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Charles Manson and Our Fascination with Evil

Charles Manson and Our Fascination with Evil
Image: Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

Notorious cult leader Charles Manson was responsible for the brutal deaths of nine people in the summer of 1969. The murders were so gruesome and sensational that Manson has been an obsession for many people even after his death.

This summer (2019) a Quentin Tarantino movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is being released. It is based partially on Manson’s crimes and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Kurt Russell, and Al Pacino. Film historian Peter Biskind writes about Manson’s appeal in a recent issue of Esquire.

Some examples of our fascination with Charles Manson and evil:

-At least 50 books have been written about Manson.

-Helter Skelter, the book on his investigation and trial, has sold over seven million copies. It is the “best-selling true-crime book of all time.”

-One opera entitled The Manson Family was produced.

-Eleven feature films, documentaries, and TV series focus entirely on him or he is a large part of the subject covered.

-According to the recent article in Esquire: “In addition to comic books and multiple websites devoted to him …, jewelry, coffee mugs, and T-shirts displaying his image sell on eBay, Etsy, and Amazon. ... You can download his singing and talking ringtones to your cell phone—for free.”

Biskind ends his article by delving into the essence of this fascination:

One thing Charlie liked to say was “Look straight at me and you see yourself.” Maybe one answer to the riddle of Manson and his girls is that they remind us of the ultimate unknowability of other people, even the seemingly unremarkable ones. Theirs is the story of Little Red Riding Hood in reverse: The smiling young girl at the door selling Girl Scout cookies is herself the Big Bad Wolf, and may be hiding a dagger under her cloak.

Source: Peter Biskind, “Masonplaining,” Esquire (5-20-19)

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