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Why Are We Obsessed With Psychopaths?


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Psychopaths lie, manipulate and they kill. We’re unlikely to invite them into our homes and offer them a seat at the dinner table. Our families are unlikely to be jumping up and down and planning their wedding outfits if we announced our engagement to a Hannibal Lecter wannabe. We indulge in True Crime documentaries and the serial killer memes are rife on our social media timelines. Psychopaths are everywhere. They infiltrate every moment of our lives. Our demand for the psychopath’s story on our tv screens, bookshelves and group chats shows no signs of abating.

Psychologists have given our love for psychopaths a name. Hybistrophilia is a sexual interest in and attraction to those who commit crimes. On the streets, the term Hybistrophilia is sometimes referred to as ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome’. As I said, I like to think that most of us aren’t thinking about clearing space in the bathroom cabinet for our ‘lovable’ psychopath’s toothbrush and giving him the spare key to our homes, but we seem to find ourselves drawn to them.

When I’m not writing thrillers, I practice as a Criminal Defense Attorney. I’ve seen a lot of disturbing things in my legal career but what has always fascinated me is the fact that some of my clients, who may have committed the most horrific of crimes, always had a devoted and lovestruck partner by their side. Like many of you I recently watched Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, a Netflix docuseries about the serial killer, Richard Ramirez. I live in London and I’d never heard of Richard Ramirez until I pressed the play button. What I found most disturbing, after binging four hours of Night Stalker, wasn’t the fact that Ramirez was charged with thirteen counts of murder, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults and fourteen burglaries. I was disturbed by the court room scenes. I sat and watched as Ramirez’s adoring and star-struck fans occupied the seats of the public gallery and stood in front of the cameras and declared their love for him. In fact, one of these ‘fans’, Doreen Lioy, did declare her love for the serial killer Richard Ramirez and wrote to him for eleven years. I guess dedication counts for something, because dear reader, Lioy married Ramirez in San Quentin Prison. According to Lioy “They don’t know him the way that I do.

Could you imagine if your best friend told you that he or she was about to exchange vows with a serial killer? The last thing that I want I do is to get up and close and personal with a serial killer, however, I suspect that there may be some truth in what Lioy’s words. We don’t know them and it’s that unknowing that intrigues us. Why else would we add another serial killer documentary to our watchlist? We want to know what makes these psychopathic killers tick. What makes a man or woman decide to kill? How could someone go out and kill multiple people and then return back to their family home, make pancakes for their children’s breakfast and drive them to a school? It has to be more than just morbid curiosity.

I don’t think that we’re fascinated because we want to find an answer to the question of whether psychopaths are created by nature or nurture. We’re fascinated because these people are able to tap into and indulge in a part of their egos that the majority of us would happily leave in the shadows.

Psychopaths engage in socially irresponsible behavior and answer to no one. They have an inability to distinguish between right and wrong. It’s probably too simplistic to suggest that psychopaths are the heroes of their own stories. There’s no glamour or arc of redemption in the story of the psychopath. The end of the psychopath’s tale is inevitable: life imprisonment or premature death.

It’s probably too simplistic to suggest that psychopaths are the heroes of their own stories. There’s no glamour or arc of redemption in the story of the psychopath.

It could be that we secretly envy the psychopath. These people have removed the shackles of societal restrictions and they’re living life on their own ‘warped’ terms. I doubt that many of us would think that committing murder or lying and cheating our way through life is the perfect route to achieving eternal happiness. However, the actions of a psychopath force us to take a look at who we are and the limits that we place on ourselves. How many times have you stood in the shower, replayed an argument in your head and chastised yourself for not saying that one cutting remark or not telling your boss exactly what you thought of them? What would you do if there were no restrictions on your movements and the needle on your moral compass was broken? What would we do if we allowed ourselves to recognize our primal urges and enthusiastically worked on satisfying those urges? Would we find it fun? Would we bask in the warmth of spiritual zen because we’d acted on our own terms? I suspect that the majority of us know where to draw the line, but that doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about crossing it.

Our obsession with psychopaths will not dissipate. As much as we’re fascinated by them, I wouldn’t be surprised if our average psychopath is equally fascinated by us. Maybe they think that we’re both weak and abnormal. After all, we’re the ones who are devoting our free time to watching their factual and fictional stories. Maybe the psychopath feels that they’re in fact performing a public service as we continue to demand for just one more documentary and we tell Netflix that ‘yes’ we are still watching.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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