Deciphering the ‘Psyche’ of Violent Men: A Thoughtful Exploration with TV Show Recommendations
There is a lot of violence in the world (and on TV), and I don’t want to glorify it.
I am, however, interested in learning lessons about men’s psyche and behaviour vis -à-vis-violence.
Depictions in drama series can sometimes be an effective format for people to understand behavioural dynamics (It’s more fun than a research paper!).
Below, I outline my top television dramas and documentaries that explain what’s going on with some men and why they commit violent acts.
Also, don’t miss our curated list of inspirational movies for men.
Are Men Naturally Violent?
Are men born violent, or do they become like this over time? The age-old ‘nature versus nurture’ question attempts to understand why men act in such violent ways.
Perhaps these men are driven by biological ‘urges?’ Or are other powerful social influences making them commit violent acts?
Does social and media influence significantly impact men to the extent that they turn violent as they attempt to find ‘solutions’ to their problems and inability to cope in society?
Many men may ponder such questions and wonder about the origin of violence in themselves or their friends and family.
Even violent thoughts or dreams might make any man wonder if there’s something ‘wrong’ in his life or with his character.
Further, explore our blog where we discuss answers to 10 commonly asked questions about the male psyche.
Why I Watch These Shows
The primary reason for my interest in shows that feature excessive forms of violence, such as serial killers, is to understand human behaviour from these extreme examples to apply in general society.
I have read, watched and witnessed stories and narratives forming around men of all ages throughout their lives.
Glorified stories of violence, ideas about masculinity, and societal and cultural expectations all mix with media and other social pressures to create an entitlement in certain people and allow them to perpetrate violence.
In my earlier life as a researcher, I investigated the psychological reasons why men commit violence and how ideas can influence them to commit violent acts.
I have created models to understand the control of crimes and the dynamics of the spread of ideas and violent ideologies.
However, an academic understanding is one thing. Research can be quite different from reality.
This led me to the world of movies and TV shows that depict violence for a diverse audience, as opposed to what academicians do, thus allowing additional insights into behaviour.
The world is more complicated than controlled studies and survey papers.
Now, of course, television is not ‘reality’ however, it can depict, in an accessible way, many of the concepts I was studying and modelling.
One way to gain knowledge of the human psyche, especially on a topic like violence, is by listening to the people who have encountered it professionally.
Law enforcement officials, investigative agencies, lawyers, judges, profilers, etc., have a better, real-world understanding of the psychology of violent men.
The average person may only be able to access their minds and experiences through television shows.
So, I thought I would compile a list of TV shows produced with the assistance of expert consultants and penned by some of the best screenwriters.
These shows provide a different perspective on the psyche of violent men, and one that many of us may not have encountered in our everyday lives.
The benefit of these shows is that they often have real-world experts, retired profilers, and law enforcement officials as consulting producers.
These crime and behavioural specialists help re-create the criminal profiles, accurate scenes, the “reality” of the crime, and the blind spots of the witnesses, victims and even the officials.
Note – these recommendations do not suggest the shows are historically accurate, and note that most are dramatisations. The key point is that they offer behavioural insights that may be helpful to some people’s understanding of the world or circumstances they live in.
1. Criminal Minds
What does it mean to look inside the minds of some of the world’s most violent and vicious men? Why do we need to see the depravity a man can conjure up and then commit? One reason is to catch and stop these people and prevent future crimes.
For those watching at home, it can prepare you to deal with the spectrum of people in society that you may encounter one day. Even if it’s not during a violent crime, understanding behaviour can be helpful in your everyday life when dealing with ‘difficult’ personalities or serious life events.
Criminal Minds follows the Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI, which deals with the psyche of psychopathic, narcissistic, sociopathic, and violent criminals, including serial killers.
The show highlights one of the pressing needs of our time – to stop and prevent violence, to learn about criminals, their crimes, and their reasons and rationalisation. It’s about saving innocent lives and untold collateral damage.
The aim is not to find the “excuses” for criminals but to understand their reasons, to catch them and potentially stop others.
As you can imagine, working in this field can take a massive toll on the people studying and catching these violent men.
The show aptly depicts the risk for those working in this field, as described by the famed Nietzsche quote,
“Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
Also, the show outlines the need for group efforts rather than a single-person approach when dealing with difficult people and heinous crimes.
Being around such criminal minds and violent acts might make you question your reality, morals, codes of conduct, and sanity.
The show also explains why the police and investigative officers compartmentalise work and keep their focus on the victims while at the same time attempting to ’empathise’ with the criminals to gain insights.
Most episodes explore how criminals think and act, displaying their entitlement, insecurities, and paranoia, often stemming from a less-than-ideal childhood.
A valuable part of the series involves explaining the “reasoning” employed by violent men when they commit a crime or a series of crimes.
