A Killer on Iwaku?


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According to the FBI, if you kill more than 4 people in a row, then you are a serial killer.

A kind of act is now a species of person. Serial killers have become a "type". They exist at the threshold between private desire and public spectacle - the threshold between real life and media replication.

The serial killer is chameleon-like, and is said "to look like a million people", or "to be just like everyone else". Ted Bundy looked different in every photograph that was taken of him. And, moreover, serial killers study their own kind. They research other serial killers, they read news reports and police case files. They become like the character that is depicted, and simultaneously emulate the media-given idea of "normality" - a facade on two fronts.

It is called Mimetic Identification. And it's something that insects do. They mimic other creatures in order to blend in. They have no internal structure to their lives and depend upon exoskeletons for support. The serial killer yields to complete non-identity. He becomes a blank slate supported by the exoskeleton of the social collective on which he builds the architecture of his fantasies.

The serial killer is orderly. This is what differentiates him from a mass-murderer or a man on a killing spree. The serial killer leaves gaps between each murder, and tries with each new kill to perfect his art. He works in body counts and statistics, just like the world around him - a world becoming increasingly mechanized. The media talks about how many he's killed, how long he's remained hidden, how many authorities are looking for him, what tools he's used, what methods he favours. The media reduces the serial killer to a canvas of information - to statistics - and he does the same to his victims. He turns them into canvasses for his own ritualistic recording and experimentation.

Thus the media and the killer are locked in self-replicating cycle.

And we, as a species, revel in precisely this. We love to watch the mechanization of bodies - the reduction of flesh to information. This is why medical dramas are so compelling - the prospect of broken and torn bodies wired to machines and fed through the conveyor belt of the ER. This why we gather around scenes of attrocity - why we are drawn to car crashes and terrorist attacks. We need to see, we need to know, and this morbid fascination is a compulsion to reconnect with death. The image of human death is something that has been increasingly moved beyond the perceptual world of the living. Death is covered up by modern society, and we long to expose it again. But even in this we are mechanized. The news reports are automated - the same language used time and time again, like a rhythmic mantra, to explain the depths of human tragedy, along with the figures of body counts and word counts.

But the serial killer is already dead. He makes others like him - torn, exposed and reducible to statistic. For the dead are all on the same level. He brings back equality and causation, like the letter-bomber who dreams of words with direct physical impact. He rebuilds the connection between digital and physical - just as society aspires.

Think about the places where the killer strikes. Mail rooms, schools, fast food chains, motels - places were people are processed. The serial killer enters this world and tries to fill the gap between man and machine. He tries to make it human again, in the most heinous way, by revealing the most heinous parts of humanity in violent spectacle.

He is a machine himself, but at the missing link between man and society. The police always say that a serial is "at work" - they describe him like a machine. His murder is a law of physics, a game of numbers, and they accept without question the terrrifying exactness with which his crimes will reproduce themselves. He become "hyper-typical" - his identity fades into context, till he is seen as nothing more than a product of a given environment - a cog in the machinery of a social collective.

In some ways he is the model citizen - the ideal inhabitant of machine culture. He excels at following media-given advice about how to be normal. He has a strong work ethic. He organizes his life and functions as a statistical man.

And... above all... he has no motive. At least not one he can call his own. That... as some say... is the very thrill of serial killing - the fact that it has no motive. His motivation is chameleon-like. He picks up on the unconscious prejudice of the group he is among - the group he has been brought closer to by mechanized society - and he embodies the twisted, murderous end-point of that group's prejudice. "Social Ego" replaces individual agency. This is why German civilians collaborated in the Holocaust - because they had nothing else to identify with but the Nazi Party and its insidious extreme. A serial killer once said "I am not myself and my most proper being is over there, in that double who enrages me."

He projects himself into others - the self that society has taught him to resent - the abnormal self that is not accepted. And he kills that "other" because he has been taught, subconsciously, to despise it. The serial killer Dennis Nilsen proclaimed "I was always killing myself, but it was always the bystander who died."

To clarify... think of a crime scene. An investigator constructs a profile of the killer by looking at the location - by looking at physical surroundings and physical details. News reports do the same - they talk about the motel, the neighbourhood, the history. Cops and journalists CONSTRUCT the man OUT OF the location.

A serial killer does the same with his own identity.

He builds himself out of his environment, so much so that there is nothing inside him, for everything has been turned outwards, with his darkest parts externalized in the bodies of "others" who "enrage him". He is the empty machine, seeking identity through the affirmation of killing that which does not fit the environment he has attached himself to. He replaces his soul with machine-like knowledge, and is absorbed into the "case-likeness" of his own case. There is little difference left between him and the detective who hunts him - for he hunts himself with equal obsession, and he calls what he does "real work", just like the detective who spurns the paperwork and tries to get "real work" done in the field. The killer feeds upon how others view the serial killer and thus develops himself till he is inseparable from the concept of who he is. He takes his police profile as a self-portrait.

