There’s a Netflix doc that they put in their main promo. So whenever I scroll by it I have to see his skeevy face and hear some male narrator (who is clearly enthralled by the guy) talk about what he did. There’s a listicle at the top of Buzzfeed about it. And now Jez also has some article about a movie of him. And a movie that apparently looks to be sympathetic to Bundy.
We really just love white men no matter what they do, huh? Even if they rape and murder people, we still think they’re such fascinating fellows. Let’s make 10 more movies and docs about them!
There’s nothing special about an impulse to kill. We often ask what possesses men like him to do what he did…um, literally anything. Nine times out of ten, it’s because those men just hate women and view them as easy targets. That’s it. I will be forever grateful for The Fall for hammering that point over and over via Gillian Anderson’s character. The murderer is not deep. He’s not special. He’s not complex and broken and intriguing. He’s just an asshole who hates women and kills them.
I feel like people treat killing as if it’s impressive or something? Any of us here could grab a knife or gun and go on a killing spree. If we planned it for like a week, we could do even more damage. So it’s not technically difficult. But in the media serial killers are often portrayed as geniuses. Even though we know that’s not true. They’re more likely to display lower intelligence. Obviously, they indulge the killing impulse because they don’t think they’ll get caught. They are the embodiment of Dunning–Kruger.
So why do we often pair the genius trait with being a murderer? I think I know why we do this …but let me back up.
The impulse to kill I mentioned earlier – we all have it. I have it. And you’re probably lying if you say you don’t have one quick thought about stabbing a person who cuts you off in traffic. We’re a violent species. That’s not a groundbreaking statement or an unusual one. I would argue the people who legitimately never have violent thoughts are the unique ones.
So I think a lot of this real serial-killer love and fascination is partly due to jealousy. That guy went out and did the thing we would do, if we truly didn’t think we’d get caught. He took all his rage, focused it on a target he could overpower, and tortured and killed. Basically, we see ourselves in real killers. So when we repaint them in the media, or invent fictitious killers, we immediately make them geniuses. Or super powerful. Or oftentimes handsome. Because when we identify with someone, we don’t want to see them cast in a negative light*. He’s a killer but…oh, he’s super smart. And you could say Hollywood is just trying to be realistic, since Bundy wasn’t ugly and that is actually something people fixated on irl**. But, we always do this. We have a pattern of trying to soften the blow of who these people were in some complimentary way.
I think people sometimes treat the real crime stuff the same way they treat horror – they want to be creeped out or scared. They can look at horrible things that happened to other people and secretly feel better it’s not happening to them. That’s if they’re not identifying with the killer.
I propose a different way of looking at true crime media. Let’s be proud that we haven’t tortured or killed anyone. I know…low bar. But lots of humans can’t clear it. You are at least intelligent enough to know that you would likely get caught. Or even further, maybe you’re the sort of person who can empathize with potential victims. You don’t feel you have a right to hurt or take away someone else’s life.
Tl;dr - People who kill are not fascinating. They’re not hard to figure out. They’re not alluring. Violence is so common in our species that we should really think of it as boring instead of titillating.
*This also explains why our fascination often centers on straight white male killers. That’s our society default, and the exact type we’ve been trained to identify and sympathize with.
**Every guy who played Bundy was very attractive in a traditional way. Far more so than Bundy himself. Look up one real picture of that piece of shit - he’s got crazy eyes and a corpse-like figure. The actors playing him were so much more attractive. Hollywood tried to soften him by casting sexy actors. Also OT - props to Penn Badgley for playing a serial killer who actually creeped me out.