I have a real genuine fascination with true crime—I’m not particularly proud of it, but I do. I can’t exactly remember when my consumption of true crime novels, documentaries, and television shows started, but I can tell you it’s still going strong.
There’s definitely a conversation to be had about the ethics of consuming true crime, especially true crime podcasts and YouTube videos, where one or more people will recount a story, sometimes even with a comedic spin to it. A lot of Crime media has been called exploitative—specifically, if it’s a small or single-person production—because it can be argued that the intention is to make money and fame from recounting the grizzly and nightmarish ways innocent people have died.
I myself have trouble with this argument because I understand and agree with the notion that if you’re not telling the story for education, for justice, or to gather information, you’re exploiting the story for your own gain…I also just genuinely enjoy consuming true crime media! I like learning about the crimes, but more specifically, I like learning about the psychology behind them and how they got caught. I think it’s one of those situations where we need an ongoing dialogue about what is and what is not a respectful way to share stories about serial killers and murderers. I’m still figuring it out myself.
I will say, even if enjoying true crime can be considered a little shady, I try to consume true crime as ethically as possible. I feel like there are a few unwritten rules about ethically consuming true crime; here are a few:
- Never blame the victim
- Never support a true-crime medium that isn’t about victim advocacy
- Never support a true-crime medium that is prejudice against sex workers, poor people, or anyone who is considered a “high-risk” victim
- Consume multiple sources regarding a case. Many sources are biased and will only give you one side of the story
- Never listen to, or trust the opinion of a racist, misogynist, homophobic, or otherwise prejudice true crime broadcaster
NEVER EVER ROMANTICIZE THE KILLER! That last one? I hate that I have to say it. I hate that that idea is even in question! It makes me want to puke. Basically, since the dawn of serial killers, there have been serial killer fans. Men, who tend to excuse serial killer’s behavior as being “a nice guy who snapped”, or act like a serial killer has some kind of Joker-esque origin story, and women who sexualize serial killers as hot bad boys who just need to be understood; I’m here to tell those people to shut up.
If you enjoy consuming true crime, I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about. Only made worse by the popularity of the internet, people have gone as far as printing serial killer’s faces onto stickers, shirts, and pins. For this article, I typed simply “true crime” into Etsy and found several results, including a Jeffrey Dahmer hand towel, serial killer trading cards, and stemless wine glasses with Ted Bundy and Charles Manson’s faces on them. Imagine someone you love is raped and murdered, and then thirty years later, people are wearing shirts with your loved one’s killer on the front! It really is this simple: every serial killer was and is ugly, uncool, and a big loser. They’re all scum on the bottom of my shoe, and I hope they all suffer for eternity—please stop celebrating them, please stop falling in love with them.
A few heavy-hitters that really grind my gears include Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, and Dylan Klebold, and Eric Harris. Let’s talk about why they’re each individually uglier than roadkill and why no one should feel anything but hate toward them.
Who Is he?
Charles Manson was one of the original romanticized killers. Manson ran a small white-supremacist cult in the sixties that culminated in 1969 with the murder of nine people—most famously, very–pregnant actress Sharon Tate—over four locations in Hollywood, California. Although Manson never personally shot or stabbed anyone, he was the leader of his cult and had ordered his followers or his “family” to execute the murders in an attempt to frame black people for the crime and start a race war.
Why is he Romanticized?
Throughout the trial and his decades of incarceration, Manson kept a pretty solid following of women who supported him and who wrote him thousands of fan/love letters, and when he passed in 2017 at the age of eighty-three, he was still considered a celebrity.
I’m thinking that Manson had such a big fan-girl following because he knew how to command a room (as many cult leaders do), he had a following of young and conventionally attractive women who hyped him up. He became a legend—almost inhuman—in the eyes of the media. Just the name Charles Manson invokes fear, interest, and infamy, which made him somewhat irresistible to unstable people looking to sexualize a dangerous killer.
Although Manson was not considered a conventionally attractive killer like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmner sometimes are—he was 5’2”, lived in the desert, and had terrible grooming habits—the fame was enough to get him a cult-following in prison, even getting engaged in prison to his pen-pal girlfriend Afton Elaine Burton (known by the name Star); the two started corresponding when she was just seventeen and Charles Manson was eighty.
Why he’s Mega-Ugly
Charles Manson looks like a cockroach who could speak English and used its newfound sentience to be racist. He genuinely sucks. He’s completely unhinged, has no redeeming qualities in the slightest, and he’s a literal Nazi; I don’t know what else to say.
