The allure of terrible news
Why does the late Charles Manson remain a cultural fascination decades after the gruesome Manson murders?
Hollywood director and screenwriter Larry Brand created a podcast, Hollywood and Crime’s “Young Charlie,” which explores this central question and delves into the childhood that shaped the cunning monster. The acclaimed director of “Beyond Glory,” “Christina” and “Halloween Resurrection,” joined Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams on “Salon Talks” to discuss how a troubled boy from West Virginia ended up becoming a murderous cult leader and why he believes America’s fascination with Manson is two-fold.
According to Brand, there’s first an evolutionary aspect to why we’re innately enthralled by evil, such as obsessing over murders, child kidnappings and other horrific news stories. He goes on to say that he believes years of human evolution have lead to this inherent captivation with every appalling headline or story that crosses our path. “Even if it’s a thousand miles away our brains are on the alert as if it were next door. That’s the way we evolved, to worry about what happened next door,” Brand said.
However, Brand also asserts that Manson’s throne as a pop culture icon has just as much do with efficiently wrapping up the narrative of the 1960s. “I think when it comes to Charlie, there's another answer, and it does have to do with this cultural resonance,” he said. “It has to do with this, we love narratives. We are storytellers as human beings. We love symbols, we love things that mean more than they do.”
The Manson murders were also symbolic for their juxtaposition at the time to the free love Woodstock counterculture that evolved throughout the decade and beyond. “Charlie conveniently fits into this narrative, the '60s narrative. It very conveniently puts a punctuation mark on the '60s,” Brand said.
Check out the clip above to learn more about Manson’s lasting influence and check out the full episode to hear more about Manson’s childhood and the “Young Charlie” podcast.
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