Everyone matters

I watch too much TV. I know it. I’m not even proud of it. Sometimes, after a very challenging week I am mentally toast and I spend a good part of my first day off chillin’ in front of the idiot box. But I do try to watch something that stimulates me. I resist the temptation to watch the movies and shows that I’ve seen a gazillion times and instead try to watch something new or at least something with a takeaway. I’ve noticed that I find a takeaway in almost anything, so it works out for me. Takeaways are important to me; they serve as revelations, correlations, validations, and sometimes even epiphanies.
So imagine my joy today when I stumbled upon the show I’ve been seeking for a long while. Cold Case.

Cold Case is a truly unique show. Its primary theme is of solving old, or cold, cases. The show was done brilliantly and stylistically. It not only shows the forensic side of investigating crimes, not unlike the flashy CSI or Bones or documentaries such as Forensic Files, but it focuses on what I crave in a show. The humanity of it. Unsolved murder cases are depicted as old, open wounds that continuously inflict pain and heartache on those left without answers. On the flip side, it brings to the surface the secrets that burden those guilty or merely complicit, and of course it poignantly exhibits, on full display, the truly alarming capacity of man to commit horrible acts and then keep the secret for as long as necessary. The conclusion of the show always brings us satisfaction as the guilty are finally brought to justice. But the most emotional aspect of it is when we witness the closure for those who finally have answers to the unknowns that have haunted them.

Here’s the takeaway. It ties in directly with my fascination with the paranormal. Hauntings, to be precise. I am a believer in the spirit world. Not fully, but I am very open to it from the perspective that hauntings are manifestations of souls who are not at rest. I am open to the possibility that there are souls that are in limbo for some reason. I am receptive to the concept that souls linger in our realm due to, I’m just spitballing here, unresolved issues in their former life perhaps. Under that premise, isn’t it possible that a spirit in limbo is stuck until it achieves peace? Resolution? Even closure?

That is what is great about Cold Case. They do justice to the dead by always carrying with them the belief that every story should be told. Justice should always prevail. That nobody should ever be forgotten. And that everyone matters.

Dahmer

“Jeffrey, please stop having your friends over for dinner. They’re tasteless.”

Last night I completed the Netflix series Dahmer. It was worth the watch.
I will watch anything that Ryan Murphy is part of. The casting of the phenomenal Evan Murphy of American Horror Story fame was spot on. He nailed the character. It was a nuanced performance, if not a factually flawed interpretation of a story that gripped and horrified a nation, and possibly the world from the day of his arrest to his violent demise several years later. I am unfazed by the inconsistencies, someone who knows the case as well as I will naturally catch it, most would not. And at the end of the day hey, it’s Netflix, not Ken Burns, it’s to be expected.

I suppose that I may as well get it out there, not unlike a staggering amount of people nationwide, I am an avid fan of anything to do with Serial Killers.

I was pleased to see this morning that it was the # 1 rated show on Netflix. I was also not surprised to see that Fox News ran a sequence on the controversy surrounding its popularity. I was expecting this. Whenever a dramatization or documentary about Bundy, Gacy, Kemper, etc., is released, and Netflix is guilty of a lot of content recently, it always generates a visceral reaction. The same questions/dilemmas are always posed,

Are we glorifying the killer?

Are we being unfair to the families of the victims?

And is it appropriate to continue making such content as opposed to letting the lore die a much-deserved rest?

All I can say is that yes, sometimes the Killers are painted in a sympathetic light. That can be merely a matter of perspective or in some cases a fact. In the case of Dahmer, I do not believe that he was painted as a sympathetic figure. I found him quite repulsive and very ill. Yet as a human being and a student of behavior the backstory that caused the man to perform the truly unspeakable acts that he committed is fascinating and from a research perspective invaluable. That is the appeal of Serial killers…what made them do it? Is it any different than questioning how Hitler was able to get an entire country to sit and watch as he extinguished millions of lives? It’s not the gore, it’s the why. So if you think it’s wrong on many levels then ask yourself is it as wrong as the people who send fan letters to these animals, offering their undying support and devotion? There are WAY more of those people than any decent person wants to think about.

It can also be argued that it is unfair to the families of the victims. I can only imagine that they don’t appreciate the rehashing of the most heartbreaking event of their lives. But let’s not pretend that they’ve forgotten it only to be reminded when Netflix releases a special. To its credit, the series did a respectable job of portraying the victims in a tragic light. In fact, almost half of one episode was dedicated to just one of the 17 victims, a very nice, bright young man with a promising future. His death was an absolute tragedy, as were the rest. His family was also discussed at length and the result was to tastefully illustrate how senseless and horrific the taking of his, and the others, lives really was. By delving into the families, it powerfully drove home the magnitude of their loss. Much consideration was given to the profound and devastating effect that Dahmer had on their futures. I think everyone, myself included, needed to see that. These were not just numbers, they were people.

