On the social construction of serial murder: television portrayals, fact or fiction?

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Cready, Lisa Michelle
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University of Guelph

The influence of the media in terms of how serial murder cases are presented to society has been well documented by scholars. As a result of this influence, it has been argued that the boundaries that exist between 'fact' and 'fiction' with respect to serial murder are becoming increasingly blurred. The primary goal of this study was to determine if there is any truth to this argument through answering two key questions: (1) "How are cases of serial murder portrayed in the popular media (in the specific forms of Millennium and Profiler)?;" and, (2) "How do these portrayals compare to those in Hickey's (1997) analysis of contemporary serial murder?" The approach of social constructionism examines the role of the media as "claims-makers," or "those individuals and groups who attempt to present an issue in a particular way" in order to mould public opinion (Jenkins, 1994), and was utilized as the primary theoretical perspective for this research. Through a unique form of content analysis, it was found that the televised versions differed from the 'reality' of serial murder in the following ways: a lack of children as victims; well-educated, 'crazy' serial killers with high occupational positions; 'masculinized' or desexualized female killers; a lack of sexual violence on behalf of the male killers; and, the majority (both sexes) were found to be highly organized, 'mission-oriented' serialists, who were tracked down by visionary FBI profilers. As a result of the findings, the research has illustrated that the viewers of these programs are receiving media constructed images and stereotypes of serial murder that verge with reality as a part of the ongoing process of claims-making that exists in society.

serial murder, portrayal, popular media, public opinion, media constructed images, stereotypes, claims-making