The Appeal of Violent Criminals – Free Ebook

You’ve had an argument with the children. Later, you’ll have to go to work and bite your tongue around your boss. Now, you’re in the bath, reading the newspaper. There’s a big story on the front page: a chef in California on becoming convinced that his wife was having an affair dismembered her and boiled her body parts for four days. Only a few bits of her skull were left, and it was from these fragments that she was later identified. Then, you read, that a couple living near Luton claiming to offer financial advice befriended and then poisoned a sequence of elderly clients. Another story informs you about a woman in Spain who stabbed her neighbor thirteen times. For months, the woman’s dog had been barking during the day while she was at work. She was a dental hygenist. The neighbor complained repeatedly left threatening notes had called the police on multiple occasions and once, kicked the dog in the street. From a distance it hardly makes sense at all that we should find these things a source of pleasure. Such stories deal with obviously horrible, horrendous things. But strangly it’s reasuring and (even though we don’t relish saying so) enjoyable to hear about them. We perhaps worry that by taking pleasure in reading of such stories we’re endorsing the crimes themselves. But the truth is we’re not actively egging on criminals; we’re not glad these things happened. On the contrary it’s the very fact that they’re so clearly wrong that generates our moments of satisfaction. One source of our pleasure is that in many ways, these people look so normal: the Californian chef reminds you of a cheeky boy in the classroom when you were a kid, the woman with a dog is like someone you just saw at the supermarket. We mostly enconter the edited versions of other people while we are continually exposed to the weirder unedited version of ourselves. The unfair comparison means we inevitably feel much stranger than we really are. There’s that odd sexual thing that excites you, or maybe you feel like crying when you get stuck in traffic, in groups you have the strange sense that everyone is normal except you, at work everyone feels the need to laugh at a remark which, in all honesty strikes you as entirely unamusing. This is where the criminals we see in the media come in. They redraw the scale of strangeness by being exposed as fifty times more strange they re-position our own, lonely peculiarities squarely back in the realm of the humdrum and the average. It has absolutely never ever crossed your mind to cook your partner. In the realm of poisoning and stabbing your neighbors you are a snow white innocent. This is surely one of the hidden reasons why middle age men turn in such numbers to reading books about Adolf Hitler. His catastrophic levels of insane, rage, delusion, destructiveness and cruelty make, pretty much, everyone else look quite lovely by comparison. One may have spent the evening drinking beer made three vaguely insulting remarks and omitted to brush one’s teeth before coming to bed. But, by the standards of Berchtesgaden you are revealed as really rather nice. It’s not like you haven’t had your share of challenges, you too have been deeply hurt by betrayal, you too have wished for easy money and luxury possessions, you too have had sour disputes with the neighbors. But by comparison you have reacted with grace. You felt furious suffered from envy and had periods of money worries. But you never did what those guys from the media did. You absorbed the pain rather than committed some horrific crime. And now, their villainy is pleasing because it reveals your quiet moral heroism.

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