My Life of Crime…

Holidailies 2008

The addition of the Investigation Discovery channel to my cable lineup and the repackaging of 48 Hours, 20/20, and Dateline on ID and on We, plus the documentaries and Lockup series on MSNBC, have all fed my interest in true crime.  I’ve spent innumerable hours watching stories about sociopaths, scam artists, murderers, rapists and life behind bars.  Even as I sit here writing this entry, I am watching a Dateline NBC story about Casey and Caylee Anthony.

When I tell people about my true crime viewing habit, I find that they are usually puzzled.  It can’t be because it’s an unusual interest, otherwise, why would there be such a proliferation of these kinds of shows and repackaging of content from other channels?  Obviously, I’m not alone in this fascination.  Maybe I don’t seem like the kind of person who would be interested in this sort of thing.  Is it because I have a young face and people just assume that my interests would be all shiny and happy?  I’m just not sure.

Frankly, it doesn’t seem unusual at all to me.  In fact, I guess I’ve always had an attraction to this sort of subject matter.  When I was a teenager, I read a lot of mafia stories, like biographies of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel.  In my early 20s, I read Helter Skelter in less than 24 hours and devoured a huge tome of stories about famous crimes and trials throughout history, over the course of a weekend.

In college, for a Sociology class on Societal Hierarchies, we were assigned a paper where we were to research the hierarchy of a country, a people, or a religious group.  I remember that we had to meet with the professor and give a description of our chosen topic.  When I met with her, and told her that I would be doing my paper on Men in Prison, she looked at me like I had three heads.  Not only that, she tried very hard to dissuade me.  In the end, I convinced her that it was the right topic for me.  I got an A on the project.

A few years back, after renting the Macauley Culkin/Seth Green vehicle, Party Monster, I became enthralled with the “Club Kids” saga of Michael Alig.  I then had to watch the original documentary of the same name.  I followed this by reading Disco Bloodbath and Clubland.  I surfed the web for additional articles on Michael Alig, Peter Gatien and James St. James and read and read and read.

More recently, I’ve turned my interest to religious cults and cult leaders, watching documentaries about Jim Jones and Jonestown, as well as reading and watching everything I can find about Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, and those who have, literally, escaped from the Sea Org – Scientology’s “elite” corps of members.  Although Scientology is not technically a “true crime” topic, the more I’ve learned about it, the more I come to see it as an enormous crime syndicate that continues to get away with ongoing crimes.

How to explain my interest in this stuff?  I guess there’s the part of me that sees a world and motivations that are completely foreign to me.  The audacity of a sociopath, who charms and ultimately injures the lives of everyone around them; the husband or wife who murders their spouse because it somehow seems like a better option than divorce; the religious cult leader, whose ego demands that other people follow him and then begins to believe his own hype.  The out of control drug addict that will do anything for a fix.  I can’t imagine being inside that skin.  A life lived that way doesn’t even seem fathomable to me, and therefore is completely fascinating.

The other side, though, is the side that sees a closer tie to me, to something personal.  Inside the stories of murder are seemingly regular people.  They feel backed into a corner, they snap, their desperation, fear, anger or helplessness makes committing a heinous crime seem like a rational choice.  Those are people who could be my neighbor, my coworker, or someone I know.

Being the victim of a sociopath makes you feel foolish and vulnerable and suspicious.  I know this from experience.  Once you know that these people are out there and that they manage to fit in among the rest of us and feign normality, you feel the need to arm and prepare yourself so it doesn’t happen again.

Learning about people who join cults and become seduced by the life and rewards promised by them, causes an initial, “that could never happen to me” reaction. However, if I’m honest, I do understand the wish for answers and for something that would make life easier.  Rationally I know that there’s no magic answer for life’s difficulties, but wouldn’t it be easier if there were?  And though I never dabbled in any kind of drug and I’m not a big drinker, I have been known to jones for chocolate, and to be consumed about my thoughts of getting some.  If that sounds silly, it’s not.  It’s the thing that makes me understand, even slightly, what drug and alcohol addiction must be like.

So, though I’ll never have a life of crime (the closest I’ve come to being arrested was a scolding by police for a series of prank phone calls made when I was 12), and my drug of choice will always be chocolate, I guess that this interest in true crime and religious cults is about a fascination with “the other,” while being a touch-point for “there but for the grace of birth, bad choices and accident, go I”.  Does that make sense?  It does to me…

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