Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers in US history, has been dead for 30 years, but two recent films have everyone talking about him again. Netflix released the documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, with the fictional film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, starring Zac Efron debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
An obsession with true crime is nothing new. Humans have always been intrigued and horrified by the idea that people are capable of such evil. True crime has definitely had a resurgence in recent years with the popularity of podcasts like Last Podcast on the Left and My Favorite Murder.
While it’s understandable to be morbidly curious about figures like Ted Bundy, and the reasons for an interest in true crime are varied and complex, people often seem to miss key factors in the stories and the telling of them when discussing serial killers like Bundy.
1: The documentary seems to reinforce the idea that serial killers are geniuses and that Bundy was a rock star-like figure
This is an easy trap to fall into and one that has been reinforced in the media over and over. The idea that serial killers are particularly smart, unique, or geniuses might have arisen as a way to try and understand how these killers get away with what they do for so long. The documentary also seems to contribute to the mythos of Bundy as some sort of ultra-charismatic, handsome, appealing man—a celebrity.
While it’s true he was viewed as conventionally attractive and the media ate up his antics, the documentary is careless by not looking beyond this persona. More should have been done to address the fact that Bundy was treated more like a celebrity by many than like the criminal he was. It’s disturbing that
Since the documentary featured Bundy telling so much of his own story, a little bit of outside perspective to point out that in many ways he was average, as well as a murderous rapist, not a genius rock star, might have been helpful.
2: The documentary fails to point out the inherent white and male privilege Bundy received
One striking thought that comes up throughout Conversations With a Killer is how much benefit of the doubt Bundy was given. One particularly disturbing scene involves members of his Mormon congregation defending that he was a “good guy”, even after a young woman, Carol DaRonch, in their community had identified him as her kidnapper.
Many articles and tweets have pointed out that Bundy was able to get away with what he did for so long, and was still be seen in this light based on the fact he was a white man. They point out how black men, and other people of color, are treated in the justice system and how a serial killer who was convicted in multiple states of crimes was treated with leniency and respect.
Where the documentary did find ample opportunities to point out how handsome everyone thought Bundy was, it brushed over the ways the criminal justice system, and society in general, gave him deference. There is a fine line to walk between being historically accurate and providing context.
3: Ted Bundy was allowed to escape because law enforcement didn’t see how dangerous he was.
Viewers will find it shocking how easily Bundy was able to escape from law enforcement two times. During his first escape attempt, Bundy was not being watched by guards or seen as a danger to society. Despite being accused of kidnapping and murder at that point, he was allowed the type of freedom in prison that many people accused of lesser crimes don’t get. Bundy definitely was a manipulator, but his status in society and how he was viewed allowed him less scrutiny, even after he had been arrested.
It’s understandable that people are fascinated with this documentary. But, given the obsession with Bundy and how little his victims are talked about, it’s important that any films about him give some necessary insight and analysis into the societal factors at play in this saga.