Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Freud and Serial Killers


There may be (I would say if I were being cautious) or probably is (which is what I really believe) a connection between Freud and Serial Killing. I don't mean actual serial killers like Jack the Ripper or Son of Sam, I mean their tremendous popularity to movie and TV watchers. You won't need to watch many episodes of "Law and Order, Criminal Intent," or "Law and Order, Special Victims Unit" (which I've been watching recently) before encountering a serial killer. There are so many of them in these and other movies and TV programs that I would think the writers must be hard put to dream up new motives for their proclivities. The most popular motives seem to be that the killer is on his spree because of Mommy or Daddy; which Freud would approve but that isn't what I mean here. But there are countless other motives.

One of the most frightening aspects of these modern times is that so much of our world has been taken out of our control. Marx tells us there are historical forces we can do nothing about. The Existentialist philosophers tell us that we can't know this world we were born into. All we can know is ourselves. But wait, Freud then tells us that we can't even know ourselves because we each have an "unconscious will." That is, we each have an unconscious will that we cannot access except by years of psychoanalysis and perhaps not even then. We might think we make a decision rationally but if we were to describe our decision to a psychiatrist he would tell us that the decision was really made in our "unconscious." We won't ever understand all the things we do, and perhaps we won't even know what they are. This belief in an "unconscious" has entered our common psyche. We all believe in it, but none of us understand it. We know a few things about it, but we don't know its power or limits, and we worry:

Is there mud on our boots? How did that get there? We don't recall walking through any mud?

Did we get high the other night; such that we can't recall all that we did?

Have we ever sleep-walked?

Is that woman looking at us strangely? Does she know me? I don't remember her, but then I wouldn't would I?

For all we know, our Unconscious Will has taken over at some point and caused us to do things that we aren't aware of. We may all be like Mr. Hyde without being aware of it. Maybe all we did is something that would embarrass our conscious selves, but maybe we did something worse: hence the popularity of the entertaining "Serial Killer." Nothing could be worse than that.

Serial Killers are very popular in the sort of TV programs Netflix describes a "gritty," but who can forget the "Man of the Year" Serial Killer Mr. Brooks played by Kevin Costner. Or the even more winsome Dexter who charmingly lives a normal life while at the same time "takes out the trash" which means kills bad guys.

Okay, maybe we are pretty sure we haven't done any serial killing lately, but what about our younger wilder days? Maybe there are bodies out there that we can't remember. Maybe there are even bodies in our back yard. Look at that pile of dirt. Is that a gopher? Maybe it's a root pushing the grass up?

We wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat overwhelmed by a sense of dread. We can't remember our dream, but we have been where our Unconscious Will lives and it has frightened us.

We wake up later to the noise of a truck and are jolted wide awake. Is that truck coming to pick up our trash or is it the police coming to dig up our backyard? We once again peer out the window at the pile of dirt.

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