In the 1970s, a terrifying streak of events ripped through the nation and made horrified parents hold their young daughters close.
This streak of events is known as the Ted Bundy killings. Bundy––a notorious serial killer who wreaked havoc from coast to coast—confessed to 28 murders spanning the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Florida between 1974 and 1978.
The murders were gruesome. Bundy sexually assaulted and violently killed young women, including a 12-year-old girl. He was executed for these crimes in Florida’s electric chair in 1989.
Flash forward to today, and Bundy is still a hot topic among younger generations. People are still engrossed in the who, what, why, how and when behind the crimes of this infamous serial killer, and a few outlets have decided to take full advantage of this widespread interest.
Netflix recently released “The Ted Bundy Tapes,” an episodic documentary outlining Bundy’s entire life story from his childhood to his execution. The documentary, which is largely narrated by old tapings of Bundy, has been a hit among viewers.
Joe Berlinger, the director of the Netflix series, has since announced the release of another Bundy media dramatization: a movie. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” further expands on the story of Bundy, played by Zac Efron. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 26.
It is evident there is a massive audience for true crime entertainment. Within the past few years, producers and directors have jumped at the opportunity to rehash old, grisly content to create new cultural sensations.
Yet, this shared compulsion to consume real-life brutality raises concern.
True crime narratives have the essential quality of entertainment. We often watch shows or read books involving fictional stories of horrific murder, but for it to actually have occurred in real life makes it all the more interesting.
We have this odd obsession when it comes to serial killers and an undeniable urge to understand them, to know what went on in their heads and to diagnose their mental sickness. But why?
One answer people have pointed to is the entertainment factor. As humans, we are drawn to things that promise to relieve us from the monotonous, everyday hum of life. Unquestionably, exploring the minds and lives of serial killers takes us to a terrifying world, but because it has such entertaining value, perhaps we subconsciously reject its probability of occurring in real life.
To those who believe this assumption, remaking the stories of very real and very sick serial killers only glorifies the killers by painting them as a type of celebrity.
A second answer is far more likely than the first. By unraveling these accounts of serial killers, perhaps we are glorifying them, but more likely we are teaching ourselves to be aware of the evil lurking in this world.
There is something gripping about the psyches of these individuals, but it is not gripping because the vast majority thinks they are pop culture phenomena. It is actually quite the opposite.
In watching the Netflix documentary series or the movie about Bundy’s life, it becomes all too easy to sympathize with the crazed killer. You begin to ask yourself, “Could he have actually done those things?” And you tell yourself, “He doesn’t seem like a killer.”
Then, you realize the truth: yes, he did those things. Yes, he is a killer. And, the most terrifying reality of it all is most people in the 1970s believed he was not capable of such heinous acts.
But he was.
The relatively new documentary series and movie about Bundy do not glorify him by any means. The true purpose of both of these creations is to remind people these things did happen, how to be aware and how to prevent them from happening again.
By probing the minds of infamous serial killers, psychologists and analysts are able to identify “red flags” to further help families, teachers and others recognize warning signs in those around them. Whether you want to believe it or not, there is an intrinsic value in such productions.