
    we are given lots of law-order messages.

    A serial killer is a monster, a word that
    in its origins suggests not just something
    that is threatening, but a something to put
    on display; & observers are meant to draw
    negative messages---that the times are evil
    and that we suffer from supernatural forces
    or, in secular terms, something has gone very
    wrong with our society. A monster warns us
    that we must set things right and the exact
    nature of the monstrosity is a lesson in how
    we must rectify behavior. We must be what
    the monster is not. If monsters exemplify a
    seriality we must exercise choice & control.
    We must respect those forces when they are
    imposed upon us. Concern for serial killers
    peaked between about 1983 and 1994.......

    Since then scholars have paid less attention
    to this phenomenon, this uniquely perverse
    culture of celebrity. But outside the scholarly
    work devoted to this issue....the shrewdest
    comments are to be found in Oliver Stone's
    1994 film Natural Born Killers----in which
    serial murder becomes a symbol of a moral
    pollution. Stone gave us his fictional pair of
    killers: Micky and Mallory and our fascination
    indicated the extent to which a vulgar popular
    culture had saturated American life-----at once

    ....shaping the deeds of those violently perverted,
    while also simultaneously preventing masses of
    the population from viewing these acts only as a
    form of entertainment. And media irresponsibility
    produced memorable images of young aficionados
    comparing the current superstars with the demigods
    from yesteryear. Only Charles Manson, it seems, had
    anything like the charisma of Micky and Mallory.......

    They were "way cooler." In this context, recall the claim
    made by investigator Robert Ressler who argued that he
    coined the term serial murder about 1976 on the analogy
    of the movie "serials" he had enjoyed as a child, dramatic
    stories of crime and pursuit. I believe his claim is incorrect,
    since the term does appear before his time, but his idea is
    fascinating because it locates the origin of a serial murder.

    The irony of all this is that the popular construction of
    serial murder has involved the characteristics that are
    identified as building blocks of the mythology of this
    seriality itself. As we see the constant creation and the
    recycling of media accounts, the proliferation of texts
    and images, above all the endless repetition of claims,
    it is difficult not to describe this process as compulsive,
    irresistible, obsessive, and lacking any natural ending.
    To be repeated again on another who-dun-it for the
    prurient interest and entertainment of the masses who
    vicariously solve the problems of society on television.

    Stereotypically, seriality in its worst sense, no matter how
    parlous the offenses described, is always presented in terms
    of prurient sexuality, of the vulnerability of lovely victims.

    Ron Price
    29/5/’12 to 14/1/'13.


    Last edited by RonPrice; January 13th, 2013 at 11:43 PM. Reason: to add some words
    married for 37 years; teacher for 30; living in Australia for 33 years; Baha'i for 45 years. Writer of poetry for 25 years.
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  3. #2  
    Time Lord
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    So, your theory is that serial killers are used as a justification to increase law enforcement? It seems like that's what you're saying, by pointing out that they account for a very very small amount of actual crime, but they're emphasized quite a lot in the public mind.

    Do you think terrorism is being used in a similar way? Clearly the odds of being involved in a terror attack are very small as well.


    Some clocks are only right twice a day, but they are still right when they are right.
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  4. #3 Belated Apologies 
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    Belated thanks for your response....goodness it has been 8 months since I was last here. I enjoyed reading your post; the world of the criminal is a highly complex one. I think I'll leave further analysis for now.-Ron
    married for 37 years; teacher for 30; living in Australia for 33 years; Baha'i for 45 years. Writer of poetry for 25 years.
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