Stop iconizing serial killers in popular culture

Yet another Ted Bundy film glamourizing violent perpetrators is harmful to society

We don’t need another Ted Bundy film. Photo courtesy of People Magazine

By: Harvin Bhathal, Peak Associate

CW: Sexual violence, murder, misogyny

Ted Bundy is receiving yet another take on his horrific life in the form of a film. Chad Michael Murray — yes that Chad Michael Murray — has been cast to play Bundy in American Boogeyman.

According to the film’s synopsis, American Boogeyman follows the elusive and charming killer and the manhunt that brought him to justice involving the detective and the FBI rookie who coined the phrase ‘serial killer.’”

This film and the myriad of other Bundy-related productions, including 2019’s Netflix Original Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, beg the question, “Why is the US film industry hell-bent on glorifying Bundy’s life?”

The answer stems from the country’s continued history of misogyny and violence, particularly against women and gender-diverse people. As a result, serial killers, such as Bundy, have become US pop culture icons. This also reinforces said patriarchal values.

The casting of Bundy also has consequences. Voltage Pictures cast Chad Michael Murray, a once teenage sensation from films/television series such as A Cinderella Story and One Tree Hill. In Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, High School Musical star Zac Efron was cast to be Bundy. Both of these were intentional.

Bundy’s attractiveness and charm have been grossly exaggerated over the years. Casting Murray and Efron as him is disingenuous, and worst of all, it feeds into the false myth surrounding Bundy. In some cases, he would gain sympathy by pretending to be injured; in others, he would gain trust by pretending to be an authority figure. 

Bundy was a lying psychopath a psychopath whose perspective the US film industry insists on prioritizing

The problem with Bundy-related films is the depiction of the women he raped and murdered as passive victims and mere numbers. In a TED Talk, “How Crime Shows Undermine Your Empathy,” Carolyn Murnick questioned the skewed perspective of the men-centric focus in the consumption of murder as entertainment.

“The stories we tell about women’s lives matter and the messages that we are internalizing about women when we watch these shows [matter] even more.”

Bundy is known to have killed 36 women — women whose bodies were used as an outlet for misogynist violence, women who the film industry considers to be nothing more than a footnote in Bundy’s life. Though he has only confessed to 36 murders, experts believe that the real number could be closer to 100 or more.

Bundy is an icon in US popular culture because of these patriarchal values. He has been described by US media over the years as more of a celebrity than a monster, being referred to as “the new postmodern serial killer role model.”

When serial killers are exalted, it diverts attention away from their illegal, immoral crimes. Media productions such as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and the upcoming American Boogeyman create a spectacle around serial murder as opposed to the harsh realities that surround it.

By producing more Bundy-related films, the film industry is “elevating the monster,” as US audiences are “titillated by gore and extreme violence.”

In addition, these productions are not created for just any serial killer; only the ones whose crimes, appearance, and/or personality stand out. Whether warranted or not, Bundy fits all three of these factors (at least for his appearance).

Such works could potentially incentivize a serial killer to commit extremely violent, misogynist crime(s) to become an icon in US pop culture as Bundy has become. Even if they don’t, they still normalize misogyny.

Serial killers are often the subject of case studies that more often examine their lives rather than the consequences of their actions. Serial murder is an issue of power dynamics that involve gender and fear. 

If future productions about serial killers are to be created — and only with permission from victims’ families — producers should consider adopting a women-centric perspective as historically, they are the ones who have faced the consequences of serial murder.