He is the Dark Matter of humanity - a thing extrapolated from apparent absence, constructed from the outside-in and never truly known by himself or others. You cannot perceive the serial killer without first perceiving the void which he has filled.

The slogan of the Sprite company is "obey your thirst". This sums up society succinctly. It commands you to be free, but commands you to "thirst" as well. It informs you, even as it liberates you , that normal people should hunger. It empowers and empties you at the same time. Democracy tells us what we should desire - it monopolises our primal drives and directs us to attack the "other" - the paedophile, the terrorist, the criminal. We are wounded and wounding - we inflict our own pain on others. The serial killer occupies the end of this spectrum. He emodies the central themes of any given civilisation and reflects its critical tensions.

And he delights in being at the end of this spectrum, because it is the only place where he can find himself. The killer's initial panic about the failure of self-distinction in the mass is, in effect, countered in the media spectacle of public violence. If he is "The Most Wanted", then he is at the top of the pile, with the levelled dead beneath him.

Perhaps a "counter-machine", then? A machine-like man working to destroy the social machine, like a computer virus?

Of course, not all killers claim to be hollow inside. Some talk about a "monster inside them". But this only furthers the point that a serial killer has lost all sense of self. He does not know where he ends and others begin. Does the blind man's self end at his hand, or at the tip of the stick he uses to find his way? A killer has lost his boundaries, and he sees society doing the same - encroaching on the private realm, reporting on private disaster, spouting psychoanalysis that rends entirely the human mystery.

This is Film Noir in human form - the fantasy externalization of the killer's depopulated and half-dead interior. Some killers suffer "blackouts" at the moment of violence. They lose themselves altogether and become dissolved in the mass.

A killer longs to find his boundaries - to define the limits of his self. This is why he takes humans apart, like dolls. When children are young they pull the heads and arms off dolls. They take things apart and put them back together again. This is how they consolidate their own sense of who they are. The serial killer is doing the same... with human dolls.

Serial violence, in short, cannot be separated from a radical failure in self difference. Society has made us all too much alike, and the serial killer's desperation is the by-product of this machination. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states that in prehistoric times we killed for food; in Medieval times we killed for property; in Victorian times we killed for sex; and in Wartime we killed for power. Now we are entering a new age... where we kill for identity.

The democratic bond of "each-to-each" is at the same time the war of "all-against-all". We are taught to sympathise with and understand one another, but in doing so we achieve an equality in which we lose individual distinction. Nowhere is this more evident than in the slow erasure of the distinction between male and female. Emancipation, consumerism and metrosexuality is closing the gender gap. So the serial killer's easiest recourse, in the struggle for identity, is to reaffirm this primary difference - the difference between male and female. This is why he carves up women and homosexuals - not just for sexual delight but for sexual difference - to confirm that he is male and they are "other". The "un-male" body is the clearest target. And this is perhaps why sexual violence fascinates the public so - for it shows, publicly, that precise closeness and contrast that lies at the heart of private eroticism.

For Jack the Ripper, violence was the alternative to having sex with the prostitutes he slaughtered. It not only fulfilled his need, but kept him in tune with the popular contempt for prostitutes. He was at once both the epitome of his social group and the distinctive extreme of that group. He was the alpha male of the pack that was tearing him apart.

The killer is thus "THE MASS, in-person". When you look in his eyes it is not that there is "no one at home". Rather, there is "everyone at home" - a shapeshifting mass of social construction - a man emptied out and rebuilt by machinal socialization. His motto is "I don't know who I am... but I'm just like you!"

They said that Bundy was an "alien life form acquiring appropriate behaviours through mimicry and artifice" - a face and body timeshared by Evil. Killers conform to the status quo but do not truly believe in it, and they desert it when it does not give them status. These are your rednecks, your Nazis, your fundamentalists and terrorists. They hate on BEHALF of the cause... never for themselves... for they do not know themselves. Like soldiers they use the armour of something bigger than themselves and bolt it onto their bodies till they believe themselves invincible.

His compulsive killing is mirrored in his own life. He is compulsively normal, uses compulsive language, has compulsive behaviours. Neigbours and friends always say how "normal" he seemed - how he enjoyed the routine of his 9-to-5 job and took out the trash and kept his house clean and drove to the speed limit. He blends in. He is like pulp fiction and Film Noir - a body of dead, unmotivated cliche churned out to meet collective expectation. He is like the news reports and paper articles that surround him: reducing an overwhelming world to mechanical and repetitive langauge. Word counts and body counts. Statistics and figures.

