Sociopaths and Psychopaths, Oh My!

By Brent Glass (@BrentAMG)

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes     Dexter Morgan

Sociopaths and psychopaths, oh my!  My exclamation is not out of fear, rather excitement.  While some are quick to relate psychopaths and sociopaths to serial killers and other unpleasant people, they are also some of the most interesting.  There is a fascination with those who have anti-social personalities in one form or another.  Why is that?  I am not suggesting this is a problem; I am one of those people.  My favorite show is BBC’s Sherlock and I am currently enjoying Dexter.  Beyond that, I am reading The Devil in the White City and thoroughly enjoyed the film Seven PsychopathsThese seemingly dangerous and unknown people have found a way into our hearts.

Why do people love Sherlock?  Surely (see what I did there?) there are thousands upon thousands of fans of this BBC show.  There have only been 6 ninety-minute episodes, yet many – including myself, as I mentioned – consider it the best show on television today.  Isn’t that odd, considering the main character, Sherlock Holmes, is a sociopath who can hardly detect the most elementary social cues?  It’s not as if Sherlock is some kind person who all should aspire to be.  He’s a jerk.  But we love it.  I can’t speak for all fans, but I know I love the character because I find his lack of attachment and emotion so very intriguing… and funny.  In the pilot episode, there is a comical exchange between a girl obviously infatuated with Sherlock and Holmes himself:

Molly Hooper: Listen, I was wondering… maybe later, when you’re finished—
Sherlock Holmes: You’re wearing lipstick. You weren’t wearing lipstick before.
Molly Hooper: I uh, I refreshed it a bit.
Sherlock: Sorry, you were saying?
Molly Hooper: I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee.
Sherlock: Black. Two sugars please. I’ll be upstairs. He exits
Molly Hooper to herself: Okay.

Some may find it cold (like my mother) but others (like myself) find it irresistibly hysterical.  Sherlock is not the only unstable character society has chosen to embrace.  Spilling into the black from the gray line is Dexter Morgan from the hit Showtime series Dexter.

For those who have lived as an ostrich for the past nine years, I’ll give you a brief synopsis.  Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who lives in Miami and works as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami Police Department.  Driven by his psychopathic tendencies and a code laid down by his foster-father, Dexter kills those whom he believes escaped justice.  Not as palatable as a consulting detective, huh?  Despite the inherent repulsion a serial killer should illicit, fans love Dexter.  Is the world so messed up that people sympathize with a serial killer?  Or rather is it that each person identifies with psychopaths and sociopaths; that in some way, whether large or small, we all have urges that go against what society deems acceptable?  Watching shows like Sherlock and Dexter allow people to vicariously live through the characters; a guiltless outlet for all of their secret desires.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Sherlock Holmes was created at the end of the 19th century and various films have also been made such as: American Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and as recently as Seven Psychopaths.  Today, it almost seems as if sociopaths and psychopaths are the new superhero.  They’re everywhere and people rave about them.  Many of them are made out to be unlikely heroes in one way or another.  Certainly Sherlock is a hero in a sense of the word.  Furthermore, Dexter’s murderous needs are justified in most people’s minds; a vigilante of sorts.  Spider-man.  There are some sociopaths and psychopaths that do not garner sympathy.

For example, no one (unless you are a socio-/ psycho-path) rooted for John Doe in Se7en or Dr. H. H. Holmes in The Devil in the White City.  Those dudes were seriously messed up.  Obviously (or maybe not so much) this all depends on how the character is presented.  An author or a screenwriter can make the individual with the personality disorder a protagonist or antagonist through their method and point-of-view.  The reason many psychopaths and sociopaths are presented as protagonists is the result of the era of the antihero.  Many know that antiheroes were at the helm of the four greatest shows of the past decade: The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men.  It will be interesting to see whether people with personality disorders are presented in a positive or negative light as television moves away from the antihero format.

An impending question: what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?  Truth is that this question is not very easy to answer.  When performing my preliminary research for this post, I read many different opinions on the matter.  Some argue that there is no substantial difference between sociopaths and psychopaths.  Others, however, insist there are some defining qualities of each disorder.  Below I’ll post some different views on what qualities each disorder possesses:

“Characteristics of a sociopath are as followed:

1. Sociopaths are very charming.
2. Sociopaths can be extremely manipulative and will try to con you whenever possible.
3. Sociopaths feel that they are entitled to everything.
4. Sociopaths will lie continuously to get what they want. They can even sometimes manipulate a lie detector.
5. Sociopaths have no remorse, shame or guilt.
6. Sociopaths will show love and happiness only when it serves their purpose. None of the feelings are genuine.
7. Sociopaths have no room for love in their life.
8. Sociopaths need to have excitement in their lives or live on the edge.
9. Sociopaths have lack of empathy hen their victims suffer pain that they have caused.
10. Sociopaths believe that they are all mightier than thou, there is no concern on how their behavior impacts others.
11. Sociopaths usually have a long history of juvenile delinquency as well as behavior problems.
12. Sociopaths will never take blame for anything they have done to anyone no matter if it is family or friend.
13. Sociopaths have many sexual partners and tend to act out many sexual acts.
14. Sociopaths rarely stay in one place for a long time (home/work).
15. Sociopaths will change themselves if they know it will keep them from being found out.

Characteristics of a psychopath are as followed:

1. Psychopaths use superficial charm to lure their victims.
2. Psychopaths are extremely self-centered.
3. Psychopaths must always do something to keep themselves from boredom.
4. Psychopaths are very deceptive and tend to lie continuously.
5. Psychopaths show no remorse of guilt towards their victims.
6. Psychopaths are very predatory and usually will live off other people.
7. Psychopaths have many sexual partners in their lifetime.
8. Psychopaths are very impulsive with their lifestyle.
9. Psychopaths are always blaming other people for their actions.
10. Psychopaths never have a realistic view of their lives. (King of the world or from another planet).
11. Psychopaths always want psychological gratification in sexual and criminal activities.
12. Psychopaths tend to try suicide, rarely succeeding.”

23956psycho_chart

Those are two differing views I stumbled across.  For some reason these opinions do not sit well with me.  As aforementioned, I believe there is a difference.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll put my opinion in terms of Sherlock Holmes and Dexter.  I view Sherlock as a sociopath and Dexter as a psychopath.

Sherlock is absent of remorse, conscience, and basically all emotion.  He only finds time to care about very few people.  He is incessantly bored, always looking to stimulate his mind (to the extent that he is a heavy-drug user when without a case), and gets excited about serial killers; often forgetting that it is frowned upon in most areas of the world.

On the other hand, Dexter has a perpetual desire to kill.  Blood is on his mind always.  (And I don’t know what that means but I know I mean it.)  He hears voices in his head, usually his own, telling him to commit heinous acts.  Like Sherlock, he is almost devoid of all human emotion save for very few people in his life.  Dexter does not get excited about serial killers, he is one.

I could write an entire post about the similarities and differences between the two; maybe even a book (keep a lookout), but I will not.  I simply wanted to touch on the subject and bring it to people’s minds.  There is a very interesting topic within popular culture.  What’s up with all of the sociopaths and psychopaths?  I thoroughly enjoy movies, shows, and books involving these complex characters and I bet you do as well.  There’s nothing wrong with it.  If you haven’t, watch Sherlock, watch Dexter, and let your inner socio-/ psycho-path run wild.

Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is working as a freelance writer for Sagamore Institute, creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in either economics, public policy, political science or business.

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Categories: Television

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