Why do some offenders never think they have done anything wrong, even when caught in the act?
One of the most memorable scenes from the series involves the BAU team leader stating the names of victims when the media was “christening” a serial killer with a name.
The ultimate message woven throughout the 22 seasons of Criminal Minds is we need to work for justice for the victims and not get lost in the vanity of the “name” and “fame” that these violent men sometimes covet.
Note – Start with Season 1- Don’t jump to the new series.
- Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9qYmGXDX2M
- Where to Watch- https://www.justwatch.com/in/tv-show/criminal-minds
The Behavioural Analysis Unit (BAU) at the FBI (featured throughout Criminal Minds) started as a research project on violent criminals. Mindhunter is the story of how the unit came into existence.
This drama series follows the real-life story of the beginnings of criminal profiling at the FBI using the cases of the world’s most notorious serial killers.
Famous profiler John Edward Douglas interviewed some of the most violent men in the US, including Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, Richard Speck, David Berkowitz, etc. that became the foundation of the Crime Classification Manual. He also worked with Ann Burgess and others to develop modern profiling for serial killers.
The Mindhunter series delves into the initial work, challenges, and insights of Douglas and his colleagues.
Through interviews with these infamous violent offenders, the research team developed manuals and records to classify various violent behaviours.
Mindhunter deals with the difficulties of theory and practice when ‘hunting’ criminals – it often allows the criminal to evade the law.
The series does a great job highlighting the challenges of working between governmental organizations, and how it made it easier for criminals to fool people, police officers, investigative agencies (and even computers).
What I enjoyed about this show was observing the so-called “normal” behaviour many of the serial killers demonstrate. I had a feeling of uneasiness throughout the series as these men recounted their horrific acts. It was an incredibly insightful look into why people don’t suspect such criminals are in their midst. “He seemed like a normal guy.”
Some of the most violent men are well-mannered, pay close attention to etiquette, and are well-liked by acquaintances. However, there is a side of them (often invisible to others) that is extremely dangerous and violent – and often only their victims get to witness that.
Mindhunter, unfortunately, only ran for two seasons. It’s one of the best shows I have seen to understand how behaviour analysts started to see the patterns of the worst criminals.
- Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHJO6VR6TYY
- Where to Watch- https://www.justwatch.com/in/tv-show/mindhunter
3. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
By all reports, he was charming, well-liked and had a family. He was a genuinely upstanding member of the community to most of whom he met. But he had a dark side that made him one of the most hated men in the world. He generated such an interest in serial killers, that it makes you question society, and even humanity, at some point.
This documentary series centres around taped interviews with Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious convicted killers of all time (he killed dozens of women in the US).
I do not want to add to the fascination surrounding him, however, his story and interviews are compelling. They highlight the blindspots people and authorities have for particular types of behaviour and people.
Hearing Bundy’s explanations in his own words is chilling. He appears to be living in an alternate reality, finding no reason to explain why he did what he did.
The series provides a riveting explanation of how delusional, violent men think. They don’t take responsibility for their actions and always seem to have someone else to blame.
They appear to create a narrative where they can deny any wrongdoing or portion blame elsewhere, then highlight whatever “good deeds” they have done.
Ted Bundy is a stark reminder to society that,
Don’t just worry about the Bad Men, Worry about the Bad “Good” Men.
The level of justification they create in their mind, to commit any crime, is beyond comprehension, even for law enforcement, let alone the common man. As with other series in this genre, experts attempt to analyse the mental soundness of such criminals to try to make sense of their thoughts and justifications.
Another important aspect of this series is how men like Ted Bundy perceive women. It was an eye-opening interview listening to his thoughts and beliefs. The tapes provide a glimpse of the twisted rules and values he created to justify his actions (while simultaneously denying the crimes!).
One of the most disturbing aspects of his case and the interviews is that he always had support from people, especially women, who became his “groupies”.
Despite the graphics accounts and details of his horrendous crime spree, he still fooled some people who found him believable and charming.
This type of ‘supportive’ behaviour can be seen with other violent men, who seem to obtain acceptance from a certain section of society that advocates on their behalf, despite indisputable evidence. Some people will find all the “logic”, “reasonings” and “justifications” for the behaviour so that the violent men never have to take responsibility for their actions and can blame others.
If all this doesn’t paint a complete picture, I am posting a quote attributed to him to illustrate –
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow. I’m not an animal, and I’m not crazy and I’m not a split personality.”
- Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1UJgrNRcvI
- Where to Watch- https://www.justwatch.com/in/tv-show/conversations-with-a-killer-the-ted-bundy-tapes
In this cult hit series, Mads Mikkelsen plays the role of the famous character, Hannibal. Mads is a true successor to this character after Anthony Hopkins immortalized the role in the movie “Silence of the Lambs”.
