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SERIAL KILLERS—THEY'RE SO 80s

by 'John Marr'

In the '80s, serial killers made the jump from low-rent criminals to underground cultural icons. Images of Ed Gein, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson adorned T-shirts and dresses sold in trendy boutiques. Lurid red-on-black paperbacks like Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a serial Killer (Tim Cahill, 1986) or The Stranger Beside Me (Ann Rule, 1981) were stocked in cutting edge bookstores and read in boho cafes. Disturbing films like HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER packed 'em in the art houses. And seemingly every "alternative" band had a song about their favorite multiple murderer.

But the '80s are over. And so are serial killers. Although they lingered on in the early '90s, much like the '50s lasted until 1963, make no mistake about the demise of their cachet. A decade of unrelenting hype and media saturation have turned these home-grown bogeymen into boring clichés. Rule of thumb: nothing's hip after Oliver Stone's done with it.

The serial killer trend had its roots in the violent imagery of punk rock, the fountainhead of virtually all underground culture of the last 20 years. Bands were quick to appreciate the irony and black humor potential in singing about serial killers. Fans were quick to follow suit. Serial killer trading cards and t-shirts blossomed as shocking, yet fascinating, anti- mainstream symbols. The dedicated developed pen-pal relationships with their favorite incarcerated killer. And the sign of a truly hip pad was an authentic John Wayne Gacy clown painting.

Then came the Jeffrey Dahmer media circus. Bad cheap paperbacks flooded the country. When it was over, the well had run dry. All the interesting serial killer of the last 50 years—every necrophiliac cannibal, sorority girl-killing enigma, and jovial juvenile-killing Jaycee—had been done. And none of the new ones was about to top Dahmer. The only ones left were dull losers preying on cheap hookers and teenage runaways. Berserk lunatics and pathetic prostitute killers don't make for cool T-shirts.

Of course, serial killer culture is still around. There will always be teenagers trying to shock their parents by worshipping Henry Lee Lucas and sending fan letter to Richard Ramirez, bad rock bands covering Charles Manson tunes (Hi Axl!) and hack paperbacks like The Eyeball Killer (Matthews, 1996). But serious hipsters have long since relegated their Ted Bundy execution T-shirts to the rear of their closets to share space with their pegged black jeans and well-worn engineer boots. Serial killer haven't gone away; they've just gotten boring.   </end>

Title illustration by Wellington

'JOHN MARR' is the editor of Murder Can Be Fun. He lives in San Francisco.

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