Popular media depictions of Ted Bundy represent him accurately, but fans should remain sensitive

Infamous serial killer Ted Bundy (pictured above) is the recent subject of multiple media projects, including a docuseries and upcoming film. Portraying him as an attractive and charismatic man is not romanticizing a criminal, but depicting him with alarming accuracy (Donn Dughi/Creative commons).

Whether you were alive in the 1970s or have access to any social media in 2019, chances are you recognize the name Ted Bundy. A serial killer-turned-celebrity, Bundy made headlines then and is making a popularized comeback now. Most of the recent portrayals of Bundy, however, have been interpreted as sexualization of a criminal. 

While it is unacceptable to romanticize a serial killer, critics who argue that a new movie sexualizes Bundy are missing the point. It is imperative to depict the killer as he was: handsome, charismatic and fully aware of how these traits allowed him greater leeway in life.

The latest project surrounding Bundy is the Joe Berlinger’s movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Extremely Wicked has been joined by the Netflix docuseries “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” created by the same director. Both recount Ted Bundy’s life, passing and his absurd obsession with death. The criminal confessed to murdering at least 30 women before he was sentenced to the electric chair in 1979, according to USA Today.

Some of Berlinger’s critics are upset over the portrayal of Bundy in Extremely Wicked, arguing that Bundy is depicted as a sex symbol rather than a horrific killer. This argument is largely due to the role being played by Zac Efron, an actor known for his dashing looks. 

The trailer begins with a passionate montage of Bundy and his girlfriend, Liz Kendall—played by Lily Collins. Later, Bundy smiles and winks at the camera in court. The clip split social media on how to feel about the movie and Ted Bundy himself. 

“The wink is extremely disturbing and the romanticization of a serial killer is exactly why these sick fucks continue to do things like this to women. Notoriety,” former Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui tweeted. “This is appalling.”

Similarly, actor Richard Lawson condemned the Bundy depiction.

“Zac Efron is insidiously good in EXTREMELY WICKED but I don’t think that justifies yet another oddly affectionate sensationalizing of a man who murdered dozens of women,” Lawson tweeted.

In the film, there are certainly moments that suggests Bundy is glamorous. He has a quiet family life complete with a girlfriend, daughter and dog, while his smolder makes even random strangers weak-kneed. Flocks of teenage girls race to his murder trial calling him “dreamy” and even cheering when he takes the stand.

Fictional female characters in Extremely Wicked are not the only women to voice their attraction to Bundy. The disturbing “Ted Bundy is hot” movement has exploded since the launch of the film, according to The Ringer. Distressingly, women have shared how they feel conflicted, but ultimately unapologetic about finding Bundy—or at least Efron’s portrayal of him—enticing.

While the filmmakers may be accurate in their portrayal, it is imperative that Bundy’s positive representation is not meant to glorify him. Minimizing the sinister killer to merely another attractive man discounts the horror he so deviously enacted. Meanwhile, to glorify him is to offend the victims who lost their lives at the hands of this charming mastermind.

The inclusion of Bundy’s magnetism and people’s attraction to him, however, are obvious attempts by Berlinger to illustrate Bundy as mesmerizing, but critics are missing the reason why. Rather than glorify Bundy, the intended effect is to denounce the media that unjustly made him a celebrity. The general public swooned over his charm, and his alluring charisma was the weapon he used to bait his female victims.

Between the false claim that Extremely Wicked sexualizes Bundy and the troubling glorification of the murderer by viewers, it is necessary that the media understands the film’s message. By hiring Efron to portray Bundy as a charismatic heartthrob, the film is nodding to the very traits that made Bundy the sensationalized criminal that he was. 

We need to acknowledge that killers are not always ugly and creepy looking. They often do not appear to be monsters, which perhaps, is the scariest point of all.