A Golden Age Turned Red: America's Obsession With Serial Murder in the 1950s and 1960s

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Travaglione, Alayna Jill
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In contemporary American society, serial killers are as recognizable as any Hollywood celebrity. Numerous scholars claim this fascination began in the 1970s and 1980s, however society's responses to serial murder in post-World War Two America prove otherwise. Crime comics and emerging feminism challenged the conservatism of the 1950s. These forces opened the door for macabre responses to the crimes of serial killers Ed Gein and Harvey Glatman, revealing the earliest forms of serial killer murderabilia and the ways in which newspapers publicly discussed the crimes with details not seen today. The collapse of the conventional foundations of the fifties allowed for society's fascination to grow in the radical 1960s. With a backdrop of the Vietnam War, racist responses to African American equality and the dangers of hitch-hiking, the influence of Alfred Hitchcock's film <i>Psycho</i> (1960) and Truman Capote's book <i>In Cold Blood</i> (1965) created frameworks for future horror and crime-themed media where the serial killer is the star. The Zodiac Killer who terrorized northern California from 1968-1974 is infamous for his cyphers and relationship with the media, proving instrumental in the shaping of identities for future serial killers. The sensationalism of the Manson Family (labeled as mass murderers) allowed people's secret infatuation with a killer to become public, paving the way for "serial killer groupies." These observations reveal how dark our serial killer obsession goes and how long's society's been indulging in it.