Popular Culture: Luther
by ralcock on February 17, 2017 - 11:00pm
The BBC crime drama Luther depicts the obsessive and often times violent detective Luther as he works in the Serious Crimes Unit solving violent homicides and sexual assaults throughout London. For the most part the criminals Luther pursues are criminals that do fall into typical gender perspectives of such violent crimes; rapists, pedophiles, and serial killers, shown either to gain sexual satisfaction from their crimes, committing them because they are completely void of emotions, or both. These are aspects that are typically associated with male criminals; the crimes stemming from sadistic sexuality and such aggression completely lacking in emotion is not something often attributed to femininity. Yet the alpha killer, the main rival of Luther who he is trying to pin, is a serial killer by the name of Alice Morgan, a woman.
Alice Morgan is portrayed as a child prodigy and genius, receiving her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Oxford at the age of 18. The reality is Alice is also extraordinarily narcissistic and a sociopath, completely void of empathy and normal human emotion. She very calculatedly murdered her entire family and others, and although Luther was sure she did it, he could not prove it.
This type of character that is portrayed in popular culture is often portrayed as a male, and Alice Morgan breaks this preconceived structure by fitting into it perfectly as a woman. Firstly, broader gendered perspectives on serial killers and sociopathic prodigies are often thought to be men. It is not typically thought that women (who are said to carry a higher ethos of care than men) would be such devoid of emotion and empathy as to carefully plan and execute a series of murders in such a calculated manner. Gendered ideas of such serial killers are often either portrayed as shut-ins or charming and charismatic individuals completely lacking a conscious.
On the perspective of female villains and murderers is the gendered idea that a woman’s crime is due to emotional instability, not lack of emotion. A murder committed by a woman is thought to have an emotional aspect to it (or to be a crisis of emotion/emotional damage), like a crime of passion. Because we associate women and femininity with emotions and empathy, we associate them with reactionary emotional crimes and not these brutal offences where it is clear that only evil intent is at play (as is the case with Alice Morgan).
This is not to suggest that Alice Morgan is completely free from gendered perspectives on criminology, she does use her sexuality to draw in men; female seduction to lure in unsuspecting male victims is a recurring perception in popular culture and criminological gender perspectives. She utilises the gendered idea of the femme fatale as a means to her ends. What is rather nouvelle is the idea of a female serial killer being devoid of motive and emotion behind her calculated killings. A female sociopath killing for the sake of killing is an idea that is seldom presented in the world of criminology.
Alice Morgan as the mastermind, unmotivated, calculating serial killer sends a message about gender expectations and criminal behaviour. When you strip away all the extravagant details and you are presented with the facts that a person is out there, very meticulously, killing individuals without personal or emotional motive, and is completely devoid of empathy for their actions, the picture often painted is a psychotic male because surely a “woman would not find so much pleasure in something so evil”. Because of the ethos of care and the empathy that is often associated with women, it becomes a gendered perspective that even if there are women who act upon murderous impulses and feelings that there is an emotional explanation for it. We do not typically associate women with being unemotional, sadistic, serial killers murdering without motive.
This is an intense darkness and evil that is associated with extreme bouts of aggressive behaviour. This extreme aggression and evil/darkness is has a gendered component that we often attribute to men and masculinity, when in reality Alice Morgan shows women are no less susceptible from housing this innate inner evil.