Sex, Violence, Kids Who Kill: That’s Entertainment, But Why?
In 2018, you can find tons of books and movies and investigative shows about sexual assault, violence, and even kids who kill. This outpouring of information is unending and there are countless true stories and works of non-fiction on these highly disturbing subjects. In recent years, real life crimes against children and women have been on the rise and the publishing and entertainment industry are finding ways to unveil these sins. There has been a particular increase in kidnappings children for sex trafficking and other forms of child abuse. Non-fiction writers and show producers have helped to highlight and expose disturbing behavior and violent crimes. But with so much of this stuff happening in real life, why do we find ourselves watching and reading it for entertainment? Allow me to share my own perspective, based on my experience as a book reader, a movie viewer, and a published author. I will be discussing:
- Efforts to expose evil in creative ways
- Everyone is an audience with similar motivations
- 4 Major Reasons we read and watch what we do
- Blurry lines between good and bad
Helping Expose Evil
Since the start of the #MeToo Movement, most people agree about the need to bring attention to sexual assault and other sexually motivated and violent crimes. Non-fiction writers use a variety of means to help reveal heinous crimes and dirty little secrets to the public. Books, articles, true crime television and documentaries are all creative ways of exposing evil. But how does sexual assault, violence and murderous kids fit in when you’re talking about reading fiction novels or for our movie viewing entertainment? Is something wrong with us if we read and watch this stuff leisurely? Does that automatically make us bad people because we allow ourselves to watch or read about negative behavior? Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Of course, everyone has different experiences that can have a bearing on their motives, but in general, I believe the reasons usually amount to one of four things (or maybe all four). Before I tell you what they are, let’s clarify who is the “we” that this article refers to.
Everyone is an audience
When you get right down to it, everyone is a reader and a viewer at some point. Writers read books just like their readers. Actors and everyone else in the entertainment industry like to enjoy movies and television, just like the folks they work so hard to cater to. That means that everyone is actually “an audience” for the publishing and entertainment industry. So the “we” that continues to read and watch all the sex, violence and child related crimes refers to us all. The spectators, as well as those who write and create the content. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that writers, authors, actors, publishers and film producers are motivated by some of the same things? We (speaking as an author now) get the same feelings and emotions that any reader would normally experience about dark characters, settings and plots. Why else would so many creative people in these industries choose to tackle violence, abuse, and sex related issues, not to mention crimes by or against children?
Whether we admit it or not, we all like to be a little shocked. It’s human nature, just like it’s human nature to be curious and even become obsessed about things we don’t understand. The spectator in all of us wants to have someone to “boo” and someone to cheer on, and more than anything, we like to be able to relate. That is why I believe the four reasons discussed below actually apply to most of us when it comes to watching and reading gritty and violent material.
4 Major Reasons
1) Train wreck / Shock Effect
One of the obvious reasons for reading such dark and violent books and watching this type of entertainment is the shock effect of the material. It’s the same reason people stare at train wrecks (okay, I’ve never even seen a train wreck, but I have stared at my share of car accidents). We just can’t seem to look away, no matter how bad we think it might be. As a reader and movie viewer, I often find myself conflicted. I’m disturbed by what’s going on, but I desperately want to know what’s going to happen. Even when it’s shocking, I want to know the details and how it all turns out.
I remember reading the book Lord of the Flies when I was young, and recall how shocking the wild bunch of savage boys were to me. When I got to the part in the book about a pig’s head being cut off and put on a stick, it horrified me. I put the book down for a few days before I eventually resumed reading it. The story was equally disturbing to me when l eventually saw the movie adaptation of the book some time later. You can probably name a few movies and books that had that kind, or a similar effect on you also.
2) Curiosity & Disbelief
Another movie I recall from my childhood filled me with curiosity and disbelief every time I saw it. That movie was The Bad Seed the story of a child sociopath who murders one of her classmates. I can’t even count how many times I’ve watched it over the years. The disturbed little mind of the Rhoda Penmark character still intrigues me to this day. Classic movies like the psychological thriller The Bad Seed or even The Good Son (with Macaulay Culkin) provide audiences with a unique type of villain with their sinister child characters who kill. Can’t you think of a movie or two that you watched in disbelief because it was so over-the-top with sex, violence, etc…? You may have watched with your mouth hanging open BUT you kept watching anyway. If this sounds familiar, don’t feel bad; now you know you’re not alone.
