Last November, Charles Manson finally passed away. Right around the time he died, the internet was flooded with people saying “R.I.P. Manson” and “so sad to see him pass” and other completely tasteless, idiotic things.
As you can probably tell, I have no sympathy for this man. He was a monster who literally brainwashed children to kill for him.
Now, I have read Helter Skelter and watched as many documentaries as I could find on the Manson Family, their crimes, and the following legal battles. I do find the story of Charles Manson fascinating and I’m probably safe in saying that I know more about him than the average citizen.So, in retrospect I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise when an acquaintance asked me if I was sad to see Manson die.
Of course not I wasn’t sad to see him die, I told them.
Well, I know you like serial killers, they responded.
Which was fair, so I couldn’t really be offended. However, that conversation got me thinking about a recurring problem I’ve seen amongst true crime and even some horror movie fans: the inability to separate fantasy and reality.
Now, before I start talking about my theories behind this behavior and whatnot, I would like to acknowledge that some of these assholes are just that, assholes. I’m pretty sure most of us went through that “I’m so complex and no one understands me” phase when we were determined to shock our parents into thinking we were edgy. Thankfully, most of us grew out of that, but just based on the number of tweets I saw mourning Manson or the many Tumblr accounts I’ve seen that post artsy photos of the Columbine killers, I know some of us didn’t. These people are just looking to cause drama and, instead of dying their hair blue and piercing their face, decided to spit on the memories of these criminals’ victims.
I have thankfully matured enough to realize how tasteless that is and opted to pierce my lip and buzz my head instead. This way I’m only hurting myself while I show the world how edgy and cool I am. I might crochet throw blankets and sing show tunes to my ferrets, but I’m a bad bitch and my hair proves that.
Anyway, I should also admit that the people out there mourning Manson and fawning over the Columbine shoots are extreme cases. I don’t really need to prove that these people are being assholes. However, this trend of blurring the line between fantasy and reality also shows up in more subtle ways and it’s having a weird effect on the horror and true crime genres.
You ready for me to dive into some pseudo-psychological bullshit, Daniel? Brace yourself.
I think we as a culture have a difficult time understanding how to handle the concept of evil. We see things as black or white, good or evil, and therefore when we come across something that’s “evil” that we enjoy it’s hard for us to handle. We can’t be a good person and enjoy “evil” things, and so that evil thing must not be that evil.
A good, recent example of this was the reboot of Stephen King’s “It” in which the very attractive Bill Skaarsgard played the killer clown, Pennywise. I know you’re not on Tumblr, Daniel, so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say Tumblr was ridiculous in the weeks following that movie’s release. The amount of extremely sexual Pennywise fanart and fanfiction that appeared on my Tumblr dash was unreal.
I won’t deny the fact I played into the mania a bit myself and made my fair share of “Float me, daddy” jokes. But that’s exactly what my comments were, jokes. I know that Pennywise is evil and that, given the chance, I would also shove a metal fence post through his face before I would ever hop into bed with him. Some Tumblr users on the other hand seemed to be crossing that line from harmless joking into actually wanting to sleep with this murderous, Lovecraftian monstrosity. A tad concerning in my opinion.
What I think happened is that, after seeing the movie, these people decided they liked Pennywise. Well, Pennywise is evil, which means they must be evil, but they’re not evil so instead Pennywise must not be that evil. So, in order to justify their love for this killer clown, these people just opted to pretend he wasn’t that bad. I’d bet that the same kind of logic is used to justify loving serial killers and criminals.
However, the world isn’t black and white. Liking a character/person/thing that is evil does not make you evil. It makes you human. It only becomes evil when you decide ignore the despicable things that character/person/thing did in order to justify your fascination with them. I can enjoy the story of the Manson Family, read Stephen King novels, and watch gorey horror movies and enjoy them while still understanding that these people are evil, that what they’re doing would never, ever be acceptable.
Basically, this entire argument boils down to the idea that you can like a villain and not necessarily be a villain. Let your bad guys be bad guys.
I feel like this is getting a bit rambly. I think I’ll cut it here and maybe pick this up in my next SDoS post. I have lots of thoughts about scary stories I want to share. Might just be time to bite the bullet and go back for my master’s in scary stories.