Date: Tuesday, 1 March 2005, 3:04 p.m.
Serial Murder and the Celebrity Culture By Michael Goodspeed
Many people expected comedian Chris Rock to deliver a profanity-laced performance as host of the Oscars. Instead, Rock’s language never rose above a PG rating, surprising and occasionally boring most viewers. Despite the absence of foul language, the Oscars show was the most vulgar thing on television Sunday night.
Never mind that a competitive awards show for ART is a basically offensive concept (and to see how a true artist addresses this, consider Australian singer Nick Cave, who rejected his Grammy nomination in 1996). Never mind that dozens of emaciated actresses strutting down the red carpet, ribs and spines protruding through exposed backsides, have contributed mightily to the deaths of thousands of young women from anorexia and bulimia. And never mind that Oscar voters almost NEVER get it right (Finding Neverland a best picture nominee? Million Dollar Baby a best picture winner over The Aviator? Scorsese snubbed again? Yikes...)
The Oscars is vulgar, because idolatry is vulgar. And what could be more idolatrous than anointing false gods (i.e. "stars") for the world to worship?
In 21st century America, many people view celebrity as the highest and noblest achievement. The MTV generation seems willing to do anything for the briefest moment of notoriety. Young folks compete as contestants on reality TV shows, engaging in grotesque and self-abasing behavior – gorging on worms and maggots, walking on fire, and screwing their friends over with a win-at-all-costs attitude.
Attention seeking may be a motivating force behind some violent behavior. In the weeks leading up to the Columbine massacre, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris recorded home videos of themselves, speculating that Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would want to direct movies about their "achievement." Klebold stated: "Directors will be fighting over this story"..."I know we’re gonna have followers because we’re so #####ing God-like."
Even the so-called BTK killer expressed a desire for notoriety in the midst of his murder spree. In 1978, he wrote in a letter to a television news station: "How many people do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?"
In countless essays, I have pointed out an interesting and extremely disturbing fact about serial killers: 76% were born and raised in the United States – although the U.S. makes up only 3% of the world’s population. Source: (www.fortunecity.com/roswell/streiber/273/inf_stats.htm)
Serial murder is a relatively new phenomenon, with the first cases apparently emerging in Europe in the late 19th century (and currently, Europe is said to be home to 17% of the world’s serial killers). In the 20th century, the problem became largely endemic to the U.S., with the most notorious cases - Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, Ramirez, Berkowitz, Zodiac, and Green River – occurring after 1970.
Most experts agree that widely varied factors contribute to the CREATION of a serial killer (and it is only logical to conclude that they are CREATED, as they exist almost exclusively in Western culture). Virtually all agree that the popular culture plays at least some role, particularly in so-called copycat cases, where the killers seek to surpass the "fame" achieved by their predecessors. Edward W. Mitchell addressed this in his thesis, "The Aetiology of Serial Murder": "Public and media interest also serves to glorify the act of serial murder. Major films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer have kindled and maintained public fascination with serial murderers, and have sometimes portrayed offenders as pseudo-heroes, by placing an emphasis on their positive characteristics and portraying their criminality in grandiose terms. Serial killer trading cards (with a higher body-count 'trumping' a lower one) are now a collector’s item...irresponsible media interest in the serial murderer may be extremely dangerous.” (Source: http://forensic.to/webhome/venoutsos/Serial_Killer_Thesis.htm)
But this essay is not strictly about serial killers. The vast majority of us can retain our respective moral compasses, even under the heavy weight of pop culture influences. But in my opinion, serial murder is the most extreme manifestation of a pathology that affects millions of people in the Western world.
A common trait among serial killers is narcissism – or excessive involvement in the self. Many have described themselves as "outsiders" who began withdrawing inward as they entered adulthood. Without the ability to connect or empathize with their fellow humans, they create dark inner worlds, or "private movies" in which they are the stars. Ted Bundy told of his powerful fantasy life, even referring to himself as a "vampire" and God-like figure.
In the celebrity-obsessed culture, rampant narcissism is inevitable. When people are programmed to worship "false gods," they place less value on love, friendship, and service. They become disconnected and completely obsessed with their own desires and ambitions, seeking to emulate the grandiosity of these "false gods." In America, this has resulted in the proliferation of countless neuroses and psychoses that virtually did not exist a century ago, all of which stem from one basic pathology – the total involvement in self.
The ENRON CEOs may not have achieved a level of sociopathy comparable to Ted Bundy, but they were sociopaths nevertheless. They believed their own interests were more important than the interests of their fellow man. They thought they could find happiness in money, status, and external validation. They were victims of a culture that taught them to screw everyone on Earth but themselves.
Even people who are basically mentally sound are not immune to the effects of the celebrity culture. Most of us have wasted huge chunks of our lives trying to "be someone," believing that approval from others will win us happiness. Would we still do this if we were raised in a society that does not place such emphasis on ego-empowerment?
The celebrity culture has completely poisoned the media, with "reporters" ignoring stories of enormous import in favor of celebrity fluff and inane gossip. Can someone tell me why professional sports, Hollywood marriages, and celebrity criminal trials are items of national interest?
The greatest purveyors of perversion in America today are not Larry Flynt and Bob Guccione. They are Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and every other self-described "journalist" who promotes the destructive myth of celebrity.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Like it or not, in the cesspool of the celebrity culture, this is a challenge we are all being forced to meet.