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Of Men and Monsters

Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer

Richard Tithecott

Publication Year: 1997

Of Men and Monsters examines the serial killer as an American cultural icon, one that both attracts and repels. Richard Tithecott suggests that the stories we tell and the images we conjure of serial killers—real and fictional—reveal as much about mainstream culture and its values, desires, and anxieties as they do about the killers themselves.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Recent surveys of the store of general knowledge possessed by Americans reveal that 11 percent have a firm grasp of evaporation; 23 percent know pretty much where the equator is; 63 percent can identify Jimmy Carter and 34 percent Gerald Ford; over 8 percent can do long division; Edgar Alan Poe is correctly linked to "writer" by 19 percent; as for the larynx, almost as many people regard it as "a body part" as feel it is...

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pp. xiii

For their wonderful support and encouragement, I would like to thank my family: Terry, Margaret, Michael, Adele, William, and Alice. I am deeply grateful to my wife and best friend, Sheila, both for her love and for her invaluable help in writing the book. Among my friends and colleagues, Nancy J. Vickers and Vincent Cheng deserve special mention...

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pp. 3-11

Although society has always produced for itself a plentiful supply of monsters to choose from, it seems to me that contemporary monstrosity assumes its most compelling form for us as the serial killer. Whether or not the number of people who kill repeatedly has risen in recent years, the idea of the serial killer seems to be increasingly important to the way we perceive our world. Whether or not our contemporary construction...

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PART I. Policing the Serial Killer

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pp. 13-16

Reflecting on The Order of Things, Foucault in Power/Knowledge remarks: "My problem was to ascertain the sets of transformations in the regime of discourses necessary and sufficient for people to use these words rather than those, a particular type of discourse rather than some other type, for people to be able to look at things from such and such an angle and not some other one" (211). In chapter 1, I suggest that we are using...

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1. Defining the Monster: Serial Killing and the FBI

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pp. 17-33

For years the Marquis de Sade has been an object lesson in how a monster ought to behave. Bataille uses the term volupte in reference to the wicked Frenchman, a term Jane Gallop explains, "is. characterized by the exceeding of a certain quantitative level. The prevalence of quantification and categorization and the vast number of victims in Sade's text...

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2. Investigating the Serial Killer: The Seeking of Origins

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pp. 34-47

"17 Killed, and a Life Is Searched for Clues" says the headline of a New York Times article on Dahmer (4 August 1991: AI). Even following the serial killer's capture, arrest, and conviction, policing proceeds unabated. It is not conviction which brings the illusion of closure, only that which we really seek: origins of the story of his violence, origins...

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3. Investigating the Serial Killer: Silencing the Unspeakable

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pp. 48-64

The hunt for a serial killer is frequently described in Gothic terms, and especially as a Gothic quest for knowledge of the "beast." Guy Le Gaufey refers to the vogue in the nineteenth century for vampire novels in which "the aristocracy is always presented as the beast to be destroyed" and in which "the savior was a bourgeois" (Foucault 1980, 1). The saviors/detectives in the serial killer myth can represent a similar...

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4. Jeffrey Dahmer: Gay, White Cannibal

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pp. 65-88

While not mentioned in the criminal complaints (assuming within the law the aura of the great unspoken), Dahmer's cannibalism, described by Geraldo Rivera as his "macabre snacking" (Geraldo, 12 September 1991), was the most sensational aspect of his case, that which separated him from other serial killers. In the movie version of The Silence of the Lambs, Starling tries to map out the norm regarding serial killers by...

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PART II. Dreaming the Serial Killer

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pp. 89-91

For the FBI, Ted Bundy "personifies [the] ruthless breed of serial killer who leaves a perceptible signature at the crime scene" (House 5). The serial killer's "signature" connects random events. It tells us what to read. The connected events become text produced by an unnamed author hoping to be read, a mystery whose solution lies in identifying its...

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5. The Horror in the Mirror: Average Joe and the Mechanical Monster

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pp. 93-99

To Randy Jones, one of Dahmer's neighbors, Dahmer seemed "like the average Joe" (Newsweek; 5 August 1991: 41). Helping us to disseminate a picture of Dahmer in court, a caption in Anne E. Schwartz's book describes Dahmer as an "average-looking man." To Tracey Edwards, whose escape from Dahmer's apartment led to Dahmer's arrest,...

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6. Confessing the Unspeakable

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pp. 100-108

A psychologist working for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections says, "There may be some psychological dynamics to [Dahmer's] confessions. There could be some relief in being caught. Whatever pain he had is finally over. Or there could be some charge for him for all this confessing" (quoted in Schwartz 150). Whether Dahmer experiences...

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7. Supercops and Superkillers

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pp. 109-117

The FBI is not shy in telling us that serial killers often identify with instead of against the law enforcement community. (For police officer Gerald Schaefer, the killer of twenty or so men and women, such identification evidently proved relatively easy). In the House of Representatives hearing on serial killing, an FBI officer notes that when the FBI...

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8. The Monstrous Self: Dreaming Up Reality

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pp. 118-135

Reality hasn't been real for a long time. With "real-life" television and especially "true-life" police shows increasingly filling prime-time television slots, reality in the nineties functions more as style than as an ultimate reference point. CBS's Real Patrol and Top Cops, NBC's Law and Order and Prime Suspect, Fox's Code 3, America's Most Wanted, and their...

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9. Sanity, Satan, and Sanitized Evil

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pp. 136-142

In chapter 1, I described our construction of the sane but evil serial killer. His sanity reassures us of his culpability, allows us to legally condemn. His evil allows us to differentiate his sanity from our own. Our modern monsters arise from a nostalgia for an era preceding the science of psychiatry, an era when Satan was the essence of otherness....

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10. Fantasies of Power

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pp. 143-167

My introduction includes a quotation from Dennis Nilsen in which he says the portrayal of Hannibal Lecter as a powerful figure is "pure myth" and that his own offenses arise "from a feeling of inadequacy, not potency." In this chapter I want to explore more fully the ascription of power to the serial killer, which is one way we can distance ourselves...

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pp. 168-179

Following the discovery that Dahmer had illicitly joined his High School Honors group for their yearbook photograph, his image was blocked out with a marker pen before publication. That empty space among smiling, well-groomed students is one which we have been particularly keen to fill. Sometimes the blackness, the darkness, the...


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pp. 183-188


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pp. 189-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780299156831
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299156848

Publication Year: 1997