Media, Fantasy, and the Violent Offender

In an effort to create more believable antagonists, I’m studying the book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Douglas is an FBI profiler and has written several books on the subject. In my last post, I began a series on violent offenders who use force and are “influenced” by media. Most violent offenders indulge in fantasy long before they turn to real crimes. That’s the gist of this post. As a warning, there’s an ick factor when delving into the thought processes of bad guys, so if you’ve got a weak stomach and a gentle constitution, you might want to skip this one. I apologize in advance–I’ll try to tone it down as much as possible. But if you want a believable antagonist, sometimes you have to go to nasty places.

Roy Hazelwood, one of the pioneers of modern behavioral science at Quantico, found a certain danger in detective magazines, of all places. He called it “the erotization of violence”–magazines that make a connection between “violence and sexual arousal in the minds of anti-social and violence-prone readers.” In a study of detective magazine covers, interiors, illustrations, and story content, they discovered that the magazines “routinely and relentlessly juxtaposed conventionally erotic images (such as beautiful, scantily clad women) and written descriptions of sexual acts with images of violence and the helpless suffering of innocent victims.” While the magazines did not create violent offenders out of healthy, normal men, they did provide fantasy material for sexual predators. In other words, they enhanced what was already inside. 

The authors bring up a case where three young men watched the Clint Eastwood movie Magnum Force and decided to use a killing method they saw in the movie: forcing their victims to drink drain cleaner. In the movie, the woman’s death was instantaneous and clean–she fell over dead. In real life, the victims choked, gagged, vomited, and made a lot of noise. Frustrated at the amount of time it took the victims to die, the offenders raped, shot, and tortured their victims until they were all dead. Even there they failed, as two of the six victims survived the attacks. The point of this example is not that the Eastwood movie made these guys into rapists and killers, but rather that the movie fed a fantasy they had already indulged in–vicious and sadistic sexual assault. Even if they hadn’t seen the movie, they still would have committed violent acts.

NewImage(Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force)

You can use this for your antagonists. Profile him. What are his fantasies? What types of media does he enjoy (books, magazines, movies, crime blotters)? What will trigger him to go from mere fantasy to a “real-life” criminal encounter in your story? Also remember that criminals escalate in violence. Their first offense isn’t likely to be a rape or murder. It’ll begin with peeping, petty theft, car prowls, that sort of thing, then progress in violence as the “satisfaction” becomes harder to achieve with the smaller crimes.


One response to “Media, Fantasy, and the Violent Offender”

  1. An excellent way of putting it. I think many people have their understanding of causation backwards – violent movies, magazines, video games, etc don’t cause a balanced person to become violent (violent media causes violent behavior), but rather, an imbalanced, violent person will gravitate toward violent movies, magazines, and video games (violent behavior causes a person to seek out violent media).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s