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Happy like profilers: Gordon Burn, modernity and serial killing

Cummins, ID; King, M

Happy like profilers: Gordon Burn, modernity and serial killing Thumbnail


M King


Haggerty (2009) has
outlined the ways, in which, “serial killers” can be seen as a product of modernity. In
particular, he highlights the ways, in which, a symbiotic relationship has developed
between the media and “serial killers”. A significant feature in this new firmament is the
psychological profiler. From Cracker onwards, the psychological profiler has become a key
feature of the TV crime drama. As Dowleer et al ( 2006) note the line between reporting
crime and crime as entertainment is a very blurred one. The viewer is just as likely to come
across a “psychological profile” on a “news” programme such as Crimewatch as in a TV
drama.Trevor Hardy was convicted of the brutal murder of three young women Janet
Stewart (15), Wanda Skalia (18) and Sharon Mosoph (17) in 1977. He has been given a
whole life tariff so will never be released. Despite this, Wilson et al (2010) highlight the
fact that the case is not that well-known and consider the reasons for this. This paper argues
that this approach is an extension of the medical- psychological discourse, which
concentrates on generating a comforting taxonomy of serial killers. It goes on to argue that
this approach marginalises the suffering of the victims and the cataclysmic impact that
these events have on the lives of their loved ones. The novelist, Gordon Burn, has explored
the nature of modern celebrity. He has also examined in extensive details the environments
that produced Peter Sutcliffe (Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son) and the Wests
(Happy like Murderers). As an alternative to the profiler approach, which focuses on the
perpetrator and marignalises victims and their families, the work of Burn – in particular his
novel Alma Cogan is examined in depth. This disturbing novel challenges the ways, in
which, celebrity is constructed. By so doing, it forces the reader to confront not only the full
brutality of sexual violence but also their own complicity in the “serial killing industry


Cummins, I., & King, M. (2014). Happy like profilers: Gordon Burn, modernity and serial killing. International journal of criminology & sociological theory, 7(3),

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 1, 2014
Deposit Date Mar 24, 2015
Publicly Available Date Apr 5, 2016
Journal International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory
Publisher York University
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 3
Publisher URL


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