Hybristophilia is a concept which has been gaining interest for some time, particularly from a literary standpoint. A hybristophile is best described as some who loves their partner because of a serious crime, often violent in nature. When we think of the word, we think of Myra Hindley, or Ted Bundy’s legion of fan-girls. Crazy women, we think. Lunatics! What woman would write to someone like that, let alone participate!
Of course, there is always that reaction upon learning of a new fetish. I, for one, remember the first time I heard about ‘loonies’, but that’s a story for another day, involving you, and Urban dictionary. For now, I ask you to consider this: were those women who wrote to Ted Bundy really in the same category as Myra Hindley? No, of course not. The girls who wrote to him weren’t really hurting anything, were they? They were indulging a fantasy. Maybe still a dangerous one, had he been clever enough to exert a true influence over one of them. But there is far less harm in writing to an incarcerated man than there is being Myra Hindley, who had a pivotal role in unspeakable crimes.
For a very brief overview: Myra Hindley was one of the two Moores Murderers in mid-60s Manchester who, along with her boyfriend, Ian Brady, kidnapped and murdered children. For the sake of pleasantness and brevity I will not delve into detail here but I would urge you to look it up when you have time, because it is a very interesting case, and a fantastic example of what I have always considered to be the active form of hybristophilia. These women are ones who get involved on a deep level. Generally they end up arrested and die in prison or at the hands of the State.
But then, you have the girls who watched the news one day after all these horrible killings had happened, after there was some grand escape on the killer’s part ending in a massacre—and then turned on the news and saw this:
Well—you might have a flutter. There’s a reason for this, aside from face symmetry. It is the same reason women love Twilight, and, perhaps to a greater extent, 50 Shades of Grey. And it is certainly the same reason people watch Hannibal. Please take note I’m not comparing the three. The third is clearly a cut above the sparkly vampire fan fiction and the fan fiction of the sparkly vampire fan fiction. But quality is not what matters here, dear Fannibals: what matters here is demonstration in terms of most to least fantastic, of course meant in the fantasy way.
First we have Edward Cullen, or, perhaps more pleasant to talk about, Bill Compton or Eric Northman. (I do miss True Blood, I admit to that.) Vampires have always been sexualized, and if you don’t believe me, reread Dracula and go without loosening your collar just a bit. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Olalla” is another great example, available on Librevox as well. I rather prefer it to Dracula.
The difference between vampires then and vampires now is that vampires are our heroes. They’re nice. They sparkle and bang fairies. Sometimes they’re half fairy and that’s just a mess. Why do we do this to the noble vampire, who once, consigned to shadows, existed to manipulate an invitation home from wealthy, (bored, lonely,) aristocrats?
We do it because most of us want it scary. Not too scary. A vampire after our blood is, to some, a little too scary. But if we can have the Beauty and the Beast fantasy, that deep down inside the monster is good, and gentle, then there becomes a more universal interest. A large demographic, as I learned, when, at my first job at a Barnes & Noble, practically everyone with ovaries wanted a copy of ‘that vampire romance novel all the girls are reading’. They assumed that my ovaries and age at the time meant I would also love the book, which was not only untrue, but offensive. I would politely inform them that there were hundreds, literally hundreds, of better-written vampire books out there. And this was only back when the first movie was coming out! Before Twilight there had been hundreds of thousands of paranormal romance authors. Some with violent vampires, some with semi-gentle ones. Readers and viewers love to see a man struggle with good and evil (Angel/us in Buffy) but others may just enjoy unrepentant evil.
Unrepentant evil is exciting because, if it favors us, it means we are in some way exceptional. Like a tamer reaching into the maw of a lion, a semi-stable relationship with evil is not only a way to see the other side, but to be protected from a greater evil which might come—literally, as that old phrase says, ‘better the devil you know…’
50 Shades of Grey pushes this concept to being a little more realistic. Heralded as sounding like “the diary of a sex offender” (which, objectively, could be a great book), the recently released Grey is not about a vampire, but a man based on a vampire: a sociopath with an acute interest in BDSM, who is somehow not a serial killer. This is not to say anyone who is into BDSM is a serial killer: rather, in our present reality, with all its laws as they currently are, the vampire’s analogue is the killer.
