“I don’t like people treating me like I’m some kind of weirdo, because I’m not,” says serial killer Ted Bundy in Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. This four-episode true-crime Netflix documentary was released this past January.
Ted Bundy is arguably the most famous serial killer. He wasn’t the bloodiest (That would be Chilean Luis Garavito, who was convicted of murdering 138 boys) or the most sadistic. However, he’s exactly what we picture when we try to imagine a cold-blooded murderer. Only true-crime fanatics once knew the details of his crimes and personal life. Netflix’s release of Conversations with a Killer, as well as the upcoming movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, (which stars Zac Efron as Bundy), has suddenly turned Bundy into a pop culture reference of sorts… in the worst of ways.
The way we glorify serial killers in general and Ted Bundy in particular is nothing new.
It’s the result of a social media trend growing bigger, not suddenly erupting in our virtual lives. Years before John Berlinger started the Bundy features, a small community was already “memeing” Bundy and sharing memorabilia on Tumblr. While some of these blogs were purely informative, others took the tone of boy band or Hollywood actor fan accounts. Many young women made photo edits of Bundy, wrote fanfiction based on his criminal history, and reblogged hundreds of his personal photos, even as they claimed that they couldn’t condone his murders.
Why the fascination with Bundy, though?
The four hours of footage in Conversations with a Killer don’t reveal a uniquely intelligent murderer. Despite his own delusions of grandeur, Bundy’s classmates describe him as “average” and “full of it.” Instead of revealing an evil genius, the docuseries portrays an extremely dated brand of serial killer. Ted Bundy’s hatred of women spiraled into 30 murders because, at the time of the killings (the mid-to-late 70s), nobody expected a charming, educated, polite, conventionally attractive man to perpetuate such atrocious horrors. What’s more, the way our society has historically socialized played a part in the Bundy killings. Sure, Bundy exploited these young women’s respect of men. However, here, we must read between the lines. Conversations with a Killer does nothing but perpetuate the idea of the “lone wolf.”
Over and over, we see accounts of Bundy’s childhood awkwardness as a weak attempt to rationalize his motives. Conversations with a Killer could have opened an important debate on the privilege of the presumption of innocence. Yet all we see is the police’s incompetence and indifference and Bundy’s own narcissism disguised as mythical mastermind.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile has only amplified this disturbing tone. The trailer markets the movie as an action flick of sorts, a movie in which we can all root for Bundy. A romantic subplot between Bundy and his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (played by Lily Collins) proves that the movie whitewashes the reality of Bundy’s case.
Now that Bundy’s name is all over social media, I would like to honor his victims instead.
How many victims’ names can the average person remember, even in the midst of this Bundy craze? Does anyone know about Lynda Ann Healy, a 21-year-old psychology major who worked with children with disabilities and reported for her local radio? What about Debra Kent, a teen who dreamed of becoming a social worker and always had parking meter change for strangers? Or Susan Curtis, 15, a high school track team star? If we should sympathize with anyone in the Ted Bundy case, it’s them.
By all means, hold onto your interest in true crime cases.
Read about them. Watch documentaries about them. An interest in the macabre is not a fault in humanity. Seeking excuses to glorify a killer and bury their victims in oblivion is, though, and that’s exactly what lies beneath John Berlinger’s Bundy pieces.
Featured Photo via zacefron.