As a culture, we are fascinated by serial killers. A string of serial murders pulls column inches like nothing else, and it's no mere coincidence that The Silence of the Lambs was one of the very first horror movies to truly sweep awards across the board.
America's sweetheart Jodie Foster in tandem with not one, but two, terrifying serial killers was, quite literally, a killer combination.
We know that serial killers are ubiquitously intriguing to the public, creating box office gold and fueling nightmares the world over. The question is... WHY?
Here are 5 theories as to why we're so ghoulishly fascinated with serial killers...
1. Survival Instinct
We're genetically wired to assess and avoid threats to our safety. It therefore makes logical sense that we want to be aware of the nature, probability and frequency of an attack by an apex predator such as a serial killer. Ultimately, this is the dictum "Know Thine Enemy": we perceive our lives to be safer when equipped with the knowledge to protect ourselves.
2. Emotional Release
Part of our 'fight or flight' instinct creates a rush of adrenaline when confronted with something that frightens us. This feeling can be a thrill, creating a form of addiction - everyone knows someone who is 'obsessed' or 'addicted' to horror movies.
This is a similar concept to the ancient Greek idea of Catharsis - a purging of emotion through culture, flooding us with fear or pity so that we can release these feelings in a safe environment.
Statistically, you are 12 times more likely to be killed by a member of your own family than a serial killer - according to the FBI - and many hundreds of times more likely to be killed by something else. Car accidents, heart disease, chronic pneumonia... there are so many scary things in the world that present real threats to our safety. Perversely, focusing on something utterly horrible, but ultimately very, very unlikely to happen, can actually make us feel safer.
4. Scapegoating Society's Ills
If there's one thing we can agree on, it's that people can never agree on anything. For this reason, it's somehow comforting to have a Universal Evil we can all hate together: 99% of people MUST agree that serial killers are terrible, horrifying, reprehensible. In uniting in our hatred of a serial killer or a vilified figure, we feel closer as a society and, importantly, in a separate, morally better category than those evildoers.
5. Fear of the Unknown
Part of what makes us human is our ability to empathize with others. This creates a bifurcated effect in regard to our conceptualization of serial killers. Firstly, we try to empathize with them, but find it nigh impossible to understand their impulses. Secondly, we know that serial killers do NOT extend the same empathy to us as we do to them: they are lacking in the most basic human quality, making them endlessly fascinating to our innate curiosity. They are the puzzle that, try as we may, we just cannot solve.