This isn’t the progression of semi-lockdown TV viewing. I’ve never really shared the world’s fascination with serial killers and true crime monsters but at the same time, I’ve seen pretty much all the films based closely or otherwise on his story: Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs being the most notable. I’ve also seen the band, Ed Gein’s Car. But watching this documentary isn’t where my brain has gone during all this pandemic downtime. It has never surprised or intrigued me that people end up irreparably broken and dangerous. People talk about forces of good and evil and it would be tempting to call Ed Gein and all these other people evil, but my true belief is that some people are just born fucked up, or become that way, stunted human growth. It seems easier though to position it all as good and evil, God and Satan, than it is to think about how we confront the ways that people become so damaged before the “monsters” are created.
But the brief backstory: ED GEIN
I don’t know. I find the fascination with mass murderers and serial killers more intriguing than the culprits themselves. And further, that people will carry this fascination through their whole lives without ever giving any real consideration to how these things happen. It’s like people prefer to live with the mystery, as if it anchors then in superstitions about things that will protect them. Be good, work hard, pray, don’t sin, etc. etc. We, as a part of humanity, seem to need the demons as much as we need the saviors. I will elaborate on that further another time, but maybe these anomalies are simply the yardstick by which we measure our own human decency? A case of comparison, rather than individual action. As long as the monsters exist, we don’t have to try to hard to validate our goodness… Just a thought, but it reminds me of Tony in Scarface, in his blistering indictment of the people in the restaurant: “You need people like me… there goes the bad guy.”
I believe our cultural fascination with this extreme darkness is a lot deeper than the thrill of scaring the shit out of ourselves. Change my mind. I don’t mind being wrong.
But this after all how our socio-political discourse shapes up, isn’t? Good Guys vs. Bad Guys? It wasn’t hard for us to cast a vote for Joe Biden, despite any part of his history, when he was measured against Donald Trump, whom we spent years positioning as the ultimate evil, even though most Trumpist policies were not truly all that far removed from mainstream politics for several generations. He was certainly a lot more vocal about defending policies that have for years slipped beneath the radar, like on immigration for example.
Good vs. Evil.
Maybe we’re all a little bit of both? Maybe we are fascinated with Ed Gein because despite how extreme his story is, there is a part of him that we see in the mirror. His story isn’t that different than many, so it demands the question, “How?” Ed Gein is totally a product of Western Culture and there is no small number of children right now sitting in homes with a domineering, dogmatic parent railing day and night about good and evil. Judging everyone around them. Finger pointing. Fear and rage. It’s impossible to say how far beyond that psychological framework that the abuse went, but his story is absolutely not unfamiliar. There are a lot of parallels with the stories of other “monsters.” A domineering parent. Isolation. Alienation. All themes in many of our lives. So how do many of us not see him in the mirror, or a shadow of him?
What questions about ourselves do these stories bring up that we remain so intrigued? Why are we giving higher ratings to these tales than to inspiring love stories?
Why am I less fascinated? I do think that’s mainly because I have acknowledge that there is no mystery. We’re not all born with the same ability to adapt and overcome and become functional. I think I’m not fascinated because I don’t see a lot of the back stories of these bogeymen (and women) as exceptional. I was more interested in watching this today because I was curious about what sort of spin they put on it, and sure enough there was talk of “born evil.”
I don’t know. I can’t even wrap my head around cruelty, even on a much lesser scale. That’s cruelty in either direction. Cruel acts, and the cruelty that compels someone to commit cruel acts. The very thought of all this makes me want to go live in the woods with my dog. The world is too small for cruelty anyway.