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The story of serial killer Ted Bundy was recently immor­talized in the Netflix doc­u­mentary-series, “Con­ver­sa­tions with a Killer.” | Wiki­media Commons

Respon­sible for the murders of over 30 women in the 1970s and 80s, serial killer, rapist and necrophile Ted Bundy inspired horror and fas­ci­nation during his time. His crimes were hor­rific and gruesome, but his per­son­ality puzzled everyone. Charming, friendly and handsome, Bundy was the kind of guy you wanted your sister to marry, as one of his old friends said in the new Netflix original “Con­ver­sa­tions with a Killer: the Ted Bundy Tapes.”

Charged with con­structing a nar­rative of Bundy from his childhood to his time of death, director and pro­ducer Joe Berlinger strove to show who Ted Bundy was through his con­ver­sa­tions with jour­nalist Stephen G. Michaud. The recording totaled 100 hours worth of audio, which were con­densed into four 1‑hour episodes.

The doc­u­mentary itself was mas­ter­fully done, over­laying Bundy’s voice with visuals of him, his victims, and unre­lated images to conjure up the required reaction to Bundy’s bru­tality, the dev­as­tation of his victims’ fam­ilies, and the ensuing media spec­tacle.

In the final episode, much of Bundy’s trial in the Chi Omega case was video­taped, giving the viewer the oppor­tunity to see Bundy’s bizarre and celebrity-obsessed per­son­ality. Bundy con­sis­tently com­plained about his living quarters, citing the lack of reading light, and even went so far as to cross-examined wit­nesses against him, an unusual and rare break from courtroom practice. Bundy had an eye for drama, and the packed court­rooms and abun­dance of cameras and crewman surely didn’t help.

The gruesome nature of Bundy’s crimes and the fas­ci­nation over his per­son­ality by both the media and those who fol­lowed his story makes for an appealing doc­u­mentary. But the desire to make Bundy and his story appealing to the average viewer also creates a nar­rative that inevitably roman­ti­cizes the idea of who Ted Bundy really was.

If the purpose of a doc­u­mentary is to capture real life, the camera may not be the best tool. English jour­nalist Malcolm Mug­geridge under­stood the great danger of the camera, even in 1976.

Mug­geridge once said that “as I see it, the media have created, and belong to, a world of fantasy, the more dan­gerous because it pur­ports to be, and is largely taken as being, the real world.”

If any­thing, the doc­u­mentary was more an image of how society today views a man like Bundy. In the last portion of the doc­u­mentary, only about two minutes are given to Bundy’s claim that pornog­raphy increased his desire to do these violent things, and a jour­nalist and FBI agent dismiss this as Bundy merely using pornog­raphy as a scapegoat.

While Bundy may indeed have used pornog­raphy as an excuse, it demon­strates the larger issue. Rather than take seri­ously all of Bundy’s dif­ferent parts, the makers of the doc­u­mentary pieced together their own image of Bundy. Using their own inter­views, images com­pletely unre­lated to Bundy or his family, and music, it starts to feel more like a fantasy, and less like a depiction of reality. The excessive culture that we live in today inevitably shapes the way we hear what he said.

Bundy is an infamous char­acter, and his shenanigans made for great tele­vision. But perhaps the media’s obsession in fol­lowing his every move played a part in the often irrev­erent manner in which he con­ducted himself. Bundy com­pared himself to Jesus at one trial, and even pro­posed to Carole Ann Boone when she was tes­ti­fying to his good char­acter. He loved the attention.

Mug­geridge thought that a true doc­u­mentary was one in which the person we seek to learn about should simply be put in front of the camera. But would anyone had watched if Berlinger simply put the tapes onto a black screen? I wouldn’t have.

Mug­geridge wrote: “The cameras are our eye’s ego, our ages’ focus, the repos­itory and ema­nation of all our fraud­u­lence.”

This is not to say that the doc­u­mentary didn’t capture Bundy’s char­acter. The point is that as a viewer, I don’t know. I don’t know because all I’ve been given are inter­views with pre-scripted ques­tions, Bundy’s inter­views, and, most impor­tantly, the actual tele­vision program itself, which con­sists of mas­terful use of images, music and other tricks to make the show exciting. It does not just attempt to present evi­dence, it also attempts to draw con­clu­sions.

“Extremely Wicked, Shock­ingly Evil and Vile,” the new inde­pendent film which Netflix recently purchased,where Bundy is por­trayed by a very sexy Zac Efron, will push us further into fiction and away from the reality of his repulsive behavior.

Perhaps on paper, Bundy would have just been a handsome creep who mur­dered 30 women: a cau­tionary tale. But with a camera, he’s some­thing com­pletely dif­ferent.