Serial killers are out. Subway pushers and mass shooters are in.
Checking in on America's psychoses
A dark liquid drains, but none is lost. The phenomenon of the serial killer is over, replaced by other uniquely American methods of violence.
Why the decline in the number of serial killers? Speculation abounds. Maybe the effectiveness of DNA analysis has made murder a crime easier to solve, or maybe even the popularity of the TV police procedural itself deterred would-be killers. Or perhaps the rise of porn assuaged what were often psychosexual motives. Certainly you could tell an economic tale, or technological one, but to me the drop-off looks more cultural than anything else, as serial killers offered a sinister interpretation of the rebellious 70s—a baleful mirror to its hitchhiking, sexual revolution, and drug use—and with the 70s departing, so did serial killers.
The violence, however, merely redirected. For as serial killers have declined America has invented two new types of villain. First, there is the mass shooter, a now-common archetype, one who is often analyzed, often feared. But there is another, far less discussed outlet for the violence of our age: the subway pusher. Who have mostly been ignored. While the rise of mass shootings is tracked and discussed and made into movies, the lowly subway pusher escapes cultural notice.
Yet the attacks can be just as horrific. As a former New Yorker I cannot help but run into stories (perhaps some algorithm at X has me marked) wherein some innocent is flung bodily by a crazy person onto the tracks, often right in front of the train. The latest victim I read about: Emine Ozsoy. She’s a Turkish immigrant and artist, who had moved to NYC to be with her husband, and who in mid-May had her head randomly shoved into a moving subway train.
Prosecutors say Ozsoy's face and head hit the train, then her body rolled alongside it and crashed back to the platform. She was "instantly paralyzed," according to court papers, and currently can't move anything below her neck.
Now she needs a GoFundMe to pay for what is likely to be a life of paralysis and difficulty (her medical bills have already reached into the six figures). They eventually found the guy who did it living in a shelter near LaGuardia Airport.
Although the total number remain low, subway shovings have become a clear genre of crime. In fact, Ozsoy was just one victim in a string of attacks within weeks. In a panic, there is now a 100 million dollar program to install barriers to prevent further attacks.
Yet if you go back to 2014, the New York Post was reporting that there had been just four subway pushings in the last two years. Only four from 2012 to 2014? And then 21 pushings in 2021? And more than even that by just October in 2022?
In this subway pushings are similar to school shootings: somehow, despite guns being prevalent prior to the 1990s, it was rare for anyone to even think to do a school shooting until they were popularized by the Columbine shootings. It was a genre that caught on. And now we have them all the time. So too are subway pushings a modern terror. They had to be invented. And while the vast majority of serial killers are men, it’s interesting to note that the first “serial subway pusher” was a woman.