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We are so addicted to the thrill of the scare that we elevate the most heinous criminals to celebrity status. We love them and can’t get enough. These “celebrity monsters” are a universal guilty pleasure and there are definite reasons why.

According to Dr. Scott Bonn of Drew University, author of Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers, public fascination with serial killers, both real and fictional, has boomed since the 1970’s – and says as much about society as it does about the “celebrity monsters” themselves.

We don’t care whether the monster du jour is the real life Jeffrey Dahmer or the made up Hannibal Lecter, we want to watch them, read about them and talk about their gruesome exploits.  But why?

According to Bonn ( ), they appeal to us in five ways:

  1. They are rare, extreme, and arouse our curiosity. We are about 12 times more likely to be killed by a family member than a serial killer.  They are the great white sharks of murderers, a safe obsession.
  2. Anyone is a potential victim. The sheer randomness of their evil deeds compels us.  We generally don’t stroll through high-crime neighborhoods (given a choice), or play in traffic, but the idea that a monster might pop out of a doorway in broad daylight brings delicious shivers.  (Remember the scene in Hitchcock’s film, Frenzy, where the killer attacks the girl in his apartment and the camera backs out of the room, cutting to the sunny, bustling city street outside?  That senseless violence could happen anywhere, there’s the chill factor.)
  3. They are prolific and insatiable. Serial killers personify our notion of pure evil.  Some of us identify with their victims, savoring the terror.  Others identify with the killer protagonist, drawn to the dark appeal of living outside the bounds of civilized behavior – and getting away with it.
  4. They are inexplicable. It’s not the what, but the why of serial killers that mesmerizes us.  How did they get that way?  We crave the solution to their puzzle.  (Consider the film Red Dragon, with its disturbing flashbacks to the killer’s abuse at the hands of his crazy grandmother.  Who could blame the guy for butchering families?)
  5. They feed our addiction to the adrenalin rush. Even if we don’t walk those dangerous streets, many of us ride roller coasters, seek out haunted house tours and watch scary movies.  Have we become desensitized to violence?  Does it take more to frighten us?  The iconic film Silence of the Lambs featured both a killer who harvested women’s skin (Buffalo Bill, who may have been based in part on real-life killer Ed Gein, who kept a collection of female body parts) and a cannibal killer (Hannibal Lecter, who shared his dietary propensities with Jeffrey Dahmer, apprehended the same year as the film came out).  We don’t mind at all if the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, so long as the horrors keep on coming.

So go ahead and curl up with that creepy book or movie.

I have two for you to try, “Tell on You,” and “Shrink Rapt.” If that isn’t enough get your hands on “Member of the Family” about life as a member of the Manson Family and you will feel better about your own parents.

Don’t feel guilty about it. You’re not alone.  But leave the lights on, just in case.

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