Hideousness at Its Roots

Chris Cooper




sights or thoughts are labeled as such by our relevant perception of what is acceptable. We frequently avert our attention and turn away from hideousness in reaction to preferences, phobias, comfort, social moors- whatever the reason may be, we are all able to define our limits by these qualities. These lines are drawn clearly and for the most part agreed upon among all societies. However these distasteful and sometimes horrifying things still exist within our midst, spawning regularly and almost unexpectedly anywhere around us. But is hideousness a random event, or can its occurrence be explained, charted, correlated with some other quality and traced to an ultimate cause?
Observations of patterns between revolting actions and behaviors, along with direct testimonies from the perpetrators, have yielded a trend of
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As described in David Foster Wallace’s fictional accounts of his book, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and in many of the most unsettling events of the past century, these occurrences are found to have been carefully, and at times tenaciously, controlled by their executors. Whether more to ensure that the events proceed without inhibition or hindrance from outside forces or a stress to bend the will of the victims consumed, the culprits of such crimes against humanity were observed to exert powerful control over the situations and people involved. Digging deeper, the theme of control typically begins in the sinister individual’s childhood; traumatizing or conflicting experiences from one’s youth initiate psychological repercussions that may lead to hideous decisions later in life.

Recognizably infamous among generations, Charles Manson, has perhaps one of the most hideous living legacies in the United States. Incarcerated since 1971 for his malevolent practices in the 1950s and 60s leading ultimately to multiple murders. His range of unsettling behaviors, beginning with forgery and burglary, escalated to sexual assaults against both women and young boys and at the height of his freedom in society the development of a small cult. Manson influenced several people to perform hideous deeds both sexual and murderous as members of his “Family”. Each of these disturbed individuals was under his nearly complete control, and remained as so even after their life-sentence imprisonment (Linder).
Listening to Manson speak, it is clear that in proclaiming his haunting, insane messages he does “not propose it in a creepy or lascivious way, and… not appear in any way eager or hesitant or conflicted… nor aggressive or threatening” (Wallace 92). Much like the unnamed character in Wallace’s Brief Interview #48, Manson seemed to have a “mysterious affinity” about him, and there was a “sense that a willingness to go along would not be out of the question” for his followers (85).
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Wallace’s character displays the same calm, self-assured command over people who are lured under his control by their own will that was observed in Manson’s behaviors. This nameless character much like Manson also attributed his hideous actions to issues rooted in his childhood conflicts with his mother. Although Manson did not directly name his mother as the reason for the route along which he led his life, evidence suggests that his criminal record appeared early as a result of his childhood conditions. She was a teenager mother who was imprisoned for armed robbery- exiting Charles’ life when he was only five years old- and his own tendencies toward crime beginning shortly thereafter (Linder). Wallace identifies this source of hideousness in adults through his story “Suicide as a Sort of Present”, in which a young mother absently allows her child to become as vile a person as herself- a “delinquent and unhappy child, for a world of impossible expectations and merciless judgment” (244). Manson would later make many statements himself regarding his perception of evil in children that he attributed to the parents:

“These children that come at you with knives. They are your children.” –Charles Manson

Unlike Mason’s position of distantly guiding other hideous people to perform evil acts, comparably infamous twentieth century

serial killers

Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy were more directly involved in their hideous deeds. Similar to Manson and many of Wallace’s interpretations of hideous men, these individuals committed sexual crimes against almost every victim whose life they took.

Sexual crimes are considered acts intended to control or assert one’s dominance over the victim as well, and rape and murder are arguably the two most heinous crimes

by consensus of the American public and human conscience, leveling the hideousness of these two as undoubted.

Jeffrey Dahmer was a Milwaukee native who committed his first murder at the age of 18. Luring young men into his home, actually either his parent’s or grandmother’s homes, or hotel rooms, he would intoxicate and kill them. He would rape his victims before killing them and many times also attempt necrophilia before dismembering the corpses and disposing of them around his home. Evidence also suggests he engaged in cannibalism with some of the remains. Dahmer retained severed heads and genitals from his victims, as well as an extensive gallery of photographs from each murder. Throughout the years he spent serving in the United States Army stationed in Germany and carrying out minor prison sentences for various charges related to sexual offenses, alcoholism, and misconduct, Dahmer would take

17 victims in thirteen years,

12 of them in the last 15 months alone. His arrest in 1991 led to incarceration accounting for 15 consecutive life terms; however, another inmate would murder Dahmer and another prisoner within twenty minutes of their assignment to the same cell (Bio).
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Dahmer’s hideousness is exemplified in one of Wallace’s brief interviews, in which a man describes another, more hideous man’s acts against a woman they both encountered. The criminal man in the account entices the woman to enter his vehicle as a willing hitchhiker but is then revealed to be a serial rapist and murderer by the “energy field in the car- she said she instantly knew in the depths of her soul that the fellow’s intention was to brutally rape, torture, and kill her” (Wallace 251). Dahmer’s first victim, Steven Hicks, was an unfortunate hitchhiker whom Dahmer took to his home.

The roots of Dahmer’s deplorable compulsions, according to the hideous man himself, stem from the acrimonious divorce of his parents when Dahmer was 14 years old. Childhood stresses and unresolved psychological conflicts developed the haunting character as which Dahmer is now infamously remembered. Struggle with divorce is identified as a root cause of hideousness in many of Wallace’s stories, namely “The Depressed Person”. Although Dahmer’s exact experience with his parents’ separation is unknown, it is not unheard of “for an emotionally sensitive child to… feel guilty about the staggering cost” incurred during the experience (Wallace 40). Dahmer also claimed to be traumatized by a surgical procedure to correct a double hernia as a child (Bio). Possibly the compounding factors of childhood conflicts left unresolved fostered a suitable mentality to allow for Dahmer’s dark desires.

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John Wayne Gacy was older than Dahmer, in his thirties, when he raped, tortured, and murdered 33 young men in the 1970s. Like Dahmer, Gacy specifically targeted African-American victims almost every time. He was convicted for the murders in 1980 and sentenced to death by lethal injection fourteen years later. Gacy’s most twisted aspect earned him the nickname

"The Killer Clown"

He dressed as a clown of his own device, Pogo, which allowed him to easily encounter his young victims (Deputy). As a clown, he could appear trustworthy to children who he would later claim as victims much like Wallace’s Johnny One-Arm who convinces people to give in to his desires after utilizing his natural disability which he calls his “Asset” to first connect with them and gain their trust (Wallace 69).
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Gacy’s disability was a neurological disorder that, rather than gain him the pity of his victims, warranted regular abuse from his father. His father also regularly berated his son for exhibiting characteristics of homosexuals as a child (Deputy). Gacy’s childhood abuse and mental health among other afflictions serve as the

deeply rooted issues that influenced his hideous actions later in life.

Of course the psychological processes resulting in this sort of phenomena are difficult to trace with certainty, similar to the storyline of Wallace’s “On His Deathbed, Holding Your Hand, the Acclaimed New Young Off-Broadway Playwright’s Father Begs a Boon”. In the story, the father’s extensive scorn for his son leaves the reader wondering if the child was actually evil or if, regardless of original condition, the father’s attitude spawned the evil that he describes.
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Childhood traumas are found to be hanging over the heads of hideous men of all kinds, which translate to hideous power struggles as adults. A key to countering uncontrollable conflicts in members of society lies in resolutions made at the roots of all men, the early years of their lives.

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