Is it possible that our social media might push us to the edge of a dangerous act or situation?
I remember being at a comic and film convention about two years ago. I’d just found a spot on the convention center floor where I could sit for at least two minutes before making another line or continuing to another part of the event. While I sat there, I saw two young women, in their early teens, see each other. As they screamed and ran towards each other, I realized they were both dressed in the same costume. They hugged and then started talking excitedly at the same time. Through bit of conversation I overheard how they’d been IM’ing and texting for months but were finally meeting in person. It’s a sweet story that is unlikely to have happened in the past. Even if you could get a pen-pal, how’d you find one with the exact same interests and likes as yours?
When we consider how our social media can help us connect with people we’d probably never cross paths with, as well with entire communities, we can’t help but be grateful to how technology can help us find our tribe and peers. But what happens when your interests are not positive or constructive? Can these online communities fuel the dark side of our isolation and loneliness? Is it possible that our social media might push us to the edge of a dangerous act or situation?
Until I researched this article, I was completely unaware of the movement of the serial killer fandom. I understand the word fandom, or thought I did anyway, as being a collective of people who admire a character or celebrity, and often create works inspired by them. So far so good. However, this dark version of fandom implies that these users are fans of a real-life serial killer or mass murderer. They use cute names to talk about them, refer to them as being “babes” or aspirational names, and pretty much sexualize all the elements that have turned them infamous to society.
While murderers with groupies is not a new concept (I mean, there’s been plenty of men and women who’ve fallen for people tried and sentenced for some of the most horrific murders out there), this is a new level of obsession. There are now entire communities where people have their feelings or philias validated by others who agree with them. In fact, there is a particular condition that creates an attraction to these dangerous personalities. According to forensic psychology professor, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, in conversation with Bitch Media’s Vanessa Willoughby, “[Hybristophilia is] a condition in which sexual arousal arises from being with a partner who is committing or is known to have committed a violent or aggressive illegal act such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.”
These online communities, which seem to continue to grow and flourish freely in their love for perpetrators of violent acts, not only remain with the classic serial murderers that have been romanticized and embellished by film and TV. There’s a group that follows and somewhat worships the shooter from the Aurora, Colorado movie theater. There are those who express their love and admiration for the right-wing extremist from the 2011 Norway incident. Even the white supremacist who killed all those people in a Charleston church has fans. When you see the drawings, the stories, and the images, you begin to see a terrifying realization: these fans don’t see these murderers as actual people who’ve committed heinous crimes. They see them as characters who can be empathized with, pitied, who they can fantasize “fixing” or “rehabilitating” through love and devotion.
Laura Elizabeth Woollett has written The Love of a Bad Man, a collection of stories based on the stories of women who were partners, accomplices, and even lovers of the men behind some of the most gruesome, violent, and horrible murders in recent history. In the author’s words, "It’s hard to say where the figure of the 'bad man' ends and the 'antihero' begins. There’s a huge crossover there and, as a result, bad men are often romanticized — tragically flawed, but human; dark and sinister, but exciting. As long as antiheroes are seen as attractive, bad men will be too, on some level.”
So who do we blame? Television and films for feeding audiences’ addiction for characters who carry out unspeakable acts but are relatable and empathetic due to their backstories? Social media for choosing to censor nude artistic images but not communities devoted to aggrandizing the masterminds behind the most horrific acts? Or ourselves, for placing all our hopes and illusions into an online platform, without ever wondering whether our ideas are skewed in any way? There is nobody out there who is telling them that to believe that a white supremacist is dreamy, means to be complicit in his desire to wipe out parts of the population. There’s nothing informing these groupies that to talk about a serial rapist and murderer’s dimples and smile, means to continue the destructive behavior that brought that murderer into your life. It means to dismiss the victims because we believe it’s all part of fiction rather than a ghastly reality. Being a fan of these people means to hang up your humanity in favor for a sexualized image of someone who has caused the death of many.