5 Shocking Ways Pop Culture Inspired Horrible Crimes
We're forever debating how much pop culture affects people's brains, because about 80% of our personalities are based on Back To The Future Part II. It would be nice to know we aren't alone, even though we definitely deserve to be. So here's a point in favor of entertainment having more influence than one might think: Even criminals can't help but work it into what they do. For example ...
CSI Taught People How to Destroy Forensic Evidence
The "CSI effect" is the supposed phenomenon whereby forensic dramas like CSI and NCIS have made jurors unwilling to find someone guilty unless there's a litany of forensic evidence to support the verdict. It now turns out that idea is crap. While there may be instances of individual jurors being jerks about the whole thing, it's not a widespread trend.
While these shows might not be influencing jurors, however, they do tangibly affect how criminals behave -- specifically, they're teaching them how to manage and erase forensic evidence. Although CSI might seem about as realistic as Star Trek, much of the science has a solid basis in reality. You know how criminals on the show are always using bleach to erase their tracks? That's a real thing that bleach can do -- which didn't used to be common knowledge amongst criminals. These days, though, bleach is found at a startling majority of premeditated homicides, and the blame for that is being laid at the feet of Gil Grissom et al.
It's not all bad news, though. While these shows might serve as a how-to guide for Successful Crimin', that knowledge means nothing if the student is a careless dum-dum. As a real CSI once explained:
When they try to escape detection from what they see on CSI, they're actually leaving more evidence. A good example of that is instead of licking an envelope (for fear of providing DNA in their saliva) they'll use adhesive tape. Well, they'll probably leave fingerprints on the tape, and it'll pick up hairs and fibers from the surroundings. So the more effort you put into trying to evade detection, honestly, the more evidence you leave behind.
There's no better example of this than Jermaine McKinney, who used every trick from CSI (his favorite show) to destroy evidence of a brutal double murder. The brilliant plan fell apart not as a result of equally brilliant detective work, but because McKinney tried to dispose of the murder weapon by throwing it in a frozen lake.
The Military Had to Ask 24 to Stop Making Torture Look So Good
24 definitely glamorized torture, not just as a valid means of extracting information from bad guys, but as a surefire way of looking super tough. But even the military eventually asked the show to tone it down a little, on account of how it was starting to screw with their guys' heads.
In 2006, a delegation of military personnel -- which included the dean of West Point, as well as several high-level interrogation experts from the FBI and CIA -- visited the set of 24 in order to raise several concerns. Chief among these was that as a result of the show's popularity amongst military personnel, recruits increasingly believed that torturing people was a justifiable act if done in the service of their country -- so much so that a group of soldiers in Iraq had to be stopped from psychologically torturing a captured enemy combatant using a method that they'd seen on 24.
As the delegation also pointed out, torture is practically useless as a means of extracting information from the types of hardcore religious extremists the show continually rolled out, many of whom in real life would "almost welcome torture." This shouldn't be a surprise, but the show's writers didn't listen to the delegation, and used the opportunity to only talk about truth serums and hypothetical ticking-bomb scenarios ... as well as argue that actually, there's a super secret cheat code within the Constitution that makes torture legal. This is something that no serious legal scholars believe, although it's the sort of imaginative garbage that we'd expect from the minds that brought us an hour of Elisha Cuthbert being menaced by a cougar.
Jeffrey Dahmer Would Watch Star Wars And The Exorcist To Psych Himself Up
Jeffrey Dahmer was a serial killer who between 1978 and 1991 murdered, cannibalized, and dismembered 17 men and young boys. At his trial, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity -- which necessitated an examination by Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist. Dahmer was eventually found to be sane, and thereafter sentenced to life imprisonment. But during the many, many hours he spent talking with him, Dietz discovered that Dahmer had a warm-up routine of sorts.
Before he'd go a'murdering, Dahmer would "set the right mood" by watching a double bill of The Exorcist III and Return Of The Jedi. Why these two movies? As Dietz explained, it's because Dahmer saw himself in the antagonists of both: Satan in The Exorcist and the Emperor in ROTJ.
[W]hat these characters have in common is that they are evil and corrupt and powerful, and both have the ability to use special powers to control others ... Each of the characters in the scenes that he repeatedly viewed actually torments someone else in a way that might be described as torture, but Mr. Dahmer said that was not what was appealing to him ... [H]e never enacted that and he's consistently told me that making others suffer was not his desire sexually, but that he did identify with the power of these characters.
In other words, Dahmer wasn't drawn to murder because he liked the killing, but because it gave him ultimate power over another person -- a motive reflected in his favorite films. Dahmer identified so strongly with these characters, in fact, that he bought a pair of yellow-tinted contact lenses so he could look like the Emperor while out cruising for victims.
John Wilkes Booth Timed His Shooting Of Lincoln To A Specific Line In Our American Cousin
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 might've been a mess from start to finish, but John Wilkes Booth did get something "right" (in the loosest sense of the term). Booth planned his killing blow to coincide with a line in the play Lincoln was seeing, Our American Cousin. Thanks to his experience as an actor, Booth knew this particular moment would generate enough raucous laughter to cover up the sound of gunfire. This is, frankly, the most theater kid thing we've ever heard.
That line, by the way?
Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal -- you sockdologizing old man-trap.
You had to be there.
"Baby, It's Cold Outside" Helped Inspire Modern Islamic Fundamentalism
Amidst all the endless arguing over whether "Baby, It's Cold Outside" deserves to be cancelled, we wound up missing something much bigger: In a roundabout way, the song wound up giving us 9/11.
In 1948, a religious scholar from Egypt named Sayyid Qutb took up a scholarship at a teaching college in Greeley, Colorado. The purpose of the scholarship was to allow Qutb to study how our education system worked. Instead of an appreciation for underfunding and overcrowding, however, Qutb finished his two-year scholarship with a raging hatred of the West, which he considered to a shallow, materialistic, debauched place with no redeeming features. This was a moral condition he felt was summed up best by the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
The dance hall convulsed to the tunes on the gramophone and was full of bounding feet and seductive legs. Arms circled waists, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of passion.
A dialogue between a boy and a girl returning from their evening date. The boy took the girl to his home and kept her from leaving. She entreated him to let her return home, for it was getting late and her mother was waiting, but every time she would make an excuse, he would reply to her with his line: but baby it's cold outside.
Qutb entered the U.S. a mild-mannered bookworm. He left a hardcore religious fundamentalist. Over the next two decades, Qutb channeled his hatred into reinterpreting the Quran in such a way that it could be read as justifying not only the creation of a "true" Islamic state, but also mass violence against non-believers and members of other religions. Qutb was executed in 1966 for attempting to assassinate the president of Egypt, but his works lived on and developed a devoted following -- a following that came to include Osama bin Laden.
There you go, time travelers! If you want to stop both 9/11 and Islamic fundamentalism in general, we recommend paying a visit to a dance hall in the 1940s and changing the record.
Adam Wears is on Twitter, and has a newsletter dedicated to depressing history facts. It's not as heartbreakingly sad as it sounds, promise!
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