Sadism in the American Print Media

Jesse Fletcher, California State University at Northridge

One of the recurring themes in the interests of what can be defined as pop culture has become the "sadistic" offender. Blockbusters like Hannibal, The American Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (editions 1&2) all have their role in the perpetuation of this society's fascination with sick and twisted crimes.

What is it that the public is being shown and told about actual sadistic behavior that has helped feed this fondness of its representation in entertainment? To understand the nature of what American popular culture labels as the most perverse of all criminal behavior, one must turn to the true crimes that the mass media has come to label as such.

With a clear understanding of how the label "sadistic" is being applied to real world criminal actions by the media, social and behavioral sciences have a better chance of coming to the roots of the fascination with sadism in contemporary society. Little study has been done in reference to this curiosity, and it is suggested that an examination of the language used in true crimes may be an appropriate place to begin.

This study conducts a content analysis on a sample of newspaper markets over a five year period. Basic statistical analysis was carried out on these initial results, and trends concerning the sex and age of the victim, type of crime committed, and instrumentality all began to arise.

To extend the study, the search will be widened to include crimes that the media label "sick," "psychopathic," and "cruel." Additionally, another sample group will be chosen at random that will be used as a control group in a comparison against the 'sadistic' group. These differences combined with more detailed statistical analysis will hope to hi-light how certain crimes are defined as especially deviant, while others are not.

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Updated 05/20/2006