Why Romanticizing Zac Efron as Ted Bundy is Problematic

Rapist, necrophile, serial killer, kidnapper and thief. Confessed to thirty homicides in seven States. Received three death sentences in two different trials. Is known to have decapacitated at least twelve victims keeping their heads as keepsakes. Beat his victims to death, as they slept.  Approached women by impersonating influential figures or faking injury. Lured them into secluded spaces and assaulted them. Performed sexual acts on the corpses of his victims. Considered sexual assault as a means to possess his victims. Found this “ultimate possession” to be immensely fulfilling. Deemed murder to be an “adventure” and yet this man is romanticized as “charming and handsome”. He has been lucky enough to be portrayed by a “Choice Male Hottie”, “Disney Star” and “teen heartthrob”.

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The gradual transition of Ted Bundy from mug shots to Zac Efron’s beauty shots is a textbook case of the romanization of crime, perpetrated by pop culture. The rom-com like trailer of  Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile diverts attention away from the inexplicable horror of Ted Bundy’s actions and instead enshrouds him into Zac Efron’s flirtatious wink, his loving embrace of Elizabeth Kloepfer and his moments of shirtless allure. It does a bizarre injustice to Ted Bundy’s victims, their suffering and the anguish of their loved ones who have to relive those gruesome moments as they witness Ted Bundy’s character emerge as one of desire.

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It has been proven time and again that audiences flock to movie theatres in anticipation of crime stories revolving around a villain who succeeds in shackling all the chains of moral social conduct. Maybe, this notion seems so attractive because not everyone has the audacity to defy the basic human instincts of sensitivity, empathy, and compassion. Maybe, people find power in deviance. Maybe, people are just awfully desperate to navigate a criminal’s thought process, which to the observer comes across as an anomaly. Maybe, sanity is taken for granted now.

Screenplays that script the complexities of a criminal’s reasoning behind his gruesome vendettas, allow people to sympathize with the offender. Audiences often end up attributing his conduct to the nuances of his circumstances. They tend to explore explanations for his neurotic behavior in order to internally justify their liking for his glamorized image. They tend to relieve murder, sexual assault, and theft of the stigma and disapproval these offenses deserve by engaging in debate over the settings under which they may have been perpetrated. This, of course, is not normal and yet it is one of the more subtle takeaways from pop culture’s depictions of felons like Ted Bundy. Moreover, it is needless to say that the largest consumer base for such productions, the teenage audience, grows insensitive to violence because of its amalgamation with fantasy and romance. Because of its dreamier form brought to life by their favorite stars. Because of its less graphic version seeming rather easy to digest. The question then becomes of how can we do better? For the victims and their healing, for a sense of morality to prevail, for a distaste towards offense to remain?

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While demand drives production, it is primarily on the audiences to responsibly choose the subjects they want to label as “entertainment” in order to prevent such a portrayal of crime that not only disrespects its victims, but underplays its ghastliness. The secondary responsibility lies with production houses to produce a film that does not “beautify” murder, assault or theft. Instead, takes the opportunity to present an offender in association with his offense and not without.