I can’t believe I’m having to type this with my own two hands in the year two thousand and nineteen but, well:
Serial killers aren’t hot!
January has clearly been a weird month. It’s felt like it’s lasted about ten thousand years, the government was shut down for a record-breaking 35 days, the Brexit is Brexiting (or not? I’ve lost track), and in a low-key sense, we all just want to die. Maybe that’s why January has been the month of the serial killer thirst.
[Spoilers for You and the 1970’s below]
At the end of 2018, Netflix gave us the greatest gift of all: You on Netflix. Starring Elizabeth Lail, Shay Mitchell and Gossip Girl himself (Penn Badgley), You tells the tale of a “Lonely Boy” becoming infatuated with a captivating blonde and going to greater and greater lengths to win her over. Romantic right? No! These lengths include (but are not limited to): stalking, hacking her phone and keeping tabs on all her texts, assault, kidnapping, poisoning and murder. Don’t let those sharp cheekbones fool you, they’re probably the only thing he’s not used to physically harm someone.
You is told entirely from the point of view of Joe’s character; Penn Badgley narrates (a lost opportunity for Kristen Bell, but oh well) and the audience is rooted to his perspective – at times we accidentally find ourselves rooting for him. Then he goes and does another murder and we’re snapped back to reality. You is objectively a ridiculous show – there’s a character straight up called Peach Salinger (as in JD) who is both the best and the worst character ever created in the literary canon. Joe has a soundproof cage in the basement of his shop and no one seems to bat an eyelid, and it features the following line of dialogue:
“I have a rare, chronic bladder disease called interstitial cystitis. Some people think I’m being uppity, but I can’t have any fast food. And if I drink, it has to be a high pH, you know, like Ketel One or Goose and pear juice.”
Underneath all the objective silliness is a horror story about toxic masculinity. Joe is jealous, insecure, possessive and controlling; some of his thoughts have probably flitted through the mind of the average straight male. But he’s not the obvious picture of toxic masculinity – he’s not a frat boy type with a MAGA hat and an endless supply of roofies, but he’s also not a “””Nice”””” fedora-wearing Redditor watching Youtube videos about how Post Modern Neo Marxism has destroyed women. He seems normal. He’s funny, witty and charming, he helps out his neighbour in a shitty situation, and at times seems like the perfect boyfriend. He seems like anyone you may know in real life.
Apart from the stalking, kidnapping and murder.
While this ends up making a brilliant point about how toxic masculinity can affect any guy, not just the obvious culprits, it may have been lost on a few people. Young women have been tweeting Penn Badgley that his character is a complete dreamboat and that they’d want to be kidnapped by him; Stranger Things star Millie Bobbie Brown even called him romantic. The fact that young women are watching You and thinking his actions are romantic is disturbing. Sure, teenagers have weird opinions, and there was a time we all though Twilight was romantic, but You is actively framed as a horror. If young girls are thinking this is normal or romantic, it could mean that this kind of behaviour becomes acceptable in real life. Thankfully Penn Badgley has been quick to call out why this is so, so not right, but dang. Murder isn’t hot, stalking isn’t hot, and hopefully, season 2 will double down on this hopefully obvious message.
A: He is a murderer https://t.co/g2g4f3JvaF
— Penn Badgley (@PennBadgley) January 9, 2019
So anyway, Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy is in the zeitgeist, let’s cancel 2019. Earlier this month Netflix (maybe they’re the problem) released Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a documentary featuring taped interviews with the man himself. Meanwhile Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile dropped at Sundance, staring ZEfron as Bundy. The film hasn’t been released to the general public yet, and it’s rarely a good idea to judge a movie by the trailer but COME ON.
Doesn’t this all seem a bit too cutesy? Inappropriately so? It’s almost never a good look when Hollywood makes movies about recent serial killers, but this looks like hilarious Tarantino-esque antihero romp rather than a story of one of the U.S’s most notorious serial killers. While I’m sure ZEfron does a brilliant job, he’s probably too attractive for the role. Ted Bundy wasn’t hot – he was white. He wasn’t charming or seductive – he was white. He wasn’t a genius – he was white. There’s a common misconception that Bundy lured his victims in with his charm, but as Ashley Alese Edwards highlights in this excellent article, Ted Bundy wasn’t a suave genius. He lured women in by impersonating police officers, with fake injuries, or just straight up sneaking into their rooms at night. The simple facts that he was white and clean shaven created an undeserved hype around him which lasted decades. Whilst on death row, Bundy would receive love letters and fan mail, and since the dawn of the Internet, there have been fan blogs about him, swooning about what a badass he was. Even the Netflix documentary can’t make it ten minutes without mentioning how handsome he was.
Symmetrical face aside, Ted Bundy was a monster. In the 70s, he confessed to murdering 36 women but authorities suspect the number is closer to 100. He would kidnap and rape women, and following their gruesome deaths he would sodomise their bodies. There’s nothing “hot” about it – he was a terrible human being, and we need to stop acting like he was a handsome genius and glamorising his horrible acts.
The women who were kidnapped, brutalised and murdered become footnotes in the story of the charismatic killer who got love letters until his death.
And ladies – he’s not hot. You can do better than Ted Bundy. Even Netflix agrees.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about Ted Bundy’s alleged hotness and would like to gently remind everyone that there are literally THOUSANDS of hot men on the service — almost all of whom are not convicted serial murderers
— Netflix US (@netflix) January 28, 2019
Discussions about serial killers have a tendency to glamorise the murderer; we dissect his history and appearance. Meanwhile, the female victims barely get a passing mention. By glamorising the killer, we feed into the toxic masculinity that motivates the murders. Joe is a bad guy. So is Ted Bundy. We need to stop romanticising terrible people just because they’re white with symmetrical faces.