The Allure of the Serial Killer

In Sara Waller (ed.), Serial Killers and Philosophy. John Wiley (2010)
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What is it about serial killers that grips our imaginations? They populate some of our most important literature and art, and to this day, Jack the Ripper intrigues us. In this paper, we examine this phenomenon, exploring the idea that serial killers in part represent something in us that, if not good, is at least admirable. To get at this, we have to peel off layers of other causes of our attraction, for our attraction to serial killing is complex (it mixes with repulsion, too). For example, part of the attraction is curiosity associated with the pragmatic desire to understand serial killers. Another part is the allure of safe violence, the very same allure that causes us to slow down to look at traffic accidents and that makes movies like Saw box office gold. Once we are through the initial layers of attraction, we expose the one we are interested in. Humans are not really Homo sapiens (the wise human), but rather Homo oboediens (the rule‐following human), and these rules can become oppressive. Serial killers, properly sanitized, show us something, albeit in a twisted way, that we long for – a life unfettered by rules, a life where we can do exactly what we want. We close by noting the paradox that an actual serial killer is not free at all.

Author's Profile

Eric Dietrich
State University of New York at Binghamton


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