Eva Rinaldi. Wikimedia Commons. CC Some Rights Reserved. This photo has been cropped.
You know what I really love? A good horror movie. Nothing gets me like a thriller. I’m the kind of person that got mad when Hereditary wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, and I fully believe The Exorcist should be on a list of the most influential movies of all time. I’ve definitely watched The Sixth Sense on a (weird) date, and I have strong opinions about Bird Box.
But despite my undying love for the genre, I will not be watching the newest Ted Bundy movie. And there’s a pretty simple reason why: I’m really done with our society immortalizing white men who abuse women.
In the upcoming thriller Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, Zac Efron will be playing Ted. Yes, the lovable Zac Efron — who is famous for playing a baby-faced 17-year-old and having abs. The initial trailer shows Efron sprinting around to a quick, catchy song ala Mission Impossible, loving his wife and standing up for himself in court. It’s only in the last few seconds that you see the truth: Efron dragging a woman through the woods to a slightly lower-tempo (yet still catchy) beat.
It’s the narrative that the trailer so perfectly captures that I absolutely can’t stand. The story of this smart, beautiful and capable man who is just… so… troubled that he needs to kill people. And he makes killing not only beautiful, but genius. In this story, he is savvy enough to serially murder women, defend his way through court and make it all look idyllic to the tune of a snappy song.
A lot of people online have argued that this painting of Ted Bundy as a shiny anti-hero is on purpose, as that was what allowed him to serially murder women — and almost allowed him to get away with it. But I have a few qualms with this excuse for the movie.
First, I foresee this Ted Bundy movie attracting a similar crowd to Fight Club: angsty and out of touch teens, and men who don’t get the point. And I’m not sure that’s the population we should be feeding this narrative, even if it’s in good faith.
But beyond that petty assertion, suggesting that Ted Bundy murdered for so long without punishment because of his charm or smarts discounts the true source of his power: his whiteness. As a viral article originally published on Refinery29 remarked: “Bundy was not special, he was not smarter than the average person; he did not have a personality so alluring that his female victims could not help but simply go off with him. He did not have a superhuman skill to be one step ahead of the police. What Bundy did have was the power of being a white man in a society that reveres them and has implicit faith in their abilities. This privilege gave Bundy the ability to make even the most heinous of crimes take second place to his personality.”
And this narrative sells something beyond wild inaccuracies about where we should focus our astonishment (hint: white privilege!) in the Bundy case. It continues to sell the narrative of the complex, interesting anti-hero who sorts out his problems with violence (usually against women) in an alluring or sexy way and wins the hearts of society... forever. He gets movies and documentaries and books. He lived and died for something awful, and he was immortalized for it.
And it sells this anti-hero in tandem with a growing population of meninists who excuse violence against women over and over again as an expression of their intelligence, masculinity and sexuality (that they tend to entangle with the two). These people are obsessed with their "legacy" — both in terms of offspring and personal achievement — and often blame women for the lack of one. Then, they murder the women they blame — and often hope to garner a legacy in the process.
In 2016, more than 1,800 women in the United States were murdered by men. And in 2018, domestic violence was the number one killer of women worldwide, with over 50,000 women being killed by intimate partners or family members. It’s fun to watch movies about men who murder their wives or sex workers or whoever else until you realize it happens everyday. Then, it’s just pretty gross to watch a sexualized version of Zac Efron dressed up as a serial killer — especially when you can envision an entire society elevating him like we did The Joker or Hannibal Lecter.
The only difference between those villains and this one? This one is real, he happens everyday, and quite often, despite what he believes, he’s not the underdog.
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