Our Monsters: The Serial Killer in Post-9/11 Television

Call for Paper Proposals

 Since 9/11 there has been a significant increase in narratives dealing with serial killers in popular television. During this period, the Middle-Eastern terrorist replaced the serial killer as the archetypal boogeyman and resulted in the serial killer becoming a nostalgic figure of the supposed moral and political simplicity in the United States before 9/11. Though serial killers were represented as Other due to their sinister and murderous actions, they became paradoxically familiar monsters post-9/11, with the racially and culturally different terrorist now taking up the position of ultimate evil Other in popular culture. Series about serial killers such as Showtime’s Dexter (2006-2013), NBC’s Hannibal (2013-2015), A&E’s Bates Motel (2013-2017), Fox’s The Following (2013-2015), BBC’s The Fall (2013-), and Netflix’s Mindhunter (2017-) have all received critical acclaim and garnered large fanbases. What is it about serial killers that has attracted audiences to incite such a boom in these types of narratives? Clearly the serial format of television programming is uniquely suited for the presentation of these characters’ modus operandi, but why has television proven to be such a fertile ground for serial killer narratives in post-9/11 popular culture? Week after week, television audiences invite serial killers into their homes where these characters have not only become accepted, but even adored as protagonists in popular programs. Audience responses to serial killers have gone from being horrified and repulsed by these characters to having not only sympathy for them, but empathy. Serial killer characters were once deemed monsters who were evil, void of all that makes one human. Now, the narrative content and discourse of this kind of television programming has resulted in viewers developing a strong admiration for serial killer characters, which has seemed to produce a morbid identification with them. This potentially indicates a growing understanding of serial killers as in some unsettling way uniquely human in their psychological condition and philosophical worldview rather than simply unredeemingly inhuman. What is it about serial killers that make these characters deeply enlightening representations of the human condition that, although horrifically deviant, reflect complex elements of the human psyche? What caused this strange post-9/11 identification to occur, if indeed viewers are genuinely identifying with these characters? Furthermore, narratives dealing with serial killers have been conspicuously interested in themes related to existential philosophy and human psychology. Why are serial killers so intellectually fascinating to audiences? We invite scholars from any field who are interested in this subject to submit paper proposals of no longer than 500 words on topics related to serial killers on television in post-9/11 popular culture.

Possible topics and case studies include but are not limited to:

  • Series such as Dexter, Hannibal, Bates Motel, The Following, The Fall, Mindhunter, True Detective, The Killing, Aquarius, Criminal Minds, etc.
  • Documentaries and news coverage of serial killers in popular media
  • The popularity of serial killer narratives and how they relate to the cultural psyche in post-9/11 United States
  • The reasons for television’s suitability for serial killer characters during this boom
  • The impact of 9/11 on the audience’s need for such narratives about “familiar monsters”
  • The unique themes each serial killer narrative deals with. For example: Dexter (selfhood, family, masculinity), Hannibal (psychology, friendship, class), Bates Motel (mother-son relationship), The Fall (misogyny, feminism), True Detective (philosophy, religion), etc.
  • The commonalities to be found between different serial killer narratives during this period

 Please submit your paper proposal by November 15, 2018. Notification of acceptance will be sent by early January 2019 for a submission of a full paper of no more than 8,000 words by March 31, 2019. Submit documents to cdaigle@brocku.ca and brett.robinson@brocku.ca.


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