Television should stop romanticizing serial killers

Netflix released its much anticipated “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” on May 3. This drama that chronicles the life and crimes of serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy adds to a series of related dramas, documentaries and even television series that have aired on the streaming platform in 2019.

Efron is not the only Hollywood heartthrob to suit up in the role of a killer. Earlier this year, “Gossip Girl” alum Penn Badgley starred as the homicidal, love-stricken bookseller Joe Goldberg in the Netflix original thriller series “You.”

While the intentions of both releases are unclear, it seems odd to cast two well-known, attractive actors to play the roles of psychopathic killers, both of whom leave audience members like myself questioning whether I should be rooting for their success … or their demise.

Perhaps the intent is to break overarching stereotypes that “not everyone is who they seem.” Not every serial killer is a creep who hangs out in his basement and worships the devil, just like not every “golden boy” is as innocent as they may appear. With this in mind, Netflix succeeds. However, the overwhelming amount of romanticization that takes place within these productions is a bit unsettling.

“You,” is particularly guilty of this. Goldberg claims he’s in it for love — kidnapping, torturing and even killing people who stand between him and Elizabeth Lail’s Guinevere Beck. Compared to some of the other characters, Goldberg might even be seen as a “knight in shining armor.” However, and not to get too spoiler-driven here, the romance doesn’t exactly end well for the two.

On the other hand, we have Bundy, who maintains his innocence well up and into the end of the film. All the while, much like the man he portrays, Efron embodies the persona of a charming young law student who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even I had moments where I questioned whether or not he was actually guilty. And unlike in “You,” Bundy’s killings are not even shown on screen.

Obviously, one is based off true events while the other is a mere work of fiction. For anyone finding themselves a bit too swayed by Efron’s performance, Netflix also recently released the documentary series “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes,” and props to anyone who can sleep peacefully after watching those. However, comparing the two, it is understandable as to why the movie is scripted and portrays Bundy’s character in such a way, as he was known to be charming in real life.  

So is this the new trend? Are we, as viewers, so screwed up psychologically that we feel the need to entertain ourselves with screens depicting young, brooding and attractive murderers?

I’m perturbed by both films. Despite being a true-crime junkie, there’s something unsettling about scrolling through social media outlets and seeing people fawn over the bad guy. I’m even conflicted. Whether this is more awareness or poor judgment, only time will tell. Next time one watches a show about true crimes, they should spend less time obsessing over the crimes, and more time on how to prevent it from happening again.

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