There are some truly avid readers who also enjoy watching movies like those mentioned above. These readers know how to find books online that are closely related to the stuff they like to watch. They turn into curious kittens when it comes to trying to unravel the tangled web that is the child or teenage killer’s mind. They have more than an ample supply of titles to choose from. It’s easy to get hooked on reading these type of books, whether you’re reading about a fictional character or real life person. It is also easy for authors to get hooked on writing about these subjects. One particular novelist name Carol Anne Davis is also a writer of non-fiction crime books. She wrote Children Who Kill: Profiles of Preteen and Teenage Killers but she also published a number of other “killer” books, including Parents Who Kill, Couples Who Kill, and Women Who Kill: Profiles of Female Serial Killers.
3) Ability to Relate
In case you’re wondering what prompted Davis to write so many books about killing, we can find a clue in her author profile. It could be the fact that she was once friends with “the then-youngest boy in Scotland ever to be charged with attempted murder.” That definitely must have had an impact on her life, and probably increased her interest in the subject of killing. Speaking as an author (again), I would think so. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction; a book or a movie; the ability to relate to your characters, plot, and subject matter in general is a big plus.
Funny as it seems, all of us readers and viewers can sometimes find ourselves subconsciously relating to a character or plot and not even understand why. It may be due to some repressed memory or incident; or it may actually be about someone or something in your current life and you’re not making the connection. The same thing happens to writers when creating their own work.
Sometimes an author’s connection to a character or plot is small or vague and other times, an author purposely creates a character to be a surrogate for themselves. One novel that was written by Carol Anne Davis is called Noise Abatement. It is set in Edinburgh, a place where Davis has also resided for years. Just like the protagonist in her book, Davis had to endure ‘neighbors from hell” when a band moved into the apartment above where she lived. The author profile about Davis tells how she admits having actually fantasized about killing her neighbors in real life. But instead she settled for allowing the “sleep-deprived” character in her book to do it for her.
Writing about negative characters and plots that you personally relate to is very therapeutic for an author. Working issues out through your characters can help you slay your own dragons and exercise your own demons in the process. That is exactly the type of motivation that was the driving force for my own novel: Skipping Childhood, a novel about an adolescent serial killer. Obviously, I never killed anyone like my “Deandra Baxter” character did, but I could definitely relate to her coming of age story and trying to survive a hard knocks life.
Her story of neglect, sexual and physical abuse, abandonment and life in foster care was no different from my own. Even though it was technically a work of fiction, the book was also a sort of memoir. Just like many other survivors have done in the past, the creative process of writing my book helped me take back my power with each and every page I wrote. In this way, my character killed both her abusers and my abusers. I believe when readers and movie audiences recognize relate-able characters and subject matter, they get that same sense of connectivity. Fiction provides a way for abuse survivors to have a happier outcome than they might have actually had in real life.
4) Desire for Retribution
Books and stories that contain truly deviant characters make the audience yearn to see some kind of retribution in the end. There’s nothing like the anticipation that comes from waiting for the antagonist in a story to finally get what’s coming to them. Readers and viewers will endure deviant behavior while waiting for some type of retribution, even if it’s just “street justice” (the what goes around comes around – karma’s a bitch type). It feels so good to get to the end of a good book (or movie) and have a chance to cheer when the antagonist goes down.
After all, who doesn’t really want to see or read about a happy ending?
People tend to tolerate all kinds of violence, crime, and criminal sexual behavior in entertainment. This is due to the presupposition that justice will be served. As a Reader and a Viewer, I personally don’t mind when characters make me feel something real, including anger, pain, and oftentimes, disgust. The books and movies that can make me feel that strongly about bad things happening in the story, will usually make me feel just as strongly when the antagonist gets what he, she, or they deserve.
When confronted with stories about children who go bad, the line between protagonist and villain can often become blurry. Stories of abused children end up turning into stories of traumatized kids who are disturbed enough to kill. Nowadays, it’s not at all uncommon to find yourself sympathetic to the murderer in your book. In my own novel: “Skipping Childhood,” the 12-year-old budding serial killer is pitiable, even if she is a borderline sociopath. The circumstances of her abusive life help to paint her as a victim to the reader.
Movie makers, and other novelists also tend to create killers who aren’t really villains, due to similar or worse circumstances than my character. There are plenty of authors like myself, who live to see a rotten character come to a bad end. And why not? We’re readers and viewers too. So when it comes to sex, violence, kids who kill, and any other kind of dark book or movie plot, the bottom line is, we read and watch this stuff because we’re only human. And as terrible as all this stuff is, it still amounts to what’s really happening in life. INSTANT BOOK PREVIEW
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- Which ONE of the above “4 reasons” most apply to you?
- Can you name a movie that was so over-the-top (with violence, sex, crime, etc.) – that you can’t believe you still watched it anyway?
- Name a bad character that you just love to HATE.