Ghoulishly following the joker-killer

In 1994, when O. J. Simpson led police on the famous white Bronco chase I was married.  My wife became obsessed with the case beginning with that mesmerizing white Bronco on an Los Angeles freeway.  For weeks, when she was not at work, my wife was lying on a couch in front of a television set, seemingly drugged by the constant coverage of the story.  She had a person history of violence, she, like Nicole Brown Simpson had been stabbed by an angry, jealous man.  The deep anxiety it caused her, was always  just below the surface; the anxiety broke through with Bronco.  I understood at an intellectual, but not at an emotional level, it did not resonant in any deep way with me.

However, there are events that have resonated with me at an emotional level, the initial fighting in Afghanistan for example; in the early days of the conflict I felt 21 years old again, like the soldier I had been at that age, I was ready and eager to join in the fray.  And there are other events that while they may not have exactly touched me at the same experiential level, still fascinated me and dominated my thinking, although normally not for very long.  My wife’s obsession with Simpson and her struggles with the resulting anxiety lasted a long time, all the way through the trial.  I have never been quite so captivated, still on occasion I have lost my sense of time, priority and proportion to some event.  The most recent times were the killings in Norway and in Colorado.  Strangely, others like the 1999 killings of high school students in Columbine or the army major who in 2009 killed 12 soldiers, held no special interest for me.  Of course I am not alone in my fascination with some horrific event, the world is fascinated by them.

Why?  Why do some events fascinate us?  I don’t know.  We often blame the media for giving something too much attention.  But in truth the media gives us what we want; if we don’t pay any attention, they lose advertisers and when they lose advertisers they change the subject.   However, the media does give us access to a unlimited and unprecedented amount of information.  In my pursuit of more and more details, commentary and speculation on the joker-killer in Colorado I can find hundreds of articles, videos and photos to satisfy my appetite.  Just a few years ago, say the 1980s and before, I could not have indulged myself the way I can today. That still does not explain why I am so fascinated with the Colorado story – that same amount of information is available to me on thousands of other subjects.  The media, too, would like to know what fascinates me and you – they would like to know for commercial reasons, so they could exploit our interests.  When you are consumed by some event that does not interest me, I wonder about you as I am sure you wonder about me and my interests. The same events may not interest all of us, but violence is always ensnaring.

Yet, I have no idea why – am I just an ambulance chaser, a ghoul, someone who just likes to look at blood, suffering and chaos?  Or, and perhaps better, is it a desire to understand the underlying motivations of such killers?  That would be nobler, but I can see no more evidence that understanding is the reason than I can for ghoulishness as the root cause.  In the grand scheme of things, on the cosmic scale it does not matter why I am interested in that killer or in anything or anybody else.  But for me, it is more significant and a bit unnerving – if I cannot find any higher value for my interest in demented killers, death and destruction how can I feel superior to them, above them and above those things that drive them into insanely criminal acts?  If I am fascinated by the same fictions and brutality as they are, how am I different from them?  Foul as those men and their deeds are, I plunge right in behind them following the sent of the blood, dipping my hands into it and drinking it down in a very ghoulish way.  It is disturbing, but to ignore those events would be disturbing as well.


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July 2012
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