When Does the Obsession with Serial Killers Go Too Far?

There has been a fairly recent phenomenon in pop culture in which serial killers, cult leaders, and mass killers have become topics of popular interest. With podcasts, documentaries, and now movies dedicated to telling their stories—and sometimes looking to find answers—the stories of serial killers are becoming common stories that people are familiar with. And some people get really into it, spending their free time researching these people and their motives.

We as humans are set up psychologically to find these types of people interesting and to have an innate curiosity about them. On the one hand, we want to know about them to survive; we want to understand threats. But as well, we are curious about the different—what is inhuman and sick will naturally call attention. So in a way, this trend is very natural and expected; it's actually more odd to be totally uninterested in such figures. But this obsession has not been contained to just serious podcasts and factual documentaries: it has bled into normal everyday entertainment. The killers have become mainstream celebrities in their own way. But should we be okay with this?

Many serial killers (not all) thrive off of the idea of being well-known. They will send notes to newspapers or police to get themselves in the public awareness or leave things at their crime scenes so they know who did it. They want and thrive on attention. In some cases, they look up to other well-known serial killers, wanting to replicate their killings or reach their level of recognition. So the scary question is, by creating these works on them, are we just giving them what they would have wanted?



Ted Bundy has been in the spotlight recently. It has been 40 years since his killings, and with a new documentary and a movie on the way, he is everywhere. I want to focus on the movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, which stars Zac Efron. The trailer was recently released, and it showed that the film depicts Bundy in the eyes of his long-term girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. It shows reenactments of the trial and of Bundy playing to the crowd alongside guitar music and editing fit for an action movie. A lot of people criticized the trailer for making Bundy too likable, which is fair, but not the reason that it upset me. Bundy was very charismatic and knew how to charm. Therefore, if we are gonna portray him, we should do so accordingly. But the overall tone of the trailer threw me off; it comes off as fun, as an adventure. Like any other Hollywood story. But this isn’t just a Hollywood story.

Ted Bundy killed around thirty people, mostly women, including some very young girls. He was real and had real victims and those families are still around today. The story has real gravity to it and it isn’t fun escapism, like some action movie or fake horror film. But the advertising seems too close to something of that nature.

But let’s take a step back from the question of how this story should be told and ask if we should tell it at all. Should we as a society make a movie (not a documentary), which is solely for entertainment, about a man who violently murdered and assaulted many women, and would have loved to have a movie about him? I’m really not sure we should. I think maybe time makes us feel more detached from events, this was all thirty years ago so I can feel more like a story than say if it happened last week. More recent deaths tend to stir up more emotion. But I want to remind everyone that the families of the victim are still alive and most of Bundy’s victim would be alive today; time doesn’t make things less real.

Ted Bundy’s youngest victim was a twelve-year-old girl. Her murder is about to be depicted in a movie for people to enjoy, and I don’t think that's morally right.