Cultural Essay: The Ted Bundy Tapes

On January 24th 2019, exactly 30 years after infamous serial killer Ted Bundy’s execution, Netflix released “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes”, a four-part documentary that draws on more than 100 hours of conversation with the convicted killer, rapist, kidnapper, and necrophile. A suitable addition to the true-crime genre, the docu-series uncovers journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth’s audio tapes of their exchanges with Bundy while on death row. Not much insight is gained into the case, but it offers a peek into Bundy’s frightening character—that of a self-possessed and evasive man who made a spectacle out his crimes and turned his murder trial into prime entertainment. Laced with controversy, the series is a must for true-crime enthusiasts.

Including interviews, archival footage, and audio recordings, “Conversations with a Killer” is divided into four episodes—each averaging at about 1 hour. We witness Bundy’s lengthy monologues describing his twisted reality, agitated speeches, and complete denial regarding his crimes. It becomes clear that Bundy’s soliloquies are not about proving his guilt or innocence, but about creating a careful representation of himself. He takes charge of his narrative and takes advantage of the media circus surrounding him to twist the public`s perception. He famously blames his desire to commit crimes on watching pornography. It makes us wonder whether Bundy is lost in his own mind or simply manipulating the public.

The debut of the podcast “Serial” in 2014 marked a new era for true crime. The genre gained momentum and popularity– there are now hundreds of podcasts, series, films, and books depicting the vilest criminals. Its cult following is massive and driven by a very human desire to understand evil. There is a hypnotizing and fascinating nature to violent storytelling. Our desire to know more and our inability to ‘’look away’’ inevitably creates a spectacle around it, which can be problematic.

“One of the things that has always fascinated me about the “handsome” serial killers is the women that love them. I don’t mean the women who think “wow, this case is fascinating”, but the ones that think they love the serial murderers and want to marry them. Women and femme folx are socialized to be caregivers and part of the narrative that we are sold is that through the act of loving a person, we can change their deviant behavior. Bundy and his fans seem to be an example of these times a million. The appeal, I believe, is in being the one that gets through to them, the person that makes them change. It also doesn’t hurt that every film/TV adaptation casts a hotter actor than the previous iteration.”—says Mariana Sosa (Avid true crime connoisseur).

The release of “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” has indeed sparked a rage of controversy surrounding Bundy’s alleged “charm” and “handsomeness”. There is a thin line between being fascinated by the extremities of human behaviour and romanticizing them. These are two very different things. Let us not forget that Bundy used his charisma as a major weapon in his killing spree. He took real lives; killed, kidnapped, and raped young women and girls. Let us not allow our cultural narrative to go in the direction of praising Bundy for his looks.

This brings in question the effect of releasing such shows and film adaptations. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”, a biographical film about Ted Bundy, is set to release at the end of the year with Zac Efron—former teen heartthrob—playing the killer. Do these portrayals bring awareness to all the victims who have suffered at Bundy’s hands or do they simply add to the glamour of his crimes?

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