First You, now Ted Bundy: Don’t blame Netflix if you’re sexualising psychopaths

Published: February 3, 2019
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His enigma is still going strong, which is quite a feat to achieve for a man who was a rapist, a cold-blooded killer and a necrophile. PHOTO: IMDB

Human brains are hot-wired to feel emotion and empathy, a quality that is quite handy when it comes to the survival of our species. Consequently, individuals who lack this basic human trait are always the subject of our morbid fascination. One case in point is the recent Netflix documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, which provides a unique look inside the mind of the infamous American serial killer, Theodore Robert Bundy, infamously known as Ted Bundy.

Bundy was an ‘all-American boy’ who grew up in an average white family, had a degree in psychology and was on his way to becoming a lawyer, with a pretty good mind for politics as well. However, somewhere down the line, something seemed to snap inside Bundy’s brain, and in a span of just four years, he killed more than 30 women in over seven states.

Like a spider-tailed horned viper, Bundy would lure unsuspecting women in, and when the timing was just right, he attacked them with a ferocity that blurred the lines between humanity and animalism.

Bundy was finally arrested in 1975, followed by a lengthy trial that was filled with so many twists and turns that one could make an entire documentary out of it alone. He was finally awarded the death penalty (death by electric chair) and on January 24, 1989 Bundy was executed.

This particular documentary has gone viral, compounded by the trailer release of a movie about Bundy where his character is played by Zac Efron. The main point of concern behind the public outcry is that Bundy’s image seems to be sexualised, while his victims are reduced to mere numbers (a score card, if you will). Type in ‘Ted Bundy’ on Twitter, and you will come across comments such as:

“Stop romanticising Ted Bundy!”

“Think Bundy was hot? You need to be on an international watch list.”

“Ted Bundy was a monster, plain and simple, who took innocent lives.”

“Is Netflix trying to make serial killing cool again?”

And it was mainly due to this social media buzz that poor Netflix had to tweet about how creeped out it was by its own project.

But is this criticism fair? Did Netflix actually sexualise Bundy’s image? In my opinion, the answer to this is a big no, for it is an established fact that Bundy was indeed a handsome, clean-cut guy who, with his deep blue eyes and charming smile, had an almost hypnotic effect on the opposite sex.

This was evident during his trials, where Bundy faced charges of brutally murdering women and yet those court rooms were filled with women, many of whom refused to believe Bundy could be guilty. The argument can be made that the women were there out of curiosity, but this archive footage from the late 70s offers some valuable insight into why they were present at the trial of a man accused of bludgeoning multiple women to death, as many women described feeling a certain sense of thrill and fascination with him.

It’s not only real-life psychopaths whom women seem to find desirable, even monsters from reel life end up becoming heartthrobs. Take the example of You, another series on Netflix where the protagonist is a crazed stalker who becomes obsessed with a young woman and kills anyone he considers an obstacle in his way. However, as this sadistic character is played by a handsome actor (Penn Badgley), women around the world are going gaga over him, so much so that Badgley himself intervened and urged people to not romanticise his character.

In my opinion, the creators of You are only projecting an image similar to that of Bundy’s, and with Mr Badgley’s good looks, the end result is the same as it was 30 years ago during Bundy’s trials. 

Thus Netflix is not to blame here; they are only making money out of a product that is already a bestseller – serial killers. People find this topic fascinating, and this is a simple case of demand and supply, which is why The Ted Bundy Tapes is not the only project of its kind available on Netflix; browse through their list and you will come across many series such as Mindhunter, where infamous serial killers like Ed Kemper and Richard Speck are waiting for you.

It has been 30 years since Bundy was executed, and yet his enigma is still going strong, which is quite a feat to achieve for a man who was a rapist, a cold-blooded killer and a necrophile. Even after all this time, the grizzly tales of his crimes are selling like hot cakes.

It is not only Bundy who has become an eternal part of our pop culture; we have Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein, Peter Kürten, Andrei Chikatilo, Anatoly Onoprienko, and Jack the Ripper amongst many others. Bundy’s case just seems unique because his appearance sets him apart from most. Further, while there is no denying that these monsters have a huge fan following around the globe, for an average person taking an interest in their life stories is by no means an early sign of a mental breakdown. It is simply due to human curiosity and the fact that it is incomprehensible to even imagine how someone can lack the empathy or remorse to commit such senseless acts of violence.

It was perhaps this curiosity that led scientists to study serial killers and come to several conclusions; for instance, such murderers feel disconnected from emotions such as remorse or empathy. Childhood also plays an important role; for instance, a person who was physically or emotionally abused as a child has higher chances of growing up with abusive tendencies. Then there is the gene called MAOA or the warrior gene, which is attached to the X chromosome and passed on to a son from his mother. As a female has two X chromosomes, the warrior gene gets diluted, but the male child remains stuck with it, which is perhaps why we see more male serial killers.

Bundy could never explain his lust for blood; in the end, he blamed his behaviour on watching too much pornography. Whatever the actual reason was – be it genetics, mental disorder, childhood abuse or something else entirely – that made Bundy the way he was, we may never know. However, just hours before his execution, Bundy uttered a line that proved to be hauntingly accurate and proved just how much we don’t know about the mystery of serial killers.

“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.”

Sheraz Khan Rajput

Sheraz Khan Rajput

The writer is a broadcast journalist by profession, sapien by nature, geek by default and a Real Madrid fan by choice. He tweets @SherazKRajput (twitter.com/SherazKRajput)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.