Plenty of TV shows and movies as of late have been creating an evil protagonist. Think of TV shows such as Dexter, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad. Then think of movies such as Deadpool, V for Vendetta, or Suicide Squad. In all of these stories, the audience is made to root for the bad guy. I came to this realization while watching Dexter with my Aunt. We were sitting there with our fingers crossed that Dexter would get away with his next murder when she said, “Isn’t this crazy though? We want a serial killer to get away with the heinous act of murder! It’s incredible how a TV show can get you to do that.” With that thought on the table, I had to dig into it.
This fascination with the macabre is nothing new. In 1827 a man by the name of William Corder murdered his lover Maria Marten. The trial was so popular with the British population that people bought and sold his body parts after his execution. Shane McCorristine, an alleged historian, had a theory on our
fascination with serial killers such as this as a way of getting close to our mortal fear without the inconvenience of actually experiencing it. Similar to that exhilarated boost of adrenaline you get from riding a roller coaster at the fair. It gets you close enough to the fear of falling but in a safer way that won’t actually hurt you. Stephen King referred to this phenomenon as “feeding the alligators.” It could be seen as entertaining your dark side can actually be therapeutic. Aristotle had this same question when Greek plays of murder drew in large crowds. He believed that feeling negative emotions on purpose could, in turn, help us to become braver and clear out the furthering or action of those negative emotions. However, German philosopher Theodore Adorno argued that the reason for our fascination with the macabre has much more sinister roots. He believed that the fear of the unknown drives the dark impulse of domination. Similar to how we immediately move to protect ourselves by any means necessary when we think we hear someone in our home. We are immediate to destruction in things of the unknown. It is shown in societies that people strive off of the feeling of dominance in some way which many serial killers have said is what makes them do what they do. Maybe we feel some sort of an understanding by our secret need for domination. (Wise Crack: “Why do we Love Serial Killers? – 8 Bit Philosophy)
This power craze could go into more interesting crazes. Do you remember the recent craze of zombies? And before that vampires? Historically, we have had our fair share of love for monsters but not the kind of love you may be thinking. Theoretically, it is possible we enjoy watching these films because suddenly humanity is stripped from these characters who are turned into monsters, or from the world the characters suddenly have to live in. Soon you get characters like Negan from The Walking Dead where only the ruthless can survive. Even though he is despicable, people look up to him in a way because he’s the one who gets to survive. (PBS Idea Channel: Why do we Love Zombies?)
So, why do you love watching these dark films? We don’t know yet for sure, or possibly, all these theories are somewhat true. All in all, there is no need to feel ashamed for your dark guilty pleasures, so long as you don’t enact upon them!