Ted Bundy: An American Story

Netflix premiered a docuseries on Ted Bundy. What started as private messages on it, snowballed into emails. Bad Billy Pratt of KillToParty and I are sharing the back and forth we had on some of the bigger themes of the Bundy phenomenon.

Ryan Landry…

Netflix has a new docuseries on the life and crimes of Ted Bundy. It has generated good buzz for Netflix. For fans of true crime, it offers another look at one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Even better, it’s in his own words on interviews he did with journalists. The journalists who produce this docuseries are interviewed as the story unfolds. The question though is what makes Bundy so special?

Watching the series and recalling Bundy’s time in the American media system while in jail, Bundy was a mix of too good for The Narrative and the new televised media system to not be glorified. Serial Killer was a term that didn’t come into being until the mid-20th century. H.H. Holmes is considered America’s first in the 1890s and bore similarities to Bundy as a media sensation for the same reasons.

Bundy fit in. Not just in being an unassuming guy who blended in but he had girlfriends and lived with women. Unlike most sociopathic killers who don’t go to college he went to college and law school. Bundy got laid with regularity. Bundy was attractive. There were cues throughout his life that he could have had a normal life and even thrived. Everything i just typed was right about Med School grad and ladies man H.H. Holmes. 

Bundy was good looking so in contrast to many other murderers, he was a sexy, sharp white guy. He was not afraid to talk to cameras and was charismatic. He seemed suburban. Mike Myers in Halloween was supposed to be the aberration but here was a suburban handsome hubby type murdering at will.

Bundy was also all over the map and his victims mattered. These weren’t hookers or low lifes. He snatched cute women who could be your daughter or girlfriend. He didn’t use a gun so the killing was intimate, compounded by the raping of victims. The interstate manhunt was a bit of a first as was the use of video cameras in the courtroom and even the circus act of his indictment read live on television. Bundy was convicted on first time use of bite marks, which have been subsequently been shown as junk science.

The last bit was his bizarre necrophilia and blabbermouth. He spoke with journalists and was an unreliable narrator for his life and crimes. What lures people in is that between the  murder details and applying makeup to corpses to maintain them, he sounds normal. The face telling people he was just a monster and there was no trigger was a handsome one. The kind of face a woman would love to marry, spend a weekend in Cabo with or have fun S&M with. 

That is the key. From his looks and smarts, he wasn’t meant to be a serial killer who raped women living and dead. People want to know why and they want to know the monster to know that they aren’t the monster.

Bad Billy Pratt…

Serial killers became entertainment fodder when murder lost its status as our greatest taboo.Michael Moore understood the changing tides of American morality with “Bowling for Columbine” (2002) when he capped the Columbine High School massacre segment with a crying girl most horrified that the shooters “shot the black kid because he was black.”

Freeze frame. Zoom in. Fade out.

Moore knew this was the proverbial cherry on top. Even if the security cam footage is horrifying- and it is- nothing sends the message home like good ole racism.

This is the new taboo.

Now we’re able to commercially exploit the twisted. Even if there’s some degree of ceremonial hand-wringing on the part of the serial killer fanatic (“…of course I don’t condone any of that stuff, I just find it so interesting….”), the fact remains that the guy reading the John Wayne Gacy book wouldn’t dare confront the Dylan Roof manifesto. In fact, the internet is flooded with John Wayne Gacy merchandise glamorizing the killer, but an ironic Dylan Roof hoodie warrants an article in Newsweek.

We’ve come to equate the real with the virtual- which was the thesis of Wes Craven’s paradigm shifting scary-movie “Scream” (1996). There’s a killer loose in the small-town of Woodsboro! So what do the residents do? Shuffle off to the video store and rent horror movies, of course- feeling equal measures of panic and pure thrill.

After all, how else would you properly deal with a killer than watch movies about killing?

Ted Bundy is special because he so effortlessly leaned into this new age fascination with serial killing so much that it seemed like a conscious decision- everything about Bundy seemed like deliberate performance art. The way he charmed the media and handled himself in court- representing himself legally when up against the chair, the serial killer equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing his bat toward the bleachers. Two successful prison escapes, the latter where he enjoyed a prolonged period as America’s Most Wanted. 

Bundy seemed to consciously understand that he had the perfect story for a blood thirsty, immoral late-20th century civilization in decline. Bundy seemed to craft that story in real time, forever claiming his spot as most notorious.

Everything Bundy did seemed as though it about creating infamy.

And, of course, that isn’t the case. Bundy was a twisted, desperate psychopath- yet it seems plausible that he deliberately crafted a story for commercialization because this is how we primarily understand the real- as filtered through the virtual. 

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