Day 1631 – Day 1634
Spoiler alert! This post discusses two current documentaries – Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Fyre.
Recently I saw an artist and influencer posting on social media, imploring people to boycott the Ted Bundy Tapes and to call the internet content provider to voice their outrage. The artist’s contention was that the film romanticized the serial killer. The comments that followed were ever so polite and measured. Yet, they revealed that the artist had not seen the show that he was imploring people to boycott. At the time I read his post, several people were ready to act on his call to boycott the film. None of them had seen it, either. They had simply read reviews and seen a trailer. They made up their minds on the basis of other people’s opinions.
Leaving aside fictional movies about Ted Bundy, this post is about the documentary series in which Ted Bundy’s recorded interviews formed the basis of the narrative. With so much furor about this series, I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about. I found that listening to the Ted Bundy tapes, with the awareness that this was a narcissist and a psychopath, to be illuminating. I hope that it will help me to spot a man or woman like him, in the future. Not every woman he kidnapped became a victim, and perhaps it was because they saw past his manipulations and charm that they got away.
Ted Bundy, as far as I know, was diagnosed as a manic depressive, following his trial. Later, it was thought that he had two Cluster B personality disorders: Narcissistic Personality Disorder and if he was not a psychopath, he certainly displayed several traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder (aka psychopathy). People with these disorders tend to be manipulative, charming, lack empathy, and may or may not be handsome, but to get their needs met, they learn to be seductive in many ways.
There is an argument that goes something like this: were Ted Bundy a person of colour, he would not have gotten away with the number of abductions, rapes and murders that he did, and this represents white privilege. There is also an argument about the gendered nature of sexual assault and prosecution. I agree with both of these arguments.
The artist who called for the boycott felt that anything that portrayed Ted Bundy as charming, handsome, or intelligent was romanticizing this serial killer. Ted Bundy, he said, was a below-intelligent loser and nothing more. I don’t agree that he lacked intelligence.
I did a google search:
Romanticize: (Verb) deal with or describe in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is.
Conveying the notion that, to those around him, Ted Bundy was handsome, charming, manipulative, intelligent and seductive, does not constitute romanticizing or humanizing him. It simply conveys how he was perceived. And, these opinions could be objectively argued, as well, although it is certainly only a part of the picture of how he got away with so many crimes.
To argue that he was not capable of murder because he was so wholesome or charming would be to romanticize him. Many women, including his own mother, did this, at the time. And, anyone who now questions the guilt of Bundy (who, in his final days, confessed to the killings and aided police to recover buried women) on the grounds of his good looks or charming personality, is romantizing him.
While the film did not take on the issue of white privilege or the gendered nature of victimization and prosecutions in sexual crime, it also did not promote his innocence on the basis of his attractive qualities. Further, the film gave several other causes, other than his attractive qualities, for his failure to be apprehended and for his subsequent escapes from custody. The film also called the viewer to question why a woman would marry and have a child with him, after he had been convicted.
In the tapes, Bundy told fabrications about himself, and it was clear that he worked to manipulate his victims, his family, his lovers, his jailers, and the media. If anyone romanticized Ted Bundy, it was Ted Bundy, and those around him, who bought into his lies.
The film made it clear that those who saw Bundy as being incapable of murder, were wrong.
I’m not championing Ted Bundy. I’m not championing his white privilege or the gendered nature of sexual assault. I find all of of these abhorrent.
What I do champion is free thought and our responsibility to educate ourselves before we urge others, over whom we have influence, to act upon our uneducated opinion. I’m grateful to live in a society and a point in history where we are highly educated. I’m grateful to live in a society where filmmakers and artists can make documentaries and art about difficult issues that generate discourse. I’m grateful to live in a time where freedom of thought and freedom of expression are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Rights.
What disturbs me is when I see a fellow artist who is a taste maker and influencer decide, on the basis of others’ opinion, that a film is not only unworthy of his time, but is to be condemned and banned from view by others.
I got something out of the documentary. If it interests you, I would encourage you to view it and decide for yourself, how you feel about it. You might hate it and we might disagree, and that is okay. I’m willing to hear your reasoning, and have my opinion changed by your persuasiveness. I’m not willing to be brow beaten by ‘popular opinion’.
I commented on the artist’s social media post that I didn’t think the documentary romanticized Ted Bundy and why I believed that. I think that we want to believe that people of all colours and genders, who commit heinous crimes, will come off as low-life people. And people who are good, will come off as such, regardless of race and gender. It helps us to hold on to a distinction between us and the baddies. But, if we could spot the heinous criminal before they had us in their power, a lot of bad things would not happen in the world. The artist deleted my comment and wrote me a very long email telling me to stop championing this kind of ‘shite programming’.
To reiterate: he has never seen the programme.
I’m glad we’re having the discussions around white privilege and the gendered nature of the crime and prosecution of sexual assault. Perhaps we should also be having the disturbing discussion about why some current-day women are still sexualizing Bundy, despite his heinous crimes. Perhaps we should be creating room to understand these collective projections of our shadow selves, rather than shutting down discourse by banning a documentary that arguably does not idealize or romanticize him.
Until we own and transform that collective shadow, it will continue to play out in our society.
We live in a time when the left is worried about the censorship and manipulations of the right. But when a left-leaning artist calls for the banning of a film he has not seen, and when he deletes comments that differ from opinion, and harangues a dissenter to stop stating their opinion, then we are in danger of declining into polarized camps of extremism, on the run from the collective shadow.
Freedom of speech and freedom of expression rely upon freedom of thought and opinion. These freedoms are collective freedoms but they are only defended by individuals, taking responsibility to see that they are maintained.
The same internet content provider that aired the Ted Bundy Tapes is currently airing a documentary on the Fyre Festival – the greatest party that never happened. It turns out that the organizers were able to convince several key Instagram influencers to create posts promoting the Fyre Festival, when the festival did not yet exist. This influence caused thousands of people to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend the non-existent luxury festival.
I fear we have become a society that lets others do our thinking and analysis for us, and we’ve not vetted those influencers very well.
Social media is a tool that can bring about Oneness, social change, collective transformation and peaceful interdependence. It can also be used to polarize.
This is not 1930.
We need to stop; and