Fascination with true crime is nothing new, but lately it seems impossible to get away from movies and documentaries about the dangers of charming criminals. Shows like Netflix’s You and Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, along with the recent film about Bundy, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, seem to have created a blurred line between villain and hero.
The image of the suave, charming man who ends up being a killer has long been romanticized in films and literature, but takes on a different significance in the digital age. While the popularity of documentaries and films about true crime has created important conversations about the potential normalization of male violence, it has also led to audiences beginning to romanticize these seemingly “normal” criminals.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the show You and the documentary series The Ted Bundy Tapes is that they have given viewers the opportunity to get inside the head of terrifying criminals.
Not only that, but these are criminals who do not fit the stereotypical image of what we imagine a criminal to look like. It is human nature to want to understand what drives people to act in such horrific ways, but these shows have also raised concerns over whether or not the voices of these criminals should be heard.
In The Ted Bundy Tapes, for example, it becomes obvious that Bundy wanted to gain fame and attention for his crimes, which is exactly what these new documentaries and films are allowing him to do. Should the voice of someone who committed such violent acts be listened to? It is dangerous to make it seem as though someone who did such terrible things deserves to have an entire documentary series based on their actions and justifications.
While it is beneficial to raise awareness that even seemingly normal, charismatic people can be dangerous, that message can be conveyed in a way that does not simultaneously glorify the criminals themselves.
Netflix’s show You has also been criticized for romanticizing the main character, despite his incredibly violent actions. The main character portrays himself as a seemingly nice guy who commits violent crimes to protect his loved ones.
While the show is not condoning his crimes, it paints his character in such a way that the viewer may often find themselves sympathizing with him, even if just for a moment. When these criminals are repeatedly portrayed in the media as beautiful and charming people with hidden double lives, the threat of normalizing male violence becomes possible.
While in order to accurately portray criminals such as Bundy it is necessary to show how they use their charming and “normal” personas to commit crimes, this is where the potential romanticizing should stop.
In most cases, the physical looks of a criminal should not be relevant or even be mentioned when analyzing their actions. There is a fine line between acknowledging that looks can be deceiving, and completely focusing on the outward appearance of these criminals. There are so many groups of people whose voices are not heard, and it can be disheartening when people who commit terrible crimes are given that platform instead of them.