The infamous and notorious Ted Bundy is being brought live to our screens once more courtesy of Netflix and the American actor Zac Efron. Charismatic and charming as ever, Ted Bundy graces the screen and threatens to win more hearts again.
For those of you not familiar, Ted Bundy murdered more than 30 young women and girls. He was also a rapist, a necrophiliac, and decapitated a number of his victims. He escaped from prison numerous times, managed to commit a few more murders, and was finally electrocuted in Florida in 1989. He caught the attention of America for more than a decade, not only for the spine-tingling crimes he committed, but also because of who he was. If one saw a picture of Ted Bundy, they would never imagine that the person was capable of committing murderous acts. He was not shabby and looked far from dangerous. Instead, he was immaculately dressed, possessed good looks and had a charming way with words. Who would want to believe that this white, educated good looking, well-dressed man was capable of committing several heinous crimes?
If we think of evil, we think of adjectives such as ugly and vile. We think of shabbily dressed characters, characters whose ugly intentions one can smell from a mile away, characters who are on the fringes of society. The reality, however, is that seemingly normal looking characters are very much capable of committing crimes. Ted Bundy is a perfect example of this. He was a narcissist who relied on his personality and good looks to not only commit his crimes but to also appeal to the court and audience that he was, in fact, innocent. He refused to plead guilty until just a few days before he was scheduled for the electric chair, and till date we remain unsure of the exact number of women he murdered. Throughout his trial, many refused to believe that this articulate gentleman was in fact a criminal, and many opined that he was being framed. Ted Bundy even received several love letters from admirers during his trial. I mean, this was a man who brutally murdered not just one woman, but more than 30 women! Oh, and let’s not forget that he proposed and also impregnated a woman during his trial. Yes, he had a daughter! It sounds absolutely incredulous and ridiculous that a serial killer could still appeal to the masses, but that is who Ted Bundy was, and clearly who he continues to be.
It has been two decades since Ted Bundy sat on that electric chair. He may be gone, but he is in no way forgotten. We have a new generation who have already begun to speculate and gush over Ted Bundy and emphasizing on how attractive he was. It certainly does not help that we have Zac Efron starring as Ted Bundy in the upcoming movie. The problem, however, does not rest on the casting agency’s decision to cast Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, but rather in the fetishisation of villainous characters who are beautiful. Ted Bundy could not be played by your average Joe. He was handsome and magnetic, attributes that cannot be ignored, because denying them would mean an inaccurate portrayal of the enigma that Ted Bundy was. Zac Efron is no doubt perfect for the role, but the downside plays out when we as viewers, obsess more over his physical attributes rather than his criminal acts.
Characters such as Ted Bundy, all through history, beg for our appeal and catch us emphathising rather than allowing ourselves to see them for the criminals that they were or are. Beautiful people to this day are viewed through rose tinted glasses, and we would rather imagine a million awful things happening than concur that a beautiful person was capable of doing anything terrible. The recent Netflix series, ‘You’, has the same dynamic. Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl fame stars as Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who comes off initially as one of the “nice guys”, and not that arrogant jerk that every woman in her 20s knows too well about. Joe reads and texts in perfect grammar (we all know what a rarity those are). He’s great with children and chooses his path instead of letting himself be defined by what society deems he should be. This man is a recipe for girls and women to swoon over and to incessantly compare their unsuspecting boyfriends to. This man, however, also takes his jealous and obsessive tendencies way too far, and as the story progresses we learn more and more that these acts of his are not one-off instances, but rather, are symptoms of a much larger psychological problem that cries for the attention of psychiatrists and psychologists all around.
I’m going to be honest, I was immediately sucked into the show. I love psychological thrillers and this show had all the trappings to keep you hooked: a young good-looking group of affluent people, mystery, intrigue, death, suspense, all wrapped neatly into an 8-episode series. However, my radar did not miss the fact that the show was almost glamourising these situations. They are in no way healthy or what one should deem normal, but that’s exactly what happened. Tweets from young impressionable girls went live on how they would not mind Joe Goldberg kidnapping them and constantly emphasizing on “sexy” he is, even going so far as to say that they could look past his crazy tendencies when he looks the way he does. The storyline is great and I love that there’s a lot of emphasis on how the thought process of such a person could be, how they rationalize their acts, and justify them. However, it does tread too closely on the dangerous line of almost romanticizing such behaviour and that is terrifying, to say the least.
To reiterate, the problem is not with attractive people playing the roles, but really more with our human psyche and how we as a society have conjured up beautiful people and placed them on this untouchable pedestal, where everything they do and say is justifiable and correct. We place them beyond the purview of doing anything terrible. Beautiful characters are glorified and we tend to find it in us to exempt and forgive them for their terrible acts. The Narcissists and Manipulators are able to maneuver themselves out of sticky situations, and that’s because we allow them, and of course, because they are cunning and crafty, and know exactly what buttons to push to get their way. These beautiful manipulators course through life collecting sympathy, empathy, and hearts along the way. The most terrifying aspect about ‘You’ to me personally, was how it could very easily turn into a reality. It’s not too far-fetched a plot, unlike Riverdale, that it couldn’t translate into someone’s reality.
Penn Badgley has had to frequently turn down Twitter posts that glamourise Joe Goldberg, which is perhaps what we all need to do more. An alarming number of people have justified his behaviour enough and we need to see beyond the brooding romantic figure and place our focus on the psychopath that he is. The same applies with Ted Bundy. While we all have to wait till the end of the year to finally see Zac Efron in action, the early critics who have seen it do emphasize on how the movie does touch on glamourising the serial killer. Judging from the responses received so far, it would appear that we might potentially be ending the year with a Ted Bundy fan club, and how disturbing would that be?
“Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Extreme Vile” comes on Netflix by the end of the year, but if you need a prelude to it, the Netflix documentary “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” gives you Ted Bundy himself and all the tapes that he had recorded, perhaps for this purpose only, to continue the glamourisation of Ted Bundy the serial killer.
Author: Camilla Lyndem
Camilla Ann Lyndem is a Staff Writer. Based in Bengaluru, she is a graduate of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree in English Literature.Although a hardcore liberal arts student, she enjoys coding and has worked on building smart models, including a smart irrigation system (take that, CS students).