Spy Museum Lessons on Criminal Psychology

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Dr. David L. Charney and Dr. Stanton Samenow lead a discussion at the International Spy Museum about the psychology of the criminal mind.

By Punch Preview Correspondent Lindsey Clark 

It’s easy to assign one dimension to most of the villains we see portrayed on film today: evil. In the case of the current exhibit at the International Spy Museum that examines 50 years of Bond villains, however, even the most hardened of the famous spy’s enemies become something that we almost never think of them as: human beings.  In a recent discussion that focused specifically on the minds of those who torture, lie, deceive and even kill in order to get what they want, the Spy Museum opened up the inner workings that make these – and real life – villans tick, and asked the question where do you draw the line between a bad person and a MAD person?

Dr. David L. Charney and Dr. Stanton Samenow led the discussion – titled “Blowing Bloefeld’s Mind: The Psychology of Villainy” - on how Bond villains throughout the films’ history have demonstrated classic criminal behavior.  And they know their stuff:  Charney was the psychiatrist for the now infamous spy, Robert Hanssen, and interviewed him at length in prison, while Samenow, a noted forensic scientist, is the author of The Criminal Personality and Inside the Criminal Mind, as well as serving as the prosecution’s mental health witness in the case against DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo.  Interestingly, we looked at the way that the films and the villains themselves have gotten darker over time, and how the crimes commited reflect current cultural sensibilities and fears - from nuclear threat to cyber terrorism.

Evil, as Charney and Samenow pointed out, is not a psychological diagnosis.  Focusing on Blofeld as an example, we were able to see how, through compartmentilization – and a whole host of other psychological traits - he was capable of commiting horrible crimes without remorse or any concept of causing harm to others, and yet still remain sentimentally attached to his precious cat.

If you are a Bond fan, it’s definitely worth a visit to the museum to see the man through the eyes of his enemies.  There are a few of Ian Fleming’s personal items in the exhibit, along with some great interactive games that will test your ability to deactivate a bomb or to see how long you can hang several feet off the ground while holding on to a slippery pipe (I did not try that one out but mostly because I did not want to get shown up by the 12 year old kid who held on for so long the guide eventually told him it was someone else’s turn).  And there are several upcoming events at the museum that focus on the Bond exhibit, such as a discussion on Cyber Terror on the Silver Screen, as well as family friendly programs like ninja workshops and museum sleepovers.

Coupled with a visit to the Bond villain exhibit, the event gave me good reason to think a little harder about Fleming’s poignant line from Dr. No:

“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards thier goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singlenee of purpose could have given focus to thier genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”

Check out the exhibit for yourself and take a trip inside the mind of a maniac.

About Lindsey Clark:
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at lindsey@pamelaspunch.com.
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