Hannibal is enigmatic. He has a deft hand – calligraphy, cooking, sketching and knife work; dresses impeccably; is an expert at reading people and their intentions; knows the darkest desires of people, even other violent men. And, he is a cannibalistic serial killer.
Except for the last line above, everything about this character appeals to the masses. You might be in awe of such a skilled, polished character. And you might start to empathize with him.
And that is what this show brings out in us. We tend to let go of reason and moral values and even ignore actions and evidence when attracted to someone. Sometimes, we create narratives for these violent men because we want to see them as what we want, not what they are.
This tendency or nature, found in the average person, is what violent men take advantage of.
They use pre-existing beliefs, the tendency to blame the victims for a crime, and the inability to fathom the violent part of a seemingly “reasonable” man of society.
They use it to gaslight the people around them, the law enforcement officials, and even professionals like psychiatrists and psychotherapists.
It highlights how violent men can live among us, look like us, act like us, and we may never suspect what they do behind closed doors.
Another fascinating aspect of the show is how some violent men often perceive they are
superior to others.
(Warning – gory details). A poignant scene in the show is when Hannibal eats a serial killer’s cooked flesh. The serial killer already thinks he is better than his victims. and is surprised that Hannibal treats him differently. He asks Hannibal why he is forcing him to be a cannibal.
Hannibal replies with poise, “It is cannibalism when you consume your species”.
This chilling reply shows that Hannibal doesn’t consider others as his species – he simply perceives himself as superior to all humans.
This perspective is pre-dominant in violent men, who think they are “allowed” to be abusive and violent and often feel victimised themselves because of their sense of superiority and self-importance. They believe they are on this planet to create a “balance” and have a misguided notion that “it is part of nature to kill”.
A very important part of the show Hannibal is how they explain how violent men have used religious texts, psychological research findings, folklore, etc. as an excuse to do what they want.
(This theme can also be seen in other shows and highlights yet another ‘excuse’ or set of reasoning for violent behaviour).
- Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Es3B24z8fdA
- Where to Watch- https://www.justwatch.com/in/tv-show/hannibal
5. Manhunt- Unabomber
Can education help reduce the crime rate?
Can intelligence be taken as a sign of a good citizen?
Do good degrees and worldly achievements guarantee law-abiding people?
This series makes you ponder these questions and highlights just how difficult profiling can be. It is among the best shows on Theodore Kaczynski and the team of FBI agents that eventually caught him.
Ted Kaczynski wreaked havoc on the American domestic intelligence apparatus with a series of pipe bombs sent by mail.
His meticulous work, reasoning and intelligence made it harder for the investigative agency to fathom the extent of his damage – which was not just physical but psychological and ideological.
His story is a stark reminder to all of the vanguards of society to be careful with how they treat the most intelligent and capable people.
Experimenting with intelligent kids, pushing them into uncomfortable situations, and grossly underestimating the effects of bad behaviour can turn them destructive – to themselves and others.
The efforts of the FBI for one person, over decades, gives a chilling conclusion that what if we had more “lone-attackers” in our society, like Ted Kaczynski?
These lone attackers develop their own set of rules for morality and conduct, which can become challenging to the established systems and structures.
The series also highlights that a generation of survivors, if pushed to the edge, will create situations where only it can survive. This defence mechanism will make it harder for normal people to live peacefully.
This show also makes you question whether we should be “judging” people for their “utility” or accept them as humans first and let them be helpful to society, of their own accord.
Logical and brilliant minds often see through the hypocrisy of society, which can make them anti-social and sometimes violent.
And when things get hard, other brilliant minds address the issue. And it can damage them too.
For what? For everyone to go back the same way and not change their behaviour.
Watching this show also makes you realise that it’s not just the job of law enforcement agencies and institutions to keep order but also of society.
As you watch, you will also understand that sometimes, you need to take a different approach to solve some of the most difficult questions of our time. Even if it means catching highly organised, intelligent, and detached criminals.
And maybe make us ask the age-old question of criminal psychology- Nature vs Nurture? What plays the most important role?
- Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsd_LMDlzhI
- Where to Watch- https://www.justwatch.com/in/tv-show/manhunt-unabomber
My research into the spread of ideas helped me understand that awareness about crimes and criminal behaviour can reduce the susceptibility of people becoming victims. Technologies and platforms like OTT, social media, YouTube etc. can be effective means to increase awareness about the dangers in society, which can have a significant impact in reducing overall crime rates, especially violent crimes.
Harsh is the founder of menPsyche. He enjoys using his extensive research and writing skills to communicate ideas and concepts, with the aim to improve people’s lives.
Harsh trained as a Communication Engineer and published a MSc (Research) thesis, as well as worked in a variety of marketing and consultancy roles.