As for the appropriateness of making such content…it will never go away. People want to see it. People want to know the Why’s, the How’s, and the Who. It is our nature to be curious. I can only speak for myself, but I’m not fascinated because I am an aspiring serial killer. I watch it because I don’t get it and I want to.

I’m sure that the motivations vary but I do know that we are fascinated by monsters. All serial killers are monsters and Dahmer was one of the worst. It was Scooby Doo that taught us that in the end, the real monsters are people.

Monsters


“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster . . . when you gaze long into the abyss the abyss also gazes into you”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

As a father I was often asked to check under the bed for monsters. It was my fault in some cases, I let them read my old Calvin and Hobbes books in which the precocious lad would fabricate visions of drooling carnivores waiting to devour him when the lights go out. They also, especially my youngest boy, shared my love of horror movies at a young age. Chuckie was a favorite. I indulged them, waiting for the time to tell them that monsters in the movies and books are not real, the true monsters walk among us. Other people.

We hope when we bring home that swaddled cherub from the hospital that we will raise someone with a beautiful soul, a happy demeanor and positive outlook on the world. Many choose to attempt that by sheltering their children from the harsh realities of the world. It is a beautiful place indeed but danger really does lurk around every corner. How do you tell your children that the world is dangerous without making our children afraid? How can you tell them to be kind to strangers while also teaching them “stranger danger?” How do you teach them that it’s ok to smile and say hi to strangers but don’t accept anything they offer you and don’t get in the car even if they’re looking for a stray puppy? It’s a balancing act for sure.

I know that the real monsters; pedophiles, murderers, rapists, etc. have always been there. It wasn’t talked about as much when I was younger but disappearances, kidnappings and other crimes against children happened with alarming frequency. I saw the results clear as day as awareness rose. The generation (mine) that played outside all day, went many blocks or even miles from my house with only a home number of whose house I am at, and used the streetlight as our call to go home begat a generation of scared parents who are afraid to let their children leave their sight. The ensuing generations will consequently never learn the value of breathing fresh air, the exercise gained from playing with friends and riding bikes, using imagination to play games with each other and the valuable lessons learned on the playground such as learning to interact with others and having the occasional fistfight. Perhaps worst of all, they don’t know what it’s like to lose a fight or a game.

I taught my kids to be cynical. Follow your gut, if it feels wrong it probably is. Be nice but be careful. Be aware. I did this through humor, much to my wife’s disapproval. I joked about the white van, I had fun with their overprotective mother who would have wrapped them in bubble wrap if she had her way. She was black and white. Either be protective or not, there is no middle ground. Yet my way prevailed. My kids grew up cynical but polite. Cautious but funloving. Always with dad’s inappropriate humor in the back of their minds.

I got in pretty bad trouble with wifey in 2010. We were living in an apartment after we lost our house. We had a first floor unit on the courtyard and there was a lot of commotion always. One day my wife was just outside the door talking to a new neighbor. My youngest approached her mom and asked if she could go play with friends in one of the play areas that was beyond our sight. My wife reluctantly agreed and said “what do you do if a white van pulls up and asks you to get in? My 8 year old daughter, without flinching, said “hold out for the big Snickers” and jogged off. Our new neighbor was horrified. My wife put her head in her hands. I got an earful. My argument was that it worked, she understands and is still living her life.

Monsters walk among us. There is nothing a “monster” can do that is more horrific than the crimes against humanity that we see every day. Serial killers, sexual predators, kidnappers and even entire governments that continually raise the bar on how to commit savagery on the innocent. When Nietzsche said “those who fight monsters should look to it that he himself does not become one,” it is easy to see what he means. Rogue police officers who abuse their authority and become what they were charged to fight. Politicians who murder their own people to further a personal sometimes horrible agenda. Soldiers who commit war crimes because the fog of war blurred the line for them as to who the protector was and who was the enemy. Abused children who grow up to be the parent they despised. Of course how much of the population these animals consist of is small, they are infinitely more dangerous than an idiot with a machete killing kids at a summer camp.

Brian Laundrie is the latest example. I know that I am convicting him without knowing the true story but in my extensive studies on human behavior and a avid follower of all those who created the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (formerly the Behavioral Sciences Unit) there is a 95% probability that the boyfriend killed the beautiful 22 year old Gabby Petito. And Gabby’s parents trusted their baby with him, not knowing that he was a monster. Because we don’t know, we can only use our best judgement and hope that our children make good choices. My mantra to my 4 children about “if it feels wrong, it probably is”, has served them well.

For all of the advances in society that we have made, the worst one is the escalation of just how awful people can be to each other. Cruelty, abuse and general savagery aren’t new. But the decline in values such as respect for each other and human life in general have fueled the fire of escalating violence both random and intentional.

Teach your children who the real monsters are. They are to our left and our right, hoping that it’s not in your neighborhood is simply not enough.