Opinion: Let's not sexualize Ted Bundy, the serial killer
Author Michael Arceneaux discusses the trailer for the new Zac Efron-led Ted Bundy biopic, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, and the problem with playing into the image that Bundy created for himself.
On January 28th, Netflix, or at the very least, the person running Netflix’s Twitter account, decided to weigh in on an online debate currently surrounding Ted Bundy. I am increasingly weirded out by the ever-increasing urge of corporate brands to have “voice” because—no matter what select Supreme Court rulings in recent years have suggested—a corporation is not a person. Thus, it doesn’t need to communicate as though it is just like us, wasting time on Al Gore’s internet. Still, when I saw the tweet denouncing Bundy’s purported bae status, I appreciated the sentiment.
While the person tweeting for Netflix doesn’t see it for Ted Bundy in that way, a four-part docuseries now airing on Netflix, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, shows Bundy being described as an impeccably handsome charmer that one could never imagine as the brutal serial murderer he was.
I was already aware of the folklore surrounding Ted Bundy, but we are supposed to learn from past mistakes rather than revisit them. Some have decidedly chosen to take a different approach.
If we are to go by the trailer for the forthcoming Ted Bundy-themed film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, it seems as if Voltage Pictures is upping the ante in the undeserved mystique surrounding Bundy.
Far be it from me to shit on any opportunity to ogle at Zac Efron, but some of the responses to the trailer have been unsettling. Like the HuffPost headline, “Zac Efron Will Use His Washboard Abs To Play Serial Killer Ted Bundy.” Or the E! News lede, “Zac Efron, you’re not at East High School anymore.” I know people have to get their clicks, but c’mon.
Then again, they are all responding to the marketing tactic being employed to entice us all to go see this purported hottie serial killer.
Some have gone so far as to argue that not glamorizing the serial killer “is what would constitute the real disservice to his victims.” In “Filmmakers are right to sexualise Ted Bundy – here’s why,” Victoria Selman writes: “Many of us buy into the bogeyman myth that evil has a face. When we think of serial killers, we imagine gnarly men with Jaws eyes and pock-marked skin. Hollywood’s partly to blame of course, but the real reason runs deeper than that. The idea that monsters hide in plain sight, that our next-door neighbour or the guy who mows our lawn might be capable of unspeakable acts, is just too terrifying for most of us to contemplate.”
This might have made sense in decades prior, but post-Silence of the Lambs, post-Dexter, in the shadow of the dozens of movies and television series that chronicle serial killers, that argument reads as hollow. Selman reiterates her claim later, saying of detractors like me, “What these people don’t get is that if Bundy had fitted the serial killer stereotype, he would have repelled rather than successfully lured his victims.”
Ashley Alese Edwards offers a counterargument in a more in-depth piece for Refinery29, aptly entitled “Ted Bundy Wasn’t Special Or Smart. He Was Just White.” In it, she makes the case for how Bundy crafted this self-serving image of himself and the media fell for it. Even if others have said the trailer doesn’t properly represent Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, the way it presents Zac Efron confirms that the media is still falling for the crafted image.
“Ted Bundy of America’s consciousness is a myth,” Edwards writes. “Bundy was not special, he was not smarter than the average person; he did not have a personality so alluring that his female victims could not help but simply go off with him. He did not have a superhuman skill to be one step ahead of the police.” Edwards goes on to say: “What Bundy did have was the power of being a white man in a society that reveres them and has implicit faith in their abilities.”
Bundy’s ability to victimize women was not rooted in remarkable charm and good looks. He was merely a liar who attacked his victims when they were most vulnerable.
The time it took to capture Bundy and bring him to justice was more reflective of a lack of technological advancement than Bundy’s own brilliance. In sum, he was just a white dude who went to law school and knew how to play members of the press because he was already used to exploiting people.
It is superficial to fixate on Ted Bundy’s looks one way or another, but as Edwards highlights, it does remind you that ultimately “white man’s supposed potential will supersede reality.” And it will supersede the dignity of his victims. If Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was about a plain looking white man of average intelligence in the 1970s who managed to slaughter at least 30 people while relying on white privilege in order to be seen as far more complex than he ever was, then I think that would make for a much more interesting movie.
Instead, the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile does nothing more than advance a false depiction of Ted Bundy that should have died with Ted Bundy 30 years ago.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of the recently released book I Can’t Date Jesus from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Essence, The Guardian, Mic, and more. Follow him on Twitter.