The American Love for the Psychologically Disturbed Criminals: Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer

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That's right. We love serial killers! No, not Tony the Tiger, you Silly Rabbit. Actual killers! Throughout the past few decades, serial killers have emerged to become major acts on the public stage and in the media. The American obsession with psychologically disturbed criminals is not ideal, yet it is not completely wrong. These larger than life celebrities are put on a pedestal through law enforcement authorities, the news and media, along with the public's guilty pleasures.

The most famous or actually infamous serial killers are the stereotypical middle-class, middle-aged, white males. When serial killers are discussed, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer come into mind right away. People love to discuss these two. Bundy was known for killing beautiful, young women, after a devastating break up with his college girlfriend. His victims were thought to resemble his ex-girlfriend. Dahmer, on the other hand, murdered seventeen men, molesting them all. Dahmer's crimes also started just after his high school graduation. So why are the American people obsessed with these psychologically disturbed killers? Serial killers in a way act as an entertainment for adults. As children, many were entertained by monsters, and "scary" books and movies. The killers are a step above that, perfect for adult entertainment. This is definitely a guilty pleasure for adults, as this fascination is technically immoral. But, how immoral is it? The constant attention given to the serial killers by the media, the discussion on talk shows, and the millions of articles written on them surely make it hard to ignore them. And let's face it, it is more interesting than learning about almost all topics in high school. Who wants to learn about rocks when there are serial killers on the loose?

In the United States, "normal" crime occurs almost daily-throughout many cities. Crimes committed with the utilization of guns and knives are so prevalent that it is "old" news to the American citizens. Rachel Penman, exhibits and events manager at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment claims "I'm so immune to gun violence at this point...but get out a knife and start stabbing people, and I'm traumatized."(The Atlantic) Penman's opinion correlates with that of a vast amount of Americans. However, when there is a serial killer such as Bundy and Dahmer on the loose, the American eyes are fully awakened. Attentions of the citizens shift from the "regular" criminals to the deranged serial killers. Along with the news, television shows and movies involving serial killers are becoming quite the norm. Sawed off limbs, gouged out eyes, slashed throats, decapitation, cannibalism, blood splattering stabbings - just another day's work for TV's new favorite characters. These shows can be found on television daily. Viewers are able to watch their favorite character and then the next day go out and emulate him. The serial killers in shows such as Dexter are glorified as the "good guys". How are the American people supposed to find serial killers such as Dexter Morgan immoral when they are portrayed this way? As a fan of Dexter, I can confirm that he has killed at least 50 people on camera, and another 50 off-camera. The fact that serial killers deserve a spotlight would have shocked audiences some years ago, but now, it is very prevalent. To be sure, adding depth and nuance to a villain's character is not in and of itself a bad thing, in the same way that making the hero a human with human weaknesses is essential to good screenwriting. The problem is when the characterization sets up a moral equivalence between the killers and their victims or pursuers. This leads us to accept serial killers as the almost the 'norm', so admiring and obsessing over them does not seem immoral.

Serial killers have become such a big part of our pop culture, even songwriters reference them in songs. Rapper Juicy J, in a collaboration with Katy Perry gives a quick shout out to Jeffrey Dahmer. He raps "She'll eat your heart out/like Jeffrey Dahmer."Friendly reminder- Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994, 20 years before the release of the song.(The Atlantic) How is a serial killer that was dead twenty years ago successfully mentioned in a song? The thought of comparing (in Juicy J's case), a woman to Jeffrey Dahmer "eating your heart out" is acceptable in our society. There is no song lyric that compares a woman to Hitler, who is technically a serial killer as well. Therefore, some may argue that the obsession of the serial killers is completely unethical. Why be intrigued by someone that gets pleasure of killing innocent, harmless people? Being interested in the extreme is rather interesting. Likewise, serial killers are much different than the normal person and that can be fascinating. Even though their crimes can be terrifying, we're drawn to the tales. Another example is that drivers slow down to look at the scene of a car accident. Why? Most of us are interested for the same reason we slow down at the scene of an accident. Most of our obsession is just curiosity. We know so little about the crimes that we are drawn into the stories.(The Atlantic) Almost everybody knows about the Columbine shooting that occurred on April of 1999. The Columbine shooting received massive media coverage when it had occurred. The coverage did not end with the media. Schools across the country learned about the shooting in health class. Personally, I recall learning about the shooting when I was just in the eighth grade. Media coverage of the Columbine caused blame to fall on Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold. Sue, in her own article, wrote that she will always be seen as "the woman who raised a murderer." Yet, Sue insists that both her and her husband were both loving parents. (Washington Post) Americans have to recall that these are real situations, real people, and not for our entertainment. Sure, TV shows may be okay for entertainment; however, Sue's situation should not be intriguing and a "guilty pleasure". In certain cases, Americans should be more understanding towards the victims and their families, and take the responsibility of putting themselves in the victim's families situations. Even better so, they should put themselves in the victim's shoes. The obsession of serial killers is all fun and games until one finds you. We all are intrigued by the serial killer's disturbing ways of killing, but of course do not want it to happen to us.

Throughout history, America's obsession with serial killers has only gotten stronger and stronger. The question whether it is immoral has been asked over and over again. Yet, there is still an uncertainty about a clear answer. Due to the overwhelming media attention, the hundreds of television shows, and our natural curiosity, the answer is no in most cases. In some cases, the obsession does become immoral, as mentioned previously. So next time you get obsessed over a serial killer, feel a little guilty- but not too much. There are plenty of people in your shoes. Just blame it on the media...

Work Cited

  • Beck, Julie. The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
  • Klebold, Sue. "17 Years after Columbine, the Mother of One of the Killers Finally Tells Her
  • Story." Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.
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The American Love for the Psychologically Disturbed Criminals: Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. (2022, Dec 11). Retrieved September 25, 2023 , from

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