DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

crime & celebrity


This unit moves us from thinking about monsters in terms of fiction and mythology to thinking about monsters in more concrete and human terms, asking the question, can a person be a monster? Looking at "monsters" like Lizzie Borden and Charles Manson, emerging out of true crime narratives, the class will consider the ramifications of interpreting a person as a monster and will apply the thinking that arises out of this discussion to celebrities (like Michael Jackson) who have sometimes been understood as monsters.


Students will, again, be asked to share ongoing work on their individual research projects, this time on real-life "monsters" who challenge our sense of what it means to be human. Adding another dimension to our ongoing conversation, a special classroom visit from true-crime writer and America's Most Wanted producer Keith Elliot Greenberg, will invite us to consider the role of narrative, or deliberate storytelling, in the making of a monster.


[Pictured above: Engraving from the Illustrated Police News, October 6th 1888, showing Constable Watkins of the City of London Police Force discovering the body of
murder victim Catherine Eddowes.]



Wed  26: in-class research on Lizzie Borden

Mon 31: Vincent Bugliosi, Helter Skelter  (excerpt: 235-50, 270, 300, 316-20); and

Paul O’Neil, “The Monstrous Manson ‘Family’” [not required, read online]



Wed 2:

10-11:50, Student-teacher conferences, ME G02

12-1:50,  Extended office hours, CO626

2-3:50, visiting speaker: Keith Elliot Greenberg, HA 101

Mon 7: Susan Fast, “Difference That Exceeded Understanding


writing assignment three: write about a real-life "monster" of your choice, showing both "human" and "monstrous" sides and arguing for a particular interpretation


Write a 4-5 page researched essay (1,000-1,300 words) about a real-life person in history or from our present time who has sometimes been understood as a "monster" (but NOT one of the figures we study in class).


Your essay needs to do three things:


  1. IDENTIFY. State clearly who the person is and briefly give the reader whatever background she needs in order to understand this figure as a "monster." Make sure the opening paragraph of your essay offers a one-sentence statement of your argument; this is your thesis. Don't worry about explaining all your reasons right away--just give the reader a heads up as to where the paper is going.
  2. NARRATE and COMPARE. Provide researched and documented background information on the figure; use source texts to illustrate specifics. Be sure to show your figure from at least two sides, the "monstrous" and the "human."
  3. ARGUE. Using evidence presented in your paper, explain how you think this figure should be interpreted, whether as monstrous, as human, or in some other more complex way. Imagine you are presenting evidence in court, either to convict or to exonerate your subject, or to influence a jury toward the kind of sentencing you think s/he deserves. It is permissable to work on the feelings of your audience, but most of your argument should be evidence based; rely on facts and quotations from your source material to persuade readers of your perspective.


The essay must use quotations from at least three college-level print sources. (You may use as many additional sources as you wish.) Print sources must be documented with MLA style in-text citations and you must include a list of works cited at the end, also in MLA style (see sample works cited page here).


Possible celebrity "monsters" you might want to research:

Adolph Hitler

Barack Obama

Casey Anthony

David Berkowitz

Fidel Castro

Idi Amin

Imelda Marcos

Jack the Ripper

Jeffrey Dahmer

Jocelyn Wildenstein

John Wayne Gacy

Joseph Carey Merrick

Joseph Stalin

Lady Gaga

Leona Helmsley

Mike Tyson

Osama Bin Laden

Pol Pot

Rafael Trujillo

Susan Smith

The Boston Strangler

The Zodiac Killer

Vlad Tepes

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.