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. 


Although I’ve never seen Luther, the way you described the alpha killer, Alice Morgan, is very fascinating. I particularly enjoyed how you brought up that we, as a society, are not used to seeing a violent, dangerous, and sexual character such as Alice portrayed as a female. However, I believe it would be interesting to analyze why this is the case by looking at the situation through a gendered lens, and what roles we, as a society, give to men and women. For starters, men are expected to embody hegemonic masculinity, a form of masculinity promoting male dominance, as well as embody all aspects inside The Man Box. Consequently, they should be violent, emotionless, in control, intelligent, etc. Furthermore, they are taught from a young age to act like men, or in other words to act powerful. This is why male criminals often fall under our typical gender perspectives, as you mentioned in your article. Women, on the other hand should not act in the same way men do, but must rather be passive and stay in their own lane. It is due to the fact that the social construct known as gender holds such as key role in our society that viewers of Luther are often shocked to see Alice Morgan going against the gender roles given to her and taking on those of a man.

Here is a link to an article discussing hegemonic masculinity and the man box: http://www.keithedwards.com/2012/10/10/man-in-a-box-the-traditional-hege...

Your article was a delight to read! It interesting to hear about a show where mainstream gender roles are inverted. It was insightful of you to point out that Alice Morgan is portraying a typical male serial killer character, along with all the characteristics attributed to the character (gain sexual satisfaction and being completely void of emotions). However, I would like to point out that a woman conformed to the norms of the male gender can also be a drawback.The problem lies, not in which sex is able to fit into the man box, a set of prescriptions directed to men encompassing the characteristics you mentioned above, but rather the violent nature of the man box. Just as Alice is completely void of emotions, men are demanded from a very young age to be stoic, since emotions are considered feminine and weak. Studies show that this emotional repression is the driving force behind many male destructive behaviours. Although the lead character of Luther breaks gender norms, this does not change the fact that the media is normalizing violence, and encouraging impassivity. Inverting roles is not the key to gender equality, rather, we should challenge the fixed rules set to each gender.To learn more about stoicism and its negative impact on men’s mental health, I invite you to read this article: https://caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/stoicism-the-endurance-of-pain/.