The Mystique of Manson: Why Society is Still Fascinated with Charles Manson
Charles Manson, who turns 81 in November, is serving out a life sentence for orchestrating the brutal Manson Family Murders in 1969. While many other figures like him have faded from the public psyche, the Manson mystique seems to be alive and well.
There are numerous documentaries and specials about him aired and re-aired on The History Channel, Discovery, and other networks; NBC’s new drama Aquarius deals directly with Charles Manson and his “family.“ There have been countless books published about the life of Manson, even a new book by Daniel Simone, The Retrial of Charles Manson, that suggests Manson may be innocent. However, the book written by Manson’s prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi has sold over seven million copies (BBC, 2014).
But what differentiates Manson? Why is it that society and pop culture are still fascinated by him?
A Brief History of Manson
Charles Miles Maddox was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 12, 1934. Manson was the last name of his stepfather, which he later took on. Manson had a troubled childhood, including once being sold by his mother for a pitcher of beer (CNN, 2015). He grew up in and out of prisons, but in “the summer of love” in 1967, he became something of a guru to hippies, gaining many followers, especially young women. Shortly after, he moved his “family” to Los Angeles, the location of the infamous “Manson Family Murders” (Psychology today, 2008).
Manson was said by many to be a talented musician; in Neil Young’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, he even said he liked Manson’s music and that he had Dylan-esque qualities (2012). However, it is believed that when Manson’s musical dreams failed to pan out he became more violent and fanatical in his views (Manson, 2013).
Manson became obsessed with the song “Helter Skelter” a track from The Beatles White Album. He told his followers the song foretold the coming of a race war and that when it ended, he would emerge as America’s new leader (BBC, 2014).
It is believed that this was his motivation behind the Tate-Libianca murders. His plan was to blame the murders on the Black Panthers, thus igniting the race war. This plan obviously failed, and Manson and his “family” were arrested and originally sentenced to death in 1971. But when California banned the death penalty in 1972, the sentences were changed to life in prison (BBC, 2014).
Behind the Mystique
Why is it Charles Manson still holds the public‘s attention?
There is no doubt Manson had a very charismatic personality. According to Bugliosi, “He had a quality about him that one thousandth of 1% of people have. An aura. ‘Vibes,’ the kids called it in the 60s. Wherever he went, kids gravitated toward him” (BBC, 2014). He told Rolling Stone in 2012.
People are fascinated with a charming villains; this has been seen throughout Hollywood as well as history.
The sixties was a time of racial, social, and political upheaval. Manson seemed to exacerbate the tense situations of the times, that is why he is so memorable. He looked like a hippie, but he was far removed from their ideals of peace and love. As David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham University said, “He is iconic because he was the person who brought the swinging sixties to an end. His strange and bizarre thinking appeared perfectly in tune with the damaged side of drug culture. It wasn’t flower power any more. Youth culture was far darker and more disturbing than people had previously thought” (BBC, 2014).
Edited by: Kim Rooney
Jones, L. & Parker, J. (2014 18 November) What explains the continuing fascination with Charles Manson Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30094019
Diamond, S. (2008 16 December) Evil and the Manson Mystique Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/200812/evil-and-the-manson-mystique
Manson Family Murder Fast Facts (2015 24 August) Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/30/us/manson-family-murders-fast-facts/
Schlansky, E. (2012 26 September) Neil Young compares Charles Manson to Bob Dylan in Waging Heavy Peace Retrieved from http://www.americansongwriter.com/2012/09/neil-young-compares-charlie-manson-to-bob-dylan/
Manson (2013) United States: Cineflix Media in association with History Channel