CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005
The Man Who Studies Murder is an investigation into the career of Elliott Leyton, Professor of Anthropology at Memorial University in Newfoundland. The tapes are like a lecture that combines lecturing with interviews and films. They present a most intriguing look into the subject of why people kill each other. They also present a fascinating biography of Leyton. We become as interested in him as in his unusual academic discipline as he leads us through the minds of those who kill. Why, we wonder, does he study murder? His story becomes a mystery itself as the tapes gradually let us see more facets of Leyton's personality and philosophy. They uncover a very caring individual, a scholar who has much in common with a police investigator.
Leyton finds that murder is one of the most popular topics of mass entertainment in North America. He believes that the subject fascinates us because the killing of another human being is taboo in our culture, something most of us would never contemplate. As a result of this taboo, we are intrigued by stories of those who violate it.
Because of the nature of the theme, The Man Who Studies Murder will have wide appeal. It could be used as support material in sociology courses, by study groups wanting to learn more about the human condition or by any interested viewer. It comes with no background notes, but those who watch it will be stimulated to ask many questions and do more research.
In Part 1: The Landscape of Murder, Leyton takes us into the minds of killers using interviews with a number of death-row inmates in the United States. In the process of explaining why people murder, he gives us some interesting facts. One of these is that it has only been illegal for a man to beat his wife in our society for the past 100 years. We also learn that killers come from a social underclass, have an incomplete education, poor social skills and are often unemployed. The classic killer is a male between the ages of 16 and 35. Serial killers, viewers may be surprised to learn, Leyton considers normal people who commit abnormal acts. They also lead unfulfilled lives and feel rejected by society.
Part 2: The Anthropology of Murder looks at the culture of killing and why some countries produce more killers than others. The murder rate in Canada is 1 in 100,000 while in the United States it is a remarkable 10 murders per 100,000, the highest rate of any western, developed nation. Leyton argues, using Newfoundland as an example, that this can be explained by cultural differences. Killing is rare in that province because the people there developed a peaceful means of preventing conflict and violence using ostracism, gossip and ridicule. In the United States, on the other hand, violence was instrumental in the creation of the country, and, as a result, became socially acceptable. It is an American's constitutional right to bear arms, and the United States is the only western nation to still use capital punishment.
Leyton also argues that governments are the real serial killers by ordering their soldiers to go to war. While the politicians try to justify wars and make them legitimate with propaganda, they are still murder. Government complicity in mass murder is highlighted using the examples of genocide in Rwanda and the holocaust in Nazi Germany. The tape does not explain the cultural causes of those tragedies.
A retired college teacher, Thomas F. Chambers lives in North Bay, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.