Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Great American Murder

After reading this post by Steve Huff over at The Dark Side, I started thinking about the classic George Orwell essay "The Decline of the English Murder." Huff's post focuses on that most media-friendly of murders known as "uxoricide" (or, wife-killing ... I didn't know it until I read it in Steve's post). And, although not entirely the focus of his post, Steve outlines the type of killer who is most likely to enter the media malestrom: young, rich, lying sociopaths who construct a murder just mysterious enough for the media to bite into it. And then, being young and camera-friendly and involved in a mystery, the killer comes under far more scrutiny than their web of lies can stand, and they go down.

I told Steve in an email that, as Orwell described the perfect English murder, he may have stumbled onto the perfect American murder. First, let's look at Orwell's "perfect murder":

The murderer should be a little man of the professional class--a dentist or a solicitor, say
--living an intensely respectable life somewhere in the suburbs, and
preferably in a semi-detached house, which will allow the neighbours to
hear suspicious sounds through the wall. He should be either chairman of
the local Conservative Party branch, or a leading Nonconformist and
strong Temperance advocate. He should go astray through cherishing a
guilty passion for his secretary or the wife of a rival professional man,
and should only bring himself to the point of murder after long and
terrible wrestles with his conscience. Having decided on murder, he
should plan it all with the utmost cunning, and only slip up over some
tiny unforeseeable detail. The means chosen should, of course, be poison.
In the last analysis he should commit murder because this seems to him
less disgraceful, and less damaging to his career, than being detected in
adultery. With this kind of background, a crime can have dramatic and
even tragic qualities which make it memorable and excite pity for both
victim and murderer.

Some things have changed. For one thing, this is America, and for another, it's the age of moving pictures. So we'll trade in the solid respectability for raw attractiveness. The "avoiding the shame of adultery through murder" is very English, so we'll trade that in for "wife doesn't fit into wild lifestyle/is pregnant and no fun." And poison is straight out ... instead they tend to try to cover up the crime by making it appear to be a abduction of some type.

Or, to leave Orwell behind and get hyper American by reducing it to a formula:


Am I missing something? Oh, yeah, the real thrust of Steve's post is on the psych. profile of these pretty-boy killer. Go read it.


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