Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Is the Monster of the Twenty-First Century?-Part Four

Psychopaths and Other Killers

At first glance, the psychopathic killer would appear to be a good candidate for the monster of the twenty-first century, for he embodies to some degree the spirit of the age. In my previous posting, I tied the psychopathic killer or serial killer to the city, a place of loneliness, anxiety, and despair. (1) Jack the Ripper, H.H. Holmes, Peter K├╝rten (aka the "Vampire of D├╝sseldorf"), John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer are examples of the urban serial killer. There are also serial killers in small towns and rural areas. And as Jim Morrison sang, there are killers on the road. Large cities inhabited by masses of isolated and desperate people are the natural hunting ground for the killer, but the anonymity and ease of travel in the United States, moreover, the vastness and loneliness of this great continent, also suit him well. Will Rogers said that we are the first nation in history to go to the poorhouse in an automobile. There are those among us who have driven their cars to houses of horror.

The psychopathic killer is scary for sure, but he has some problems, and not just in the obvious ways. First, there aren't many of him (we hope). He is also alone and isolated, without followers and recruits. And for all the power he exercises upon his victims and all the terror he invokes in the general public, he is in essence weak. As evidence, he preys upon the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Psychopaths may hunt among us, but they are also hunted. Jack the Ripper presumably got away. In today's world, it is harder for a serial killer to escape, especially with the advanced technology we have for catching him, such as DNA evidence, surveillance video, cell phones, and crime databases. Not every serial killer is caught, but those that are usually end up being put to death by a far more powerful State. If a monster is a powerful and enduring creature on the edges of the imagination, the psychopath doesn't amount to much. After he is gone, life goes on, and within a couple of generations, his name is largely forgotten.

There are of course other kinds of killers. They, too, are monsters. The mass murderer is one example. The political terrorist is another. Kermit Gosnell ran his own house of horrors in Philadelphia. He represents another kind of monster, one that operates, perhaps significantly, by the apathy, acquiescence, and even outright support of large numbers of people. All these types of monsters embody the spirit of our times in one way or another. All give warning of some kind, which was the original meaning of the word monster. All are aberrant, though maybe not for much longer. None, however, resonates in the way that the monsters of the past resonate. In the end, they may be too ordinary, even banal, for there have been killers among us since the beginning of time.

To be continued . . .

(1) I have been using the terms psychopath, psychopathic killer, and serial killer pretty well interchangeably. That may not be entirely accurate, but you get the idea.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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