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The Bonnie & Clyde syndrome

On a gloomy morning in the third arrondissement of Paris, we meet the team of photographer @aubane.despres, make-up artist @larissefromparis, hairstylist, models @sol.bannatyne & @ziyadthupsee and light assistant @stephanevaquero inside the headquarters of Virvolt - a place where speed and movement is the motivation for all work. It made us think about the love Bonny & Clyde had for fast cars...

When I was younger I loved ghost stories. I loved reading them, listen to other people telling me about crime and murderers and I also made them up myself. I didn't realise it was going to become a lifelong obsession.

Because now, years later, I, like many other women, am still reading, watching and listening to true crime series. “Serial”, “The Dropout” and “I’ll be Gone the Dark” are a few of my favorites, fyi. And I am not the only one who finds this specific subgenre intriguing. According to a study made in April, by media tracking company Parrot Analytics, true crime documentaries had become the fastest growing segment of the streaming industry.

But still, even post pandemic, the demand is high. And generally the crowd consists of mainly women. I googled the phenomenon and stumbled upon a sea of studies and experts talking about why women are seemingly obsessed with true crime. A study conducted by Amanda Vicary, a graduate student at University of Illinois, and psychology professor R. Chris Fraley, which was later published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, came to the conclusion that women were compelled to read about crime in order to know how to protect themselves.

But this is just one part of it. It feels like our whole culture is crushing on crime a little. We listen to music about it, we read books and watch movies about it. Britney Spears sang about being in love with a criminal back in 2011 and since the beginning of the decade Jay-Z and Beyonce have monetized on the couple's alter egos inspired by Bonnie and Clyde. In 2014 they went on the joint “On the Run” tour. The tour was a financial success and the audience loved it as well, myself included. The “us against the world” theme of the tour benefited their respective brands, and their brand as a couple.

The “Bonnie and Clyde” syndrome also has another name, a term that was introduced by psychologists that describes the sexual interest and attraction to those who commit crimes: hybristophilia. I do not really think most people suffer from hybristophilia, yet there is a hybristophilial tendency in our culture that I find interesting. In 2019 the dreamy heartthrob Zac Efron played Ted Bundy in the Netflix movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, which according to Bustle, cost the streaming site 9 million dollars. The movie was high anticipated yet received criticism after its release due to its problematic perspective – the movie focused on the murderer's experience and barely touched on the perspective of the victims. And did they really have to choose an actor who is known to be attractive and charming? That same year Netflix also released“Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” a four part docu-series where Bundy was portrayed as a mysterious, charming and focused on the image of Bundy as good looking.

Another example is the viral photo that shook the internet back in 2014. After the Stockton Police Department published a mugshot on their Facebook page thousands of people started to engage on their page. The photo of the convicted felon, Jeremy Meeks, got thousands of likes and comments by people who were mesmerized by his good looks. During that same summer the photo spread all over the internet under the title “Hot Felon” and fans on Twitter fans created the hashtag #feloncrushfriday. On February 5, 2015, Meeks was convicted of one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. A month after his sentencing he signed a modeling contract and he remains one of the most well-known memes today.

Netflix, and other streaming sites, are still packed with true crime dramas, series and documentaries. And my podcast-app is constantly proposing new true crimes podcasts for me to listen to. The craze is not slowing down it seems like. And there is a fascinating discrepancy between these two cultural phenomenons. On one hand we are eager to listen and watch series about crime in order to understand how we should protect ourselves, a biological and natural instinct driven by fear. On the other hand we are constantly being fed into a problematic narrative about criminal (mainly) men being hot, sexy, mysterious and charming.

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