Sociopathy on 30 Rock

So I’m a big fan of 30 Rock, and recently I’ve noticed two separate references to sociopathy that I thought were kind of interesting: one correct and one incorrect.

First, the correct one. In last week’s episode Pete begins to suspect that Jenna is a sociopath, because she fails an alleged “sociopathy test” that he heard about somewhere: if you met someone at a funeral, didn’t get their contact info, and wanted to meet them again, what’s the best way to do it? According to the show, the sociopathic answer is “kill someone and meet them again at the next funeral.” Jenna, assuming this is actually advice rather than creepy trivia, tries to create dangerous allergic reactions in Kenneth the page in order to get a cute paramedic to come back and give her his phone number. It was pretty funny (most notably when Kenneth eventually decides to help), but it was also a pretty accurate description of sociopathy; no, I’m not aware of any specific sociopathic tests about meeting people at funerals, but the basic principle of sociopaths viewing others as tools instead of people is entirely correct. Sociopathy is more than just a lack of emotion, they literally don’t connect to people the way human beings are supposed to. In I Am Not a Serial Killer, the main character (John) describes it this way:

“The lack of emotional connection with other people has the odd effect of making you feel separate and alien–as if you were observing the human race from somewhere else, unattached and unwelcome. … People scurry around, doing their little jobs and raising their little families and shouting their meaningless emotions to the world, and all the while you just watch from the sidelines, bewildered. This drives some sociopaths to feel superior, as if the whole of humanity were simply animals to be hunted or put down; others feel a hot, jealous rage, desperate to have what they cannot.”

The idea of a sociopath hurting other people in order to get what she wants is completely correct, which is why the other characters in the show test Jenna by pretending that Kenneth is in far more danger than he really is: when she feels remorse, they know she’s not a sociopath and downgrade her status to “extreme narcissist.”

Now, the incorrect reference. Three weeks ago, in the episode “Cutbacks,” Jenna and Tracy begin to suspect that Kenneth is a serial killer, because Kenneth (and his bird) warn them very ominously to stay out of his bedroom. Naturally, it turns out in the end that Kenneth was just having his bedroom fumigated, but not before Tracy and Jenna leap to the natural conclusion that Kenneth has stacks of dead bodies in there. This is where it gets interesting: Tracy proves his serial killer theory by comparing Kenneth to “the three traits of all serial killers,” what psychologists call the Macdonald Triad, but he quotes them wrong. He gets the first two right, bedwetting and cruelty to animals, but then he says the third one is “an inability to recognize human facial expressions.” This is not only incorrect, it’s backwards–sociopaths are often very skilled at reading facial expressions, because it’s one of the only ways they can interpret social interaction. Ted Bundy is the classic example of a serial killer who is very charming and socially adept, even though there’s nothing underneath it emotionally. In reality, the third element of the Macdonald Triad is pyromania, which also would have been a much funnier trait for Kenneth to have.

I’m not pointing these out to gripe–like I said, it’s one of my favorite shows–I just find it interesting. I kind of get the sense that one of the writers was on a sociopathy kick for whatever reason. There’s another episode tonight, and I’m very curious to see if we get another sociopathy reference. I f we do, you can be sure that I’ll be here tomorrow to post a long-winded analysis of its accuracy.

To the Psychoanalysis-Mobile!

3 Responses to “Sociopathy on 30 Rock”

  1. Titus says:

    I’ll drink to that!

    Wherever the Psychoanalysis-Mobile is, I would like to thank it for bringing us such things as the world’s first sofa suspended by fishing line and adrenaline-filled counseling sessions. Why are they adrenaline filled, you ask? I’d like to see you take a counseling session over an office building’s courtyard kept safe by nothing but an over-sized hangar hooked onto one of the warehouse-style exposed roof trusses.

    At least the skylights give you a decent view of the city’s skyline, and your proximity to the industrial sized cooling duct opening keeps you cold enough to remember that you’re in a psychologist’s office.

    Just don’t look down.

  2. Elisabeth says:


    I googled “sociopath funeral” (without the quotes) because I had heard about that test before, but didn’t remember what the “right” answer was. And this post was on the first page of answers.

    Just wanted to say that it was well written, and I learned something. Thanks! :)

  3. Bryce says:

    Love me my 30 Rock. That show is awesome–and it hasn’t been canceled yet! I’d noticed the sociopath connections the past bit, too–enjoyed your post.

    Jack: I’ve spent the better part of the last 3 years developing a portable, miniature microwave oven. Most of that time has been spent coming up with a hip, edgy name for the product, something that will appeal to the marketing Holy Trinity – college students, the morbidly obese, and homosexuals.

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