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Amazon’s Ted Bundy docuseries is not worth our attention

Amazon just announced it’s producing a five-part Ted Bundy docuseries, adding to the deluge of Bundy content already out there — much of it framing the serial killer as a suave, handsome lady killer (pun intended, obviously).

The show is a ploy to cash in on Bundy fascination. The market is currently cornered by another streaming giant, Netflix, which released the Zak Efron biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile as well as the docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes last year. Both projects were directed by the same guy, Joe Berlinger.

The projects weren’t great according to many critics, but they kicked off a wave of Bundy worship online, with women tweeting about the wicked things they’d like him to do to them.

A lot of people found this quite upsetting, triggering a backlash to the Bundy stans. Netflix issued a statement asking people to please objectify some of the non-murderous men on its platform.

This was all perpetuated by the fact that Efron is, objectively, quite handsome. Bundy was a good-looking fella in real life, too. It’s a trait that likely helped him kidnap and murder young women in parks throughout the 1970s. But his pretty face was where any goodness ended. I don’t think it’s right to talk about Bundy worship without reminding people about the other flashy and quite disturbing details of his murderous spree. (Please consider this a content warning.)

Bundy approached women in public spaces, feigning an injury or pretending to be an authority figure. He’d lure them somewhere private or overpower them, rape, and kill them. Bundy confessed to cutting off many of his victims heads to keep as trophies and performing sexual acts on the corpses. Before he was executed more than 30 years ago, Bundy confessed to 30 murders, but the true number is probably higher.

TV shows and movies about serial killers walk a fine line as it is, between picking apart the psyche of horrible people and glamorizing their terrible acts. Killing Eve, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acclaimed cat-and-mouse series about a contract killer and an MI5 agent, is one brilliant example that explores the tension between desire and murder and morality. Mindhunter is another show that consciously teeters between revulsion and obsession.

Shining a spotlight on Bundy again and again feels different. There just aren’t any good reasons to give him this much attention.

Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) ©Netflix

Are we fixated on the man because he was handsome? That’s a poor reason. Do we want to understand why he did it? He was a psychopath who enjoyed hurting and killing people. We already knew how he got away with it for so long: he was white and had a nice face, which made him seem trustworthy by ‘70s logic; he moved around a lot, scattering victims all over the country; and police did a shoddy job piecing together evidence, which allowed him to elude them for a long time.

In the middle of the #MeToo reckoning, people keep railing against terrible men, and yet we gobble up glam depictions of them. There was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the Quentin Tarantino flick that dramatized the Manson family murders as a subplot, this summer. And the Netflix series You, starring Penn Badgley as a handsome stalker and murderer, proved wildly popular last year. So many fans were thirsting for Badgley’s character that the actor spoke out: “Would anyone else be considered unassuming on the side of the street standing there too long? It’s pretty evident that no one but a young, handsome white man could do that,” the actor told HuffPost.

“Why don’t we want to believe that beautiful people can do terrible things?” Jack Levin, a Northeastern University professor, researcher and author who has spent his career studying murderers asked AWOL magazine. Getting over that misconception is the first step towards properly framing these men as monsters.

But Levin added that serial killer worship is often more of an attention grab than anything else. “Certain people have always been drawn to those who violate the social contract, parading their edginess by wearing pictures of Charles Manson on their T-shirts, or writing to serial killers in prison,” he said.

Amazon insists that its forthcoming series, Falling for a Killer, isn’t a romance. It’s intended to be a fresh look at Bundy’s crimes through the female gaze. It’s centered on the serial killer’s longtime girlfriend, who inspired Lily Collins’ character in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. “After nearly 40 years of silence, Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly share their experiences with unsettling new details about Bundy, the pull he had on women and an abundant archive of never-before-seen family photos,” Amazon said in a statement. The series will reportedly feature other female voices, including one of the few survivors of Bundy’s attacks. A lot of the women are stepping forward to share their stories for the first time.

It’s important for these women to share their experiences, of course, if that’s what they want. But Amazon jumping on the Bundy bandwagon feels hollow. The man is not worth all the fuss.