Dark Trends: Sexy Sociopaths | Cherwell
narcissism

Dark Trends: Sexy Sociopaths | Cherwell

Not for the first time, I blame Wuthering
Heights.

I’m talking about the book,
though I’m sure anyone who’s heard my rendition of the Kate Bush classic would
say that’s pretty reproachable too. No, what I’m blaming on Emily Brontë’s
iconic novel is something far more scandalous than my bad karaoke. I’d argue
she started the current increasingly worrying fad of idolizing sociopaths and
killers. She took the genie out of the bottle, and in the most terrifying way
possible. She made them sexy.

Let’s back up a second. Google
tells me a sociopath is a someone with an antisocial personality disorder
(ASPD). Those with ASPDs can’t understand the feelings of others. That means
they’ll often break rules or make impulsive decisions without feeling guilty
for the harm they might cause. From Sherlock’s titular character and his
nemesis Moriarty, via the more worrying examples like Ted Bundy and Villanelle,
pop culture in recent years has seen many sociopaths and killers that viewers
have found fascinating – and fancyable. For that Brontë needs reprimanding.

Anyone can admit there’s
something attractive about Heathcliff’s character. He’s an impassioned and mysterious
loner that treats most people abysmally but still won’t let death keep him from
the woman he loves. He’s obviously, blatantly, a villain. We really,
really shouldn’t like him, let alone find him sexy. But people do. Maybe it’s sympathy
for the unhappiness he’s suffered. Or maybe it’s because we find something
inherently appealing in a talk, dark, handsome stranger who’s willing to break
all the rules.

I’m not going to get into
psychoanalysing a character from a book published 200 years ago. Brontë wasn’t
representing a sociopath. She wasn’t going off a Wikipedia page of symptoms.
She just wanted to write a bloody good book. But she created an archetype that
appealed enough to readers that it hasn’t gone away since. As we’ve learnt more
and more about the confusing grey splodge of the human mind, we’ve uncovered
more and more of what makes sociopaths tick. As such, they’ve increasingly inhabited
that attractive idiosyncratic loner role in our popular imagination. That’s a
much more worrying legacy than inspiring a song by Kate Bush.

Why do people find sociopaths
appealing? Psychologists suggest it’s because they have skills and abilities
that today’s society needs. They’re fearless, confident and charming. James
Bond would certainly be one (well, probably not Roger Moore). Don’t we all want
to be a bit like that? Confident and charming, I mean, not Roger Moore. I can’t
count how many times as a bookish teenager I wished I could be as clever as
Sherlock, or effortlessly charming as James Bond. Sociopathic qualities aren’t
necessarily a bad thing. You need that drive in leaders, whether in politics or
business. The ability to stand up and go against the grain is what enables
people to push boundaries and challenge received wisdom. We’d be in a poorer
world without sociopaths.

But it’s when we come to the contemporary
fascination with monsters like Ted Bundy that this attraction becomes not only
worrying but deeply disturbing. From the young women who once swooned over him
at his trial to the legions of male and female devotees and the ever-growing number
of true crime series about him and others like him, there’s something about his
ilk that many just can’t turn away from. 
His nightmarish story has the same appeal of Heathcliff, Sherlock and
Bond but twisted to the most terrifying degree. Like the Joker in his upcoming
titular film, killers like him represent what people could do if they totally rejected
the constraints of normal society. There’s a dark part of all of us that wishes
we could do that; every time we wish we had a bit more power or charm. So, we
can understand why people find these figures appealing. But they should still
be horrified that they do.

What figures like Bundy show us
is why we should wish we never do. Misquoting a childhood hero of mine, our
idols shouldn’t just be those who aren’t scared, nervous or shy. It should be
characters who are all that but do the right thing anyway. Give us the Atticus
Finches of the world, over Ted Bundy, any day.

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