He is like this because society is now so involved in your interior thoughts that the senses monitoring those interiors have become numb and redundant. Like the Noir landscape painted by interior darkness, there is only hollowness on the inside. Society has brought us too close together. It has made us too intimate... too alike.

Look at the film Crash by David Cronenburg. This is the serial killer's nightmare. A world where sex, violence and socialization is trapped in the machine realm of simulated life. The same is true in Dracula - the human men and women are brought to a state of non-gender through their machine-like replication of letters and typescript. They become a single unified machine hunting down the outsider and desecrating his mystery.

So this is the contradiction. The killer feels the thrill of intimate fusion but also the terror of individual dissolution in the mass. He longs to be devoured by space and devoured by others, but also seeks a desperate identity.

The way out of this contradiction is to look at what the killer is doing in his machine-like slaughter. Like Hannibal and Leatherface he is wearing the skin of his victims. He is taking apart his dolls and putting them back together. He is dabbling in taxidermy, photography and hunting. He is video-taping his victims. He is writing to newspapers and describing himself and what he has done.

He, like society, is "remaking" nature. Turning real things into simulations.

The erotics of machine culture is in the hunting and skinning of beautiful objects. We see this in advertising, in the pornography empire, in celebrity culture, in TV and radio confession shows. We find what is arousing and then we exploit it till it has nothing left to give. Society does this on a global scale. The serial killer does this on an individual scale. He surrounds himself with bodies, torn and encoded to his own prescription. This is why he strikes in motels and schools and fast food joints - because these are themselves simulations of the private home - poor substitutes for the private realm. A simulation of a home where simulated men kill and are recorded in the simulating media.

He attacks the simulations of society and puts in place his own, more visceral, more real alternatives. And these alternatives bridge the last gap that society has yet to cross - the gap between private death and public spectacle. A bridging that, some may say, is crucial to keep us all from breakdown. The private traumas of shock and wounding have emerged as public culture and in this age the serial killer loses his own disctinction between inner desire and social ego.

There was a time when private desire and public facade were kept separate. Where people kept up appearances, defended the honour of their household and kept their private lives behind closed doors. Now Apollo and Dionysius are being forced to live together, and in this friction the serial killer "goes to work" like the output of an equation.

Now the world is one of repetitive intrusion. Media and psychoanalysis repeatedly violates our private boundaries and orders us to "thirst" and consume and buy and work and aspire. The killer counterpoises with his own repetition - one of killing, of honing his craft, of writing to newspapers, of taunting the police - of watching his word counts and body counts stack.

The term "serial killer" emerged at the same time as "serial cinema". Remember the old Flash Gorden serials? Each week the tension would build and build until a cliffhanger and then end suddenly, and we would all have to wait a week to see the next installment. Serial killing follows the same pattern. His tension builds and builds, but the climax is never quite enough - never fully satisfying - and he has to try again.

He is writing a story that he can never quite finish.

Just like all those roleplays we start on Iwaku... they never quite get there, do they?

The serial killer's only hope is to push himself further - to get out of his comfort zone. We do the same, as artists and as people. We use drugs and alcohol to reach an inner truth. We use it to "break" from the "madness" of social construct and free ourselves to more genuine acts. A bit like logging into a roleplay forum where no one knows you really are?

Without the perfect murder, the killer only knows how he feels by reading about it. His identification comes through pulp fiction, tabloid, police files and psychology reports - a singularity of input that quickens cliche and generality within him. He is, in many ways, paranoid - faced with a confusing and dissolutionary world which he can only control through the order of word counts and body counts. He scrawls on walls; he collects newspaper clippings, he takes photographs and collects trophies. He is addicted to addiction and to simulation of the real life that swirls around him. He studies other serial killers - those who are said to be "like him" - looping public knowledge with private desire.

And when his friends and family find out what he has done, they distance themselves. They view things through a glass. They look at the paper and the news reports and say they "never saw it coming"... they "never knew he was like that"... they "can't think about it".

And this is our relationship to the killer. We gather around these scenes of violent spectacle, at once thrilled, remote and self-distancing... drawn to the things we cannot deal with, plunging into things we cannot handle.

And he... he is society in minature - a product of a society that has brought too many things together inside the machine. He is the evacuated output of the equation, the man simulataneously terrified and psychotically entwined with the mass.

A machine built by machines and turned against the machine.

And like a good roleplayer, he tries to bring all things together.
A good read, though a bit repetitive at some points.

In the end I think it reaches a rather chilling conclusion.
I gave up halfway through. My brain just couldn't process the length in a digitized format. Might print it out later.