In her chapter in American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative, Nicola Nixon explores the interdependent relation between the fictional monster and the real. In attempting to better understand the serial killer and to sell the serial killer’s stories, true crime authors often adopt gothic motifs and language. Otherwise, according to Nixon, the story of the real serial killer, is often too mundane and lacking in narrative cohesiveness. Serial killers and the public often claim that “dangerous” fictional works (pornography, violent films, detective novels, etc.) “created” the real life monster. For example, in prison Ted Bundy met with Evangelical leaders to fight against pornography and violent fictions like his once beloved True Detective series, claiming that if he hadn’t come into contact with them, he would’ve been able to lead a normal peaceful life. Through Nixon’s reading, monstrous fiction becomes both a marketable product as well as a producer of “real” monsters.

Notes & Quotes

  • I think this is a vital piece towards understanding the cultural discussions surrounding “dangerous” fictions and serial killers in the 1980’s-90’s, particularly because it brings these two seemingly separate conversations together. This ties into the fear that the American family can produce a monster, a fear that helped bring the horror film genre into the contemporary era with Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). I also like thinking about the actual “real” work that fiction claims to do, including this absurd claim that fiction was able to produce Ted Bundy, serial killer.

  • The argument that fiction can snatch otherwise good children and turn them into Jeffrey Dahmer works under the belief that the products we consume can transform us. We become the products of our products. At the start of the article, Nixon describes the role of the bad “tv people” in The Poltergeist. Her connection between this issue and a haunted house film at first surprised me, however, I feel like this idea of consumables consuming the consumer is also key to haunted house narratives, of which The Poltergeist belongs.
  • She also writes about American Psycho and its lack of narrative. Just like the other “real” killers, Bateman becomes an empty cipher, struggling to fill the void of his narrative and personality with other killers, films, and products.

“Making Monsters, or Serializing Killers” (1998) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.