The evolution of murder and media

Illustration by Kaylyn Dunn

The decade of the 1980s was arguably the boom of the serial killer. Of course, the world had its Jack the Rippers and Billy the Kids, but the phenomenon of the serial killer found its footing in the latter quarter of the 20th century.

Over the last 30 years alone, the media has experienced a complete overhaul, becoming an entirely different monster than what it once was. Last year’s Parkland shooting was essentially reported by students inside the school using Snapchat.

Over the progression of the media’s evolution, murders, namely mass shooters, have been on the rise.

According to BBC News, “Data compiled by various researchers suggest a rise in serial killings starting in the late 1960s, peaking in the 80s — when there were at least 200 murderers operating in the United States alone — and a subsequent downward trend over the next two decades.”

This downward trend has been compensated for by mass shooters — at schools, movie theaters, malls, you name it.

The Columbine shooting in 1999 may be the most famous of all — the spark to engulf us in two subsequent decades of mass shootings in the U.S., spawning many copycats. Columbine was the mass shooting heard around the world and it made a dent.

I would argue that mass shooters are the new serial killers. There is no answer to the question: What makes a killer? We could argue over the semantics all day. Are they a psychopath? Were they abused? Where did their parents go wrong? I don’t have the answers, nor do I claim to, but I do think the correlation between the evolution of the media and murder is a perplexing one.

The media gives us access to information which triggers curiosity about what can make someone do something so terrible and makes us ask, why? It’s rather common for people, including myself, to become transfixed with true crime and begin to, dare I say, sympathize with the perpetrators.

Many take it too far, such as Afton “Star” Burton who married Charles Manson while he was in prison. However, curiosity is mostly harmless.

These events are intriguing and raise questions and conversations of morality, mental health, abuse, predatory masculinity, etcetera. It draws people in and the media knows. Look at Netflix's “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," which received mass amounts of buzz upon its release.

YouTube, one of the most fascinating experiments of new media, has seen its fair share of loners-gone-shooters. We all know of Elliot Rodger — the misogynistic involuntary celibate who killed six people and injured 14 in a shooting at the University of Southern California in 2014. Then, there is Randy Stair who killed three coworkers and himself in a shooting at his workplace, a Pennsylvania supermarket.

This platform has seen a new generation of killers, loners seeking a place to go.

Killers in the realm of YouTube are interesting simply because they allow you to watch them evolve. Serial killers as they were reported in newspapers in the 1980s were alluring and curious, rousing questions. But today, there are cases where audiences can have their curiosities quelled by the killers themselves, through video diaries or manifestos.

The new media of the 21st century has birthed a new type of killer — one that can be anything from a fantasy to a mystery to be investigated.