Norman Bates, step aside and stop with the creepy taxidermy. Travis Bickle, get back in your taxi cab and drive away.
You two characters have nothing compared to journalists in the psychopath category. Sure, reporters are often labeled crazy for remaining in a shrinking, low-paying field that others are always more than happy to categorize as dying. Now, the loony label has actual proof.
To be fair, the actual title is psychopath, at least according to the top 10 list of professions most like to attract them that was compiled by an Oxford University psychologist. But still, when the occupation "journalist” is usually only found on lists of worst jobs alongside lumberjack, this latest mention seems like a step up.
Of course, the ink-stained scribes didn’t take the top spot. That belongs to CEO, followed by lawyer, media (television/radio), salesperson, surgeon, journalist, police officer, clergyperson, chef and civil servant.
This list makes a very important distinction that is a long time coming — broadcast folk are different than journalists. Apparently, they are also twice as likely to harbor a secret inner Dexter personality. Maybe that explains the perfectly coifed hair and bright smiles while regaling viewers with the day’s batch of doom and gloom. At least those opting for print careers have no need to hide their cynicism and disdain while filling the page.
To be clear, we’re talking about psychopaths here. Not sociopaths, spree killers, serial killers, the depressed, the bipolar or anybody else with sincere mental health issues who unfortunately gets wadded up together into catch-all terms like wacko, crazy, cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs or one taco short of a fiesta platter.
According to the book containing this fascinating list, psychopathic traits include ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action — sort of Gordon Gekko meets James Bond although it is interesting to note neither genius corporate raider nor international spy made the cut. Oddly, neither did remote motel clerk, cabbie nor blood spatter pattern analyst.
Although the psychopath list is probably about as valid as the study of phrenology, it does clear up a few passing thoughts when watching Top Chef (is a reference Hannibal Lecter’s fondness for Chianti and fava beans even necessary?) It also explains a lot about several people I know and gives me a legitimate epithet to use the next time an officer hands me a ticket.
As a counterpart, a list of compassionate occupations was also offered up: nurse, therapist, craftsperson, hair stylist, charity worker, teacher, creative artist, doctor and accountant.
Accountant — really? Perhaps they rely on empathetic traits when delivering bad tax news. But does the inclusion on the list also imply they are less than charming and made of weaker mettle? Besides, we all know the nice guys finish last.
Beautician makes sense if you think about how many hours they have spent listening to clients dish up their problems and gossip. But in that vein, bartender should merit a spot on that list or nail technician. And while all the health professions seem like no-brainers, how is it that doctors are unlikely to be psychopaths but as soon as they specialize in surgery they cross over to the dark side?
As a small digression, consider how many of these psychopath types are allowed to carry potential weapons. Cop. Surgeon. Chef. The most journalists have our disposal is a sharpened pencil or heavy laptop. Then again, if we truly are psychopaths at heart we’ll find a way to use whatever is at our disposal as long as we don’t get so innovative we cross over to the other, softer list as a "creative artist.”
For now, the best response to the list is having reason to say "thank you” the next time someone says I’m a tough nut to crack.
Michelle Durand’s column "Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org