A strange, pervy fascination with white serial killers is among us, and it’s time to face it.
On Jan. 24, Netflix released the docuseries “Confessions of a Serial Killer: the Ted Bundy Tapes”. The series, based on a book of the same name, focuses on the backstory and media coverage of Ted Bundy, one of America’s most notorious serial killers who raped and murdered over 30 known women in the 1970s. The show involves recordings of Bundy explaining his life in his own words, giving audiences insight as to how bizarrely Bundy described his own murderous behaviors. The show also delves into how Bundy was able to manipulate the public — specifically, young women — because of his amiable personality and charm.
Not long before that in late 2018, production company Voltage Pictures announced they were doing a film about the same man, played by Zac Efron. The film portrays the relationship between Bundy and his long-term girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins), whom Bundy was with when he was arrested and convicted for his crimes. The film also focuses on the difficulty Kloepfer had coming to terms about Bundy since she was also easily manipulated by his charms.
In essence, there’s not much about this docuseries and film that serial killer media fans haven’t seen before. Serial killers are often known for their manipulative behavior and ability to put on convincing facades. However, society’s serial killer obsession really starts to get unhealthy when those facades are taken seriously, and the obsessions change how we perceive those criminals compared to others convicted of crimes.
Let’s be honest — obsession with serial killers has been a trend for a long time in the U.S and in various other places around the world. It can be harmful in how it normalizes incredibly violent crimes against — mostly — innocent people. Not only that, but we forget as consumers of this media that serial killers are really all around us, working in hospitals or government, dressed in military or police uniforms. The only difference is these killers have permission to kill people.
That point aside, let’s take Bundy for example, again. During his years as an active murderer, he — like many other serial killers — had a victim type. Attractive, young girls, many of whom were college students. Bundy’s murderous rampage was not only terrifying and sickening but also reflective of a heteronormative, patriarchal obsession that was taken way too far. He raped and took the lives of girls as young as 12 years old, and yet a film is now glorifying how good-looking and charming he was at home? There’s something really messed up about how these men are being regarded as celebrities.
Even when we’re not discussing real-life serial murderers, their portrayal in fictional media is often just as bad. For example, the 2000 film “American Psycho” portrays serial killer Patrick Bateman (played by Christian Bale) as a successful, rich white man who embodies the American Dream. The film is essentially about how, despite the senseless, violent murders he commits, nothing bad will ever happen to him and he can get away with anything. Although this is obviously a critique of the American justice system, it only exemplifies the point seen in how society treats other serial killers like Bundy and Bateman.
This concept is also seen in the American television series “Dexter”, in which a blood spatter expert in Miami (played by Michael C. Hall) is able to get away with murdering criminals because of how closely he works with the police. His knowledge about the inner workings of police investigations allows him to evade suspicion, despite coming close several times. Although Dexter’s victim type consists of people who are guilty of severe crimes like murder and sexual assault, there’s still a God-like complex he has in taking their murders into his own hands.
Ultimately, these portrayals of serial killers are mainly harmful because they’re so contrasting to how the media portrays other people convicted or accused of a crime. Any person who watches the news knows that people of color are disproportionately shown in mugshots, even if they haven’t been convicted of a crime, whereas white men accused or convicted of a crime are shown in home photos with their doting families. There’s also a concept of what a criminal “looks like”, which is addressed in each of the Bundy projects currently trending. Many of the groupies attracted to Bundy during and after his trial claimed he “didn’t look like a serial killer”, which begs the question: What does a serial killer look like?
This question is especially poignant to people of Washoe County now, being that a serial killer was rampant in our own streets just a few weeks ago. The suspect, now in custody at the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, is a 19-year-old immigrant previously residing in Carson City, Nevada. His arrest is already being used to support the argument for stronger border control between the U.S. and Mexico.