Thursday, August 11, 2005

Call me odd

True crime blogging has caused a bit of a stir recently. The big push came when the killer of the Groene family in Idaho turned out to be a sex offender with a blog. No way the cable sensation programs could ignore that. Bloggers, as per usual, were ahead of the producers and talking heads, so the cable channels turned to the bloggers for sound bites.

Several interested bloggers recently had an online round table to discuss what they do and why.

I was struck by a comment by Steve Huff, who runs a true crime blog and who did some very good work on Joseph Duncan and his possible role in other child murders. Huff wrote:
I can't think of anyone who saw Silence of the Lambs and didn't kind of feel amused when Hannibal got away.
I don't doubt that this is true. The glamorization of evil is one least attractive features of our age. For my money, Silence of the Lambs was an obscene book and movie for precisely this reason.

I wrote this in October 2003:
Now we seem to be obsessed with serial killers. Without a high body count, a novel gets relegated to "cozy" status.

Figures like Holmes or Peter Wimsey are fictional and bear little resemblance to real detectives. But they are hyper-realistic compared to the serial killers in modern thrillers. Writers like Thomas Harris have turned the detectives into somewhat intelligent bureaucrats while making the killer the one endowed with the rare mind. Philip Marlowe is only the " personification of an attitude, the exaggeration of a possibility;" Hannibal Lector bears no resemblance to real serial killers. He is the personification of an impossibility as a criminal, but the perfect example of moral rot as an "artistic" creation
If we are going to put serial killers in movies, i prefer to see them portrayed like Scorpio in Dirty Harry.

Last spring there was another flurry of interest in blogs and crime solving. See here.

UPDATE: This Newsweek article is interesting and provides plenty of fodder to support my point.
Michael Newton’s 2000 book, “The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers” (Checkmark), is an best seller. “We like to say we want to hear about the victims, and the victims are nice people, but they are boring,” he says.
And this on the grande dame of the genre:
Ann Rule performs what she calls a “psychological autopsy” on her subjects. She describes killers with the delicacy of a gardener nurturing a sickly azalea.
What i find funny (in both a sick and in a 'ha-ha' kind of way) is that Rule gained her fame not because she was psychologically acute, but because she was obtuse. Her book on Ted Bundy was notable because she knew Bundy and never suspected him until he was arrested.

David Gerlernter wrote a piece for the Weekly Standard in 1998 addresses some of this drivel better than i can.

What matters is our communal response to the crime. Evil is easy, good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.

Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on.

When a terrorist murders a man, it is a meaningless act. There are evil men in every society, and they do evil things; that's all

Another problem is the danger of co-option. In many of these types of books, the author needs the co-operation of the killer to tell a good story. Truman Capote fell into this trap with In Cold Blood. The killers were the only ones who could give him the inside dirt that he wanted: the Clutter family could not talk to the world famous author from The New Yorker. Capote got close and wrote a book no one else could. But it was deeply flawed because he was crushing on one of the blood-thirsty little creeps.

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