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Can The Internet Please Stop Romanticizing Killers?

Why does this keep on happening?
PHOTO: (LEFT) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile/Voltage Pictures, (RIGHT) You/Netflix

You may have noticed that the internet has recently developed a bit of a crush on Ted Bundy—Ted Bundy, as in, one of the world's most notorious serial killers. First Netflix released a documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, that's chock-full of archival footage and audio recordings made while Ted was on death row. Netflix had to literally ask viewers to stop calling Bundy hot. Then a new trailer dropped for the upcoming Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which stars Zac Efron, one of the most handsome men to ever grace this Earth. 

In other words, Ted Bundy is having a moment. A big moment. And here's why that's f*cked up.

Attraction to the real Ted Bundy started long before the biopics, of course. Back in the days of his trial, hordes of groupies sent him love letters until the day he died. When asked why they did it, these women typically fell into two categories: they either believed someone that handsome couldn’t possibly commit such disgusting crimes, or plainly, they couldn’t articulate why they were so enamored.


It's called Hybristophilia. Think about it like this: Society teaches women to "fix" men, and to provide rehabilitation (and patience! and kindness!) for the very worst ones. Groupie culture around serial killers is pretty much an amped-up version of this relatively commonplace psyche. RJ Parker, in his book Serial Killer Groupies, chalks it up to women's nurturing instincts and a genuine belief that they can change their targeted serial killer through love. Heavy. 

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If the Bundy stuff is old news, chances are you know all about the mania around You, which premiered on Lifetime this fall and is already set to get a second season on Netflix. In You,  Penn Badgley plays Joe Goldberg, a "nice guy" who swoops in to "save" Beck, a woman he becomes obsessed with. He then ends up murdering anyone who might prevent Beck from falling in love with him, and gets away with it thanks to his incorrigible arrogance and savior complex.


The worrying part is the online reaction to Joe. Thousands of young girls dubbed him #bae and now Penn Badgley is on a mission to help his fans get a grip. "In a more just society, we would all see Joe as problematic and not be interested in the show," Badgley told the New York Times, "But that's not the society we live in." Badgley’s reaction is a welcome relief—he's actively trying to get his young audience to understand how unhealthy it is to romanticize a psychopath.


By glamorizing murderers, we feed into the cult of personality, while the victims barely get a second glance. The simple fact is that men like Ted don't have "redeeming" qualities, and they don't need hours of TV dedicated to unpacking their personalities or examining their "layers." Bundy probably would have been thrilled by the fact that an ex-Disney super hunk was picked to play him on-screen. It reinforces a narrative that Ted himself would've loved—he deserves to be eternalized by a charming, charismatic, beautiful man. 

True crime is a fascinating genre for a multitude of reasons. But rather than glorify the Teds or Joes of the world, let's talk about the role that toxic masculinity plays in violence against women. Or how white privilege impacts which serial killers we think are "sexy." Bundy and Joe are still considered attractive because they are, in some way, palatable to society—a treatment only afforded to middle-class, white, cis men. 


Ted Bundy’s entitlement got him far; he managed to convince the judge to let him be in charge of his own defense, he proposed in court to one of his groupies, and he left the court with a complimentary note from the judge: “You’re a bright young man. I don’t have animosity to you.” Both Bundy and Joe have a grotesque arrogance and a hyperawareness of their own power—they know society doesn’t see them as a threat. If the world is bowing to you because of the way you look and speak, it isn’t a surprise these men buy into their own delusions.


The women who lost their lives need us to do better. They deserve to be more than an afterthought, despite our society's fondness for "charismatic killers." Ted Bundy got the notoriety that he wanted; Joe Goldberg gets a second season. All while the Becks of this world are already forgotten.

Follow Chloe on Twitter.


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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