Natural born Killers shows us to see the other side of the coin. Our humanness, and what is naturalized in killing, is more human than natural. To be human is to step apart and outside nature. We, humans, distinguish ourselves as more than nature. Somehow more conscious or self-aware in such a way that we can reject our basic foundations of our own absurdity. We are not God’s gift to earth – we are natural born killers.
Our humanness is not unlike I Love Lucy radically fabricated. Every crevice of our day is oversaturated with social cues. From the instructions on a hand dryer in a bathroom to the stop lights in our daily commute. Signs order mandatory compliance, not unlike the applause sign that flashes in a live sitcom. Laughter, while potentially coming from an authentic place, is instigated for the sake of the sitcom-machine.
The flashback homage to I Love Lucy subverts the American nuclear family by reinvesting the sitcom with Jerry Springer-like narrative. What this flashback demonstrates is the slipperiness of the I Love Lucy fabrication. The content of I Love Lucy’s middle-class values can be just as easily swapped out for the staged trailer trash ethos as it can be swapped for any ethos.
What Natural Born Killers and I Love Lucy share at their cores is a blatant ideological oversaturation. Both narratives portray a universe that resembles the reality we think we are in. People live and work. Strive for love. Stand up for what they believe in. Both media’s may also accurately represent a minor subset of the lived reality of some Americans. The difference is that I Love Lucy generalizes a way of existing that is implied as the way the world should exist. The neighbors are noisy, but well meaning. Basic America values are respected. And while a character may do something malicious, the intentions are portrayed as ultimately well-meaning. Mickey and Mallory, on the other hand, are in a very different universe. A kind of universe that no one should exist in. The nuclear family has been corrupted by a physically, emotionally and sexually abusive father who stomps on the wills of his children and wife with the same disregard for social contracts as Godzilla has for architecture.
Mickey is Mallory’s savior. The noble anti-hero who empathizes with the least empathized member of the family. In this respect, Mickey repressed all too human drive for sympathy. He not only is aware of Mallory’s suffering he wants to rescue her from her family. Unlike the other characters in this scene, Mickey is fully aware of his responsibility for Mallory’s suffering. He has no excuses. If he does nothing he is compliant and a willing participant in her abuse.
Mickey has a moral clarity that is almost Kantian. He is aware of both moral structures, the broken family values, and his own, and he chooses his own with no regard for the repercussions. Mickey knows full well that the oppressors in Mallory’s life are beyond psychoanalytic intervention. The father is the greatest of evils and must be stopped by any means necessary.
Taking this angle on Mickey it is to see why Mickey and Mallory travel across the country murdering. Mallory’s family not the only group responsible for Mallory’s suffering. The world that produced such a family and allowed its continuance is also to blame, and maybe even more responsible because society does nothing for the many youths that grow up in similar sufferings. Mickey and Mallory’s murder spree, ask the basic existential question. Life is more than absurd, it is intentionally cruel, and more often than not is socially structured in such a way to rob millions of basic substance. To paraphrase and misquote Camus. The only real question is not just that the world is absurd and we must choose between killing ourselves or living against absurdity. But, human existence is evil and turned against itself, do we commit global-homicide or continue to be compliant to our and other’s suffering?
Natural Born Killers does not provide us with a solution. Mickey and Mallory, may stylize their kills and seem to be excessively enjoying murder, but they do no advocate their lifestyle for others. There is a sense in which for Mickey and Mallory they are the only two people worthy of existing and that everyone else is a blight on their existence. Murder, for Mickey and Mallory, is more of a cleansing ritual where they rid the world of humans that do not contribute in eradicating human suffering.
Our humanness is not just I Love Lucy, a compiling of various images manipulated by mass media. Or newscasters spinning the tragedy to give the audience an emotional fix for connection. Suffering is easy to empathize with and the media know how to use your empathy to generate profit. The basic humanness that connects us artificially to the suffering victim on screen conditions a set of behaviors that instigates its own continuance. We see an infant cry. Our emotions are triggers. We are filled with pity, the desire to feel someone’s suffering, and due to the numbness of our lived experience these feelings make us feel alive and connected to the world. Feeling is one thing, reality is another, but our brain does not care. The same synapses are fired, our emotions are set loose, and we continue to stay tuned so that we can get our vicarious injections that make us feel alive.