Serial Killer vs Media. Sounds like a promoters dream fight. Instead it is a proposed question: Do Serial Killers Have An Impact On The Media? This may need restructuring. Seeing it in writing brings to mind an equation rather than a question. This paper will attempt to explore where impact is really taking place in this equation.
Before we can discuss the serial killer we must first have a definition for him or her. The terms serial killer, spree killer and mass murderer are often thought to mean the same thing. Criminologists distinguish between the three as follows:
· A serial killer commits a number of murders over a long period of time, with the killings separated by long periods of apparent normalcy.
· A mass murderer kills several people in a single event.
· A spree killer commits multiple-murders in different locations over a period of time ranging from a few hours to several days. The thing that distinguishes a spree killer from a serial killer is that while the serial killer will return to normal activity between killings, the spree killer will not (Anonymous c, 2005).
For the purposes of this paper, while discussing serial killers specifically, the information contained here might just as easily apply to any of the killers above or any crime, act or event considered to be horrific in nature. It is also important to note that serial killers are not a new phenomenon in so called civilized societies. They are not something created by industrialization or advancing technology, but something more readily revealed through industrialization and advancing technology. There are recorded accounts of serial killers in the fifteenth century, such as Gilles de Rais (Gribbon, 2005). Looking further back into history, using today’s definition of serial killer, it is likely many more serial killers would be discovered, where records could be analyzed.
Serial killers, to know them is to love them? So it would seem in terms of the media. Once a new serial killer leaps onto the scene with all his or her grizzly artistry, the names are burned into our brains by the media. There is intense coverage and sensationalization of their crimes. Do you remember their names? Gacy, Dahmer, Bundy, Son Of Sam, The Boston Strangler and the ever popular Jack The Ripper take billing right up there with the Beatles, Pearl Jam, Pink and Good Charlotte as cultural icons. The serial killer is part of popular culture. Who hasn’t heard of Jack The Ripper, The Zodiac Killer or The Boston Strangler? They achieve their place in the annals of history’s infamous because the average person is so horrified by what they hear, read or see about them that they must be classified as “freak.” People do not want to believe that the “guy or girl next door” might not be what they seem. But, just as with a traffic accident, we can’t seem to look away.
According to various law enforcement sources, there are a number of serial killers (50 or more) active within the borders of the United States and in other countries at any given moment in time. These killers, however, sometimes become the intense focus of specific communities or nations due to some of the sensational acts committed against their victims. Many of these serial killers are given nicknames by the media that reflect some element of their killing method or style. Some of these nick names, like Jack the Ripper, evoke a mental picture of the killer in action. Other nicknames are associated with the locale in which they conduct their activities, such as The Boston Strangler. This “naming” further serves to “glorify” and promote the killer in the media and heighten the fear he or she so anxiously wishes to create in the community. There have been many movies produced over the years about “sensational” serial killers (Anonymous a, No Date), some of which are fictional and some that are at least based in fact, if not factual as a whole. An array of television shows have been developed around the idea of the larger than life profiler who stalks these monsters and has an almost supernatural gift for getting inside the killer’s head. The media sensationalizes the crime, the criminal and those who pursue them using literary license to create a story that someone will want to read. Facts? Oh, there are a few in there and if you read it really closely, you will see that the embellishments were conducted in a perfectly “legal” way. Serial killers aside, the media has a propensity toward embellishment. The idea is to shock, surprise, intrigue or otherwise entice the reader or watcher (Gerlach, 2003). This is not simply the author’s opinion. There are many members of the general public who feel the media sensationalizes topics for the sake of ratings rather than truth in reporting (Anonymous b, 2005; Hower, 2005; Beyer, 2005).
But how does all this fame come to fruition? Why all the attention? The serial killer and the profiler are celebrities in today’s society. The more sensational the case, the more coverage it receives (O’Connor, 2005). Even over time, the stories of serial killers past are brought back to “life” in the media (Bell, 2005). The modern day serial killer seeks out attention for his or her acts and the media obliges with as many gory details as they can surmise. The public has a fascination with that which is not “normal.” Just look at the popularity of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The initial sight of the two-headed dog may set us back, but we keep on looking. Humans are curious by nature. The media knows and feeds on this curiosity. The consumer or individual must take some responsibility for fostering and encouraging the media to pursue horrific stories. If circulation didn’t go up every time some heinous act was committed and reported, the media would be less likely to pursue such stories.
Today more than ever, there are newspapers, magazines, webzines, websites, radio and television space and time to fill. The media is in heavy competition and sensational stories sell (Kramer, 2004; Anonymous f, 2005). This is a capitalistic society and serial killers mean higher circulations, more hits, more traffic…big bucks. A search for the term serial killer on MSN returned 3,788,513 hits (Anonymous e, 2005). There is a significant amount of coverage out there in the form of programs, specials, articles and books on both specific serial killers and serial killers in general (Anonymous d, 2002).
All this being said, it would seem the easy answer is yes, serial killers have an impact on the media…they make them money. Yet, when one reverses the question, some troubling thoughts come to mind. Most serial killers are egotistical, desire attention, want people to know and understand that they are “all powerful.” Doesn’t the media feed this ego and even inflate it with sensational headlines such as “Green River Killer Outsmarts Police”? Given all the media coverage, articles, books, movies and websites devoted to serial killers there is a do it yourself library available for the serial killer wannabe (Anonymous c, 2005). In an era where the media has so much power to influence and so many people fail to think and just accept information provided by the media, isn’t there a risk that the media is helping to “create” more serial killers?
The only conclusion possible is that the relationship between the serial killer and the media is a two way street, a “mutual admiration society,” an arraignment where one “takes care” of the other. The serial killer impacts the media and the media impacts the serial killer. Together they impact society.
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Anonymous b, 2005) Sensational Media Antics and the Rave Culture http://www.neuroatomik.com/?p=475
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