On Why We Love Sociopaths

340x_screen_shot_2010-11-03_at_6.28.33_pmWhat does the ascendance of the sociopath as a pop culture figure mean? The New Inquiry on our ever-growing fascination with “disconnected” characters:

My greatest regret is that I’m not a sociopath. I suspect I’m not alone. I have written before that we live in the age of awkwardness, a strong case could be made that we live in the age of the sociopath. They are dominant figures on television, for example, and within essentially every television genre. Cartoon shows have been fascinated by sociopathic fathers (with varying degrees of sanity) ever since the writers of The Simpsons realized that Homer was a better central character than Bart. On the other end of the spectrum, the flagships of high-brow cable drama have almost all been sociopaths of varying stripes: the mafioso Tony Soprano of The Sopranos, the gangsters Stringer Bell and Marlo of The Wire, the seductive imposter Don Draper of Mad Men, and even the serial-killer title character of Dexter.

On a certain level, this trend may not seem like anything new. It seems as though most cultures have lionized ruthless individuals who make their own rules, even if they ultimately feel constrained to punish them for their self-assertion as well. Yet there is something new going on in this entertainment trend that goes beyond the understandable desire to fantasize about living without the restrictions of society. The fantasy sociopath is somehow outside social norms—largely bereft of human sympathy, for instance, and generally amoral—and yet is simultaneously a master manipulator, who can instrumentalize social norms to get what he or she wants…

Read the rest at The New Inquiry

14 Comments on "On Why We Love Sociopaths"

  1. Hadrian999 | Apr 20, 2012 at 6:19 pm |

    because the rules are a joke, they aren’t moral or honorable, the rules exist to keep people in their place. the rules say that a gangster is bad when he uses force and violence to get his way, but a police officer is the goodguy when he busts heads to keep lower social classes docile and compliant.  “sociopaths” in fiction always have a larger than life freedom to them that we want, they have the power to ignore all the petty restrictions and hypocritical rules that we are forced to live with

    • Liam_McGonagle | Apr 21, 2012 at 11:43 am |

      Also sprach Nietsche.

      It’s a balance.  Some rules are horrible unconditionally, but most have to be viewed in context, as to whether they’re applied to increase or decrease inequalities in the wider society.

      Is a person right to cut off all contact with their backward, right-wing family because tolerating their talk would encourage that sort of behavior?  Or would he be an asshole for refusing a sick parent’s dying wish?

      James Joyce felt he had to make that kind of decision.  At the foot of his mother’s deathbed, he stubbornly refused her dying plea that he pray for her soul to the Catholic God, whom he viewed as hypocritical and Simoniacal.

      On the other hand, what about the rule that a captain go down with his ship?  Or at least insist on being the last in line for rescue?  Obama’s repeatedly thrown constituents and colleagues under the bus to pursue his triangulation marketing strategy (e.g., stabbing fellow Dem Joe Sestak in the back in 2010 to support Republican Arlen Specter, etc., etc., etc.).  Now the poll numbers and fund raising stats show that the chickens are coming home to roost.

      The Mills of Justice grind slowly, but they grind fine.

  2.  Fascination with psychopaths is nothing new.

    Iago was a psychopath, to name but one pre-20th century example.

  3. media and entertainment is a business like any other.. and this business “community” is fascinated with itself (a form of narcisism), dominated by a cut-throat, winner-takes-all culture (fairly typical of modern-day capitalism). are they likely to criticise or more likely glorify themselves and their methods? rationalising and justifying one’s own beliefs/actions/methods is human nature…
    what is really dangerous here is that the media complex propagates, disseminates and normalises modes of behaviour and thinking (i.e. culture) which encourages the rest of us to conform and emulate.
    personally, i believe the best defence is to heap this shite onto the same pile of vapid rubish as everything else produced by the mainstream media.
    we all lose ourselves in some tv/movie fantasy now and again, but we must make sure we recognise that it is not real… which can be difficult, because i’m not sure how well equiped the human mind is to deal with the “un-reality” our senses are assaulted with during every waking moment (but that’s another, rather huge and complex, topic for discussion)

  4. they have enough confidence to be Business Professional

  5. I watched the Hope & Change spectacle in 08.
    Obama was extremely convincing; his sincere words felt like a breath of fresh air.
    Three years later, the guy appears to have blatantly lied about his real agenda,
    or he is merely the puppet of some unnamed puppet masters.
    Either way, he appears to be a sociopath without a sense of shame.

    I realize that a lot of people still think Obummer is the real deal.
    But a lot of people believe in imaginary supreme beings and Santa Clause too,
    but it doesn’t make them right.

  6. Tony Soprano was interesting because he wasn’t a sociopath

    • he acted like a sociopath, but was secretly eaten up with guilt on the inside..
      obviously that was just a TV series, but i’ve often wondered how many people in positions of power act in unconscionable ways even when they know/feel it’s immoral. in other words, perhaps many or even most sociopaths are made, not born that way.

  7. It’s called PR public relations. We don’t love who psychopaths are, we are sold on who psychopaths pretend to be. We exposed to the reality of the psychopath we always loathe, avoid them and when that’s not possible, beat the crap out of them. The real choice in dealing with psychopaths, avoid them or destroy them or become their victim. We learn that lesson from our earliest days in school. The sly manipulator, the back stabber, the shit stirrer, hiding in the background but always the cause of trouble, unless the get a crowd of narcissists on their side, then it’s straight up bullying and brutality.
    Psychopaths were young once too and worked hard at making primary and high school a miserable experience for everyone else.
    Make no mistake we learned to loathe them at a very early age, we just didn’t know who they really were.

  8. I’m not sure about a few of these examples, particularly Don Draper–a doting father with a deeply guilty conscience who happens to be well-groomed and very good at what he does for a living.

    Maybe if we’re to discuss the fictional depiction of sociopathy, it needs a more careful definition.

  9. GoodDoktorBad | Apr 21, 2012 at 10:59 am |

    With a rage that borders the fringes of sociopathy and with a kindness that resembles madness, I walk this land of confusion…….

  10. With the rising rate of autism and aspergers syndrome, perhaps people are trying harder to understand this phenomenon of not being able to gage or care about other people’s feelings.

  11. Jesus Borg | Apr 21, 2012 at 6:53 pm |

    most people in western culture-Europe the US, Japan are over-socialized. So in comparison it may seem fun to be a socipath. I think when people fantasize about being a sociopath they are really trying to integrate their shadow, a fruitful endeavor, actually. True psychopaths are pretty banal, though.

  12. I’ve known sociopaths (haven’t we all?), their less attractive traits are really exaggerated on screen (isn’t everything?).   In real life they are very charming, intelligent and sometimes kinder than most.   Sure, they lack guilt and  have trouble following moral principles, but they are less judgmental than those who do.  Honestly, sometimes it is nice not to be judged or preached to by holier than thou people.  They are fine friends to have, but they need clear boundaries and more motivation than the average person to do good.  Essentially, even the least moral among us can be good in some situations; like a real life anti-hero of sorts. Let me know if anything needs to be clarified, I tend to ramble.

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