I found this most delightful article online in the Daily Nebraskan’s Opinions section. Written by a certain Erica Bartz. The article wonderfully mentions Sherlock Holmes which I applaud her for. Hardcore Sherlock fans will also note that her last name, is very, relevant. Here is the article:
By Erica Bartz Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Charming. Intelligent. Versatile. Confident. Sophisticated.
Sounds like qualities everyone would want, right? But what if you were also constantly angry or unable to be close to other people? Some might be willing to take that sacrifice in order to get ahead in life. The only problem with that is those qualities describe a sociopath.
Sociopaths are the new heroes in our society. Of course, they’re often still our villains (e.g. the Joker, Scar of “The Lion King,” Darth Vader) but we’ve become much more sympathetic toward them. Or at least more entertained. Perhaps this is because sociopaths on TV and the movies aren’t quite what they are in real life.
As Adam Kotsko lays out in his book “Why We Love Sociopaths,” the media sociopath is more like an embodiment for our fantasies. According to Kotsko, real-life sociopaths are “pitiable creaturesindeed.” The media simply like to “pick and choose” the most interesting characteristics, like aggression and lack of moral intuition. Real sociopaths actually have trouble accomplishing anything, unlike those in movies. Fantasy sociopaths find power in their oddity, rather than being hindered by it. We like to watch them because they live outside social norms and benefit from it.Sociopaths don’t experience the same sort of pain we do because they just don’t care about anything.
For instance, sociopaths (at least in the movies) don’t really have emotions.
Sociopaths lack empathy toward other people and most normal human emotions. This makes it difficult for the sociopath to forge meaningful relationships. Although we love cultivating good relationships, those relationships are also a great source of pain. Anyone who is unaffected by relationships (like sociopaths) are fascinating.
We’re amused by sociopaths like Patrick Bateman of “American Psycho,” who tosses friends and girlfriends aside like dirty shirts. We wish we could spout a quip and cut ties with other people without feeling the pain, as Bateman does so well. And even if you truly don’t, the contrast of someone who doesn’t give a shit (ever) is fascinating enough.
Confidence is another major attraction in sociopaths. With a healthy amount of indifference to the world comes a boatload of self-assurance. Pop culture figures like Dr. House are so fun to watch because they have no doubt about their ability. The whole point of House is he almost never backs down from opposition, even when every other doctor tells him he’s wrong. (Although they should really realize by now that he never is.)
Sherlock Holmes, as a character, has endured for so long because he’s the pinnacle of confidence. He lives out the fantasy of a person who never makes a mistake. Of course, he is always countered by naysayers, but we still root for him in the end. We’re in love with confidence and want it to succeed.
We’re also captivated by a sociopath’s ability to enact behaviors or events we’d never do ourselves. So many moviesociopaths become cold-blooded killers, such as Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” or Anton Chigurh of “No Country For Old Men.” Almost no one knows what it’s actually like to kill a string of people. Like with violence in any movie, we can’t stop ourselves from watching.
Movie or TV sociopaths often become obsessed with mastering a certain skill or subject. Sherlock is determined to solve puzzles and crimes to the point of insanity. Don Draper in “Mad Men” drives himself and his copywriters to advertisement perfection. Movie villains, like the Joker, carry out evil-genius plans. Most normal people wouldn’t be able to achieve the same perfection. The sociopaths become the instruments to live out various fantasies.
Sociopaths also show up in popular culture again and again because of their intelligence. They’re capable and willing to manipulate people to get whatever they want. Even if they use their adopted son to get more oil like
Daniel Plainview of “There Will Be Blood.” They’re still more entertaining on the screen than Jennifer Aniston. We want to laugh at the idiots, but the manipulators and geniuses get our attention.
Most of all, however, we’re preoccupied with sociopaths because they’re so good at hiding what they are. Other mental conditions, like schizophrenia or depression, are easier to understand because we can see the effects.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, can blend in with anyone. While they don’t care about social norms or emotions, they understand how to use them for their own gain. Seeing a movie about a sociopath is like hearing a ghost story or watching a horror movie. We know we probably won’t encounter one, but it still puts a compelling sense of paranoia in us.
Why sociopaths are coming up now is difficult to say. Kotskobelieves it’s because sociopaths are the opposite of awkward. They don’t care about social norms unlike awkward people, so they are more “powerful and free.”
Essentially, we like to watch them because they seem to live painless lives. Should we worry that sociopaths will start showing up everywhere? Will people start aspiring to cut off all emotion?
While our fascination is somewhat disturbing, we actually don’t have much to worry about. We are only interested in them because they’re opposite of what most of us are. Our attraction only shows that we do have genuine emotion and a sense of morality left. If we had the capability to be sociopaths, how would we care enough to see ourselves on screen?
Erica Bartz is a senior film studies major.