Topic Selection Paper: America’s Obsession with Serial Killers – By Carlea Sundin

Topic Selection

            As I read the guidelines for this paper, one of the examples listed regarding serial killers stuck out at me. Uncovering America’s fascination with serial killers and the role they have within our culture would be a very interesting topic to examine in depth. The movies based off of them, documentaries, and even copycat killers who strive to be like them are abundant. Personally, I have always been intrigued with this morbid subject. While the stories are frightening and the motives that some of these killers have are truly disturbing, they are one of the prime genres of entertainment people watch on television. Why do we feel this way? Why would we, as humans, be interested in other humans who take lives? That is what I would be interested in exploring.

As for the television aspect of this topic, there are some interesting aspects to look into. In many ways, we glorify these human beings. Not only can you find documentaries about them, but even movies that portray the stories in a Hollywood fashion. What does that mean for the way we truly view them? I have my own personal example. I have watched numerous documentaries over Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. When I came across a made-for-TV movie one day that was an entire reenactment of his story, I was so excited to watch it. I would never find his actions justifiable, and the crimes he committed were horrendous, but I am so captivated by the story. Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, the Zodiac Killer, and many more are all cultural icons in many ways. It would be interesting to look into the influence these shows, movies, etc. have on our perception of what a serial killer is.

From the University of Buffalo’s website, I found an article by Patricia Donovan titled “Book Examines Celebrity and Serial Killers.” Donovan begins the article with a startling fact. On the website,, one can purchase a lock of Charles Manson’s hair to a bag of dirt from John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space. I find it astonishing that a website like this exists and that people want to keep such artifacts from infamous serial killers. This is another great example of how Americans glorify serial killers. Oftentimes, they are treated like celebrities. Accordingly, the point of Donovan’s article is to highlight a book written by Dr. David Schmid titled Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture. They become cultural icons as people spend their money buying books about them and spend their time watching any shows or movies based on them. From my own personal reflection and interest, I think this book would reveal so much about the role in American culture that they have. It is easy to blindly accept the entertainment factor and not account for what this fascination with such deadly people truly means.

The book points out several concepts that I find would be interesting to study more in depth. It delves deep into trying to make sense of what America’s preoccupation and use in culture of serial killers really means. One of the striking things about American serial killers is that they really are just another one of us. Is that why we are so intrigued? What values or fears embedded within our society do they exemplify?

The other aspect I listed above, copycat killers, would also be interesting to examine. What is it that makes people idolize and want to mimic horrific acts done by mentally disturbed people? I believe this also has something to do with the Celebrity-status that many achieve. There definitely can be many more underlying reasons, which would become more evident through looking at specific examples, readings, etc. Regardless, the fact that these exist within our world proves a point Schmid makes: serial killers are us. We live, eat, and breathe among them. One day they are an ordinary next-door neighbor, and the next they are on every news station and every headline being scrutinized for what they have done.

In the readings we have done over the first few weeks of the course, the articles have highlighted some ways of looking, ways of absorbing popular culture, and the different types of ideologies that people hold. These could all be applied to how Americans treat serial killers in popular culture, how they are viewed, and most of all, how they are portrayed. That last factor, the portrayal, is an important one. In many ways, it shapes our perception of who they are. 9780226738673_p0_v1_s260x420

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