The first in a trilogy of films about the psychology of mass killers (subsequent films cover the Role of the Media and the Nature of Victimhood in mass killings), “Mythologies” evaluates three well-known – but arguably mistaken – beliefs about mass killings:
Firstly, that random mass killings are a relatively recent phenomenon, one that largely originated in the latter part of the 20th century with the killing spree carried-out by what is widely considered to be the first American mass killer, Charles Whitman, in 1966.
However, what characterised Whitman’s mass killing wasn’t that he was the first, per se, but that his actions were the first to have been televised. His shooting spree in Texas was captured by a local television station and was the first to have been broadcast ‘live into American homes.
Secondly, there’s a widespread belief that the majority of mass killers suffer from some form of mental illness; their illness is the thing that makes them indulge their fantasies and marks them out as very different from the vast majority of sane human beings. Critical analysis of mass killings, however, shows this to be largely a myth. Only around a tenth of mass killers suffer from a clinically-diagnosable mental illness while around 70% of killers show no indication of mental illness at all.
There are, however, a range of “negative life experiences” suffered by those who subsequently go on to commit mass murder that tend to mark them out from the majority: these include things like serious and persistent levels of bullying at school or work and some sort of life crisis that eventually tips them over into seeing mass murder as a solution to their problems.
Finally, just as most mass killers aren’t mentally ill, the vast majority are neither suicidal nor trying to invite so-called “suicide-by-cop” – the idea that mass killers effectively plan to commit suicide by forcing the police to kill them.
While a relatively small number may invite suicide there’s increasing evidence to suggest that the motivations of mass killers are both many and varied and that an increasing number do not want to die at the scene of their crimes, either by their own hands or those of law enforcement. On the contrary, a significant number of mass killers – motivated by a desire for fame examined in the second film in this series – clearly want their “time in the spotlight”.
And the only way they can achieve this is by staying alive.