Let’s talk about this for a moment. As I myself have tweeted before, and as many historians and readers know, there are a great many similarities to particular monster myths and violent killers. Many famous monsters were directly inspired by historical figures: Vlad the Impaler and Countess Bathory jump right to mind as the source of countless tales. Those are just the really famous ones. In more recent times, a man named Alfredo Ballí Treviño, convicted of murdering a friend but suspected of murdering more, was revealed as Thomas Harris’ model for Hannibal Lecter.
If what I described before with Twilight was a demographic (females, 15+) we see a niche within that (females who like BDSM, 18+) is filled by 50 Shades of Grey with a more extreme appeal. The nice-guy pretense is dropped almost entirely in favor of rugged domination, but he won’t kill anyone. But within, and perhaps slightly overlapping that category, now there lies Hannibal‘s audience. They scoff at 50 Shades if they read it at all, maybe even the same with Twilight. If they do like them, it is secretly, or ‘ironically’. But they look at Hannibal and see an exquisite piece of modern art, titillating. They hear people who dislike it calling it pretentious, and they don’t care, because it gives them not only a close look at an active serial killer, but it also gives them the recognition that this is a person, too. A person they could get to know in fantasy, in the show, in the book. There is some measure of safety there, but still the mental thrill. The sheer idea! It’s exciting to watch Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter in Brian Fuller’s masterpiece, because there is the hope, not of salvation, but connection. Some people may watch it with the fantasy of salvation, but those who are more logical and self-aware who indulge this fantasy must ask themselves, as Hannibal asks Bedelia: “Observe, or participate?”
Hannibal is beautiful, and cannot possibly have survived on network television, specifically because it strips away pretense and pushes the paranormal romance genre to its logical conclusion. It will upset many people and hypnotize the rest. In real life, there are monsters, but they, like us, are human. What would we do if we encountered one? Fight, flee, or a third, unnameable option? I’d wager of 10,000 who might describe themselves as ‘hybristophiles’ (looking at all the lovely tumblr girls out there with some fantastic serial killer blogs, among other people), maybe 20 percent have a dream killer they would write to if they had the chance. All of ten percent would meet him in a controlled environment, perhaps one percent would meet him if he were out and free, and a point something something of a percent would be interested or malleable enough to assist in his crimes.
People get offended when they see people on the Internet engaging in ‘serial killer fandom’, as it is called, but the truth is that it isn’t hurting anyone, and it’s no different than loving Edward Cullen. Yes, Edward Cullen never killed anyone in real life, but he, like deceased killers blogged about on tumblr, or the sinister Dr. Treviño, has no way to observe this. There can be no gratification or vindication. The person has ceased to exist and instead become a kind of character: read about him, watch videos of him, even, but you’ll never talk to him. People are fond of various serial killer historical ‘characters’ the way others are fond of Hollywood ‘characters’ and Literary ‘characters’, as authors also become characters when they die. This is because they live on in stories, and stories are how we teach ourselves lessons. Stories are how we share, and learn, and get excited and feel less alone. Stories are incredible because they can’t hurt us.
It is a terrible shame to see Hannibal possibly going, because it has consistently been the best show on television since its premiere. One can only hope logic will win out and someone else will pick it up, because not only is it a combination of music, color, form and writing that is simply to die for, but it is also grand for those who like that little flutter every time they think about Dr. Lecter or characters like him. And the legions of fans standing up in his defense are proving it’s a very large niche market, indeed. That’s exciting to me because my novel, DELILAH, MY WOMAN, while a very different premise, has themes that will appeal to just that sort of person: the person who loves to think about not a sparkly vampire, but a bloody one. The person who loves to think about not Christian Grey, but Hannibal Lecter. Those who are unafraid to see exactly how far and how dark the other side of the romance genre really is. Hannibal is beautiful because it is a meditation on the close parallels between love and hate, life and death, God and Devil. It, like Delilah, is an important study of just why we are excited when men aren’t just bad, but evil.