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The Kind of Man Your Mother Warned You About

Why women love true crime.

· 10 min read
The Kind of Man Your Mother Warned You About
Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons (1988). The film depicts characters who use seduction as a weapon to manipulate and degrade others.

My mother always told me that there were two types of rapist. The first, by far the least common, was the sort who knew no woman would ever willingly want him and so went forth equipped with things like drugs and duct tape. The second was the sort that believed no woman could resist him and was often genuinely surprised when one did, sometimes refusing to take “no” for an answer.

I should probably clarify. My mother worked in a psychiatric prison in the UK and had first-hand experience of the worst that humanity has to offer. Some evil people know that they are evil or, at the very least, disgusting to wider society. But the majority of wrong-doers feel themselves—sometimes with the active encouragement of those around them cheering on their greatness—to be fully deserving of their elevated view of themselves. This can result in them thinking, with some justification, that the rules do not apply to them.

What Does She See In Him?
The strange phenomenon of hybristophiles.

Dark Triads

We call these people narcissists. And, if this trait of self-aggrandizement is combined with the two other traits of Machiavellianism (treating others as pawns in the great game of your life) and lack of empathy, then we have what most people would call a psychopath. This dark triad of traits—narcissism, Machiavellianism, and lack of empathy—has been extensively studied by psychologists. Some argue that a fourth trait—sadism—should be added to the mix, in order to have a scientific handle on what everyday people think of as evil, but I do not want to get into that controversy here. People who score highly on all three of these traits are not necessarily killers, but they act without conscience or remorse, and whether or not other people are hurt by them does not figure in their moral calculus.

I doubt whether Russell Brand is a psychopath, even given the recent investigations into his abusive behaviours towards women stretching back decades. I also have no idea if what he is accused of would pass the stringent standards of evidence to be called criminal in a court of law. I do know, however, that, had he tried, out his antics back in those ages that his occasional pretentious Regency dandy impersonations evoke, he would have ended up getting called out. And, back in the eighteenth century, being “called out” did not mean a few Twitteratti getting their panties in a wad. It would have meant getting a swordy-wardy in the gutty-wuts, delivered under the dripping trees at dawn. Ah, the good old days.

In such a lawless age, one where so-called “anti-establishment” figures like Brand could not reach for their expensive lawyers when called to account for their behaviour, the concept of honor was one’s main protection. The decline of duelling directly parallels the rise of lawsuits in our culture. In the past, men had to protect their reputations with credible threats of violence, and women had to protect theirs without an official police force.

Whatever one might think of the armies of young women who fought over one another to get into bed with Brand, much of his behavior was dishonourable. Publicly mocking, and humiliating, both the individual you had sex with—however willingly—and their family, would have resulted, in more civilized times, with Brand likely being shut up by extra-legal means.

Brand is, quite literally, the sort of man your mother warned you about. He is what used to be called a cad. Fruit fly semen contains a chemical that makes the female fruit fly less able to mate with other males. Convincing a naïve young woman that you love her, and that she is the one who will finally tame your caddishness, is a similarly dastardly trick. We all know that caddishness—the man who could have lots of women but is giving that all up for you—can be quite sexy. At least, up to a point. Where is that point? Well, as with any other social trait, there is a certain amount of local calibration necessary. This brings me to the topic of true crime. Why are we all, and women in particular, obsessed with it?

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