Charles Manson raped under-aged girls in his time in the cult, hated people of color, and tried to start a race-war by slaughtering a pregnant woman, and if that’s not enough, he looks like if Kenny Loggins lived in a sewer for the first twenty years of his life.
Nothing about Manson is cool, revolutionary, or sexy; he was just a loser sitting with many other losers in the desert. Sure, the way his mind works is interesting in a can’t-look-away-from-a-car-accident kind of way, but it’s good he’s in the ground, and he’s not, nor has he ever been hot!
Who Is he?
Ted Bundy is one of the most prolific serial killers of all time; I’m sure you know who he is, but for the sake of this format, here’s a little rundown. From 1974 through 1978, Ted Bundy terrorized the state of Oregon by committing several gruesome rapes and murders, all towards young women with dark brown hair. He had confessed to killing thirty women, but experts have reason to believe the number could be far larger than that. He intended to be a lawyer and a part of the Republican Party, hated women deeply, and escaped prison twice when he was eventually caught. Bundy was executed in 1989 after serving about 9 years on death row and impregnating his wife through sneaky-jail-closet sex. He has a daughter somewhere.
Why is he Romanticized?
The media did a number on the general public for this one, deeming Bundy handsome and charming. There was a story spun Bundy got away with his crimes because of his roguishly handsome good looks and incredible wit when in reality, the police work on the case was just so bad and incompetent that he kept doing what he wanted for years. Women would come to Bundy’s trials just to watch him and hope for him to turn around in court and look at them, and just like Charles Manson, letters aplenty were addressed to Ted Bundy in jail.
Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly handsome, or charming, or smart. He preyed on the vulnerability and the kindness of the women he victimized. He would pretend to be injured and asking for help, preying on the sympathy of the young women around him; then, when she took the bait, he would kill her. Wearing a fake cast doesn’t bring charm or good looks. The dude looked like an under-fed caveman who probably hurt his own arm by doing something stupid, and women pitied him, and it cost them their lives.
Again, I think Ted Bundy was a case of being a media sensation instead of an actual handsome genius. He was thin, yes, and white, and tall, but his face was whack. It was easier for the cops and the media to say that he was so handsome, charming, and smart than say the police work, in this case, was horrible. The guy went to a major event where he wore a cast and abducted a woman and walked around the event telling everyone his real name: Ted, and the police still took a while after that to find him! He also escaped prison out of a carelessly left unlocked and opened window!
The nail in the “Ted Bundy is Hot” coffin is when Netflix cast none other than Zac Efron to play the serial killer. Zac Efron is hot and charming; Ted Bundy is not, but the two got mixed together in part, and forty years after Bundy’s killings, there was a new generation of Bundy fangirls.
Why he’s Mega-Ugly
Ted Bundy genuinely looks like a caveman. I said it before, and I’ll say it again. The dude was an ugly two-bit misogynist whose whole personality was just centered on hating women. He tried to defend himself in court and acted like an insane idiot the whole time and did an absolute crap job of it, landing himself in the electric chair.
He was a rapist, a murderer, a crappy politician, and an even worse lawyer, and he looked like he smelled like pennies. Zac Efron is playing the best thing that ever happened to this idiot after he died—if Netflix actually put a dead raccoon in a suit and had it play the part of Ted Bundy, it would maybe begin to capture the grotesqueness of the man himself.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
Who Are They?
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed one of United States history’s most famous and deadly school shootings in April 1999 in Columbine, Colorado. The two teenagers—one seventeen and one eighteen—attempted to set off two homemade bombs in their school cafeteria; when the bombs didn’t work, they took to shooting their schoolmates. By the end of their tirade, they had killed twelve students and one teacher, culminating in their own suicides.
Why Are They Romanticized?
I saw a pretty big trend of romanticizing these two when I was a teenager and just trying to learn about the case. I used to see Tumblr posts of these two with flower-crowns photoshopped on their heads and #RIP in the caption.
These two were romanticized from the beginning. The media wrote them as these poor little misfits who finally had enough one day and killed their bullies when there is evidence to the fact that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were the bullies themselves. It’s pretty obvious how disturbed and hateful these boys were when you read Eric Harris’s journal entries.
According to classmates and friends, the two boys didn’t have trouble fitting in in the ever-growing 90s punk/goth scene, especially Eric, who was said to have several romantic interests and partners. The two were actually regarded as kind of edgy and cool, considering they were both conventionally attractive middle-class white boys.
A lot of women felt sympathy for these two after seeing the completely fabricated narrative that they were just misunderstood and unpopular; I remember girls my age when I was in high school feeling as though they could “fix” them if they had the chance. This issue was only made worse when season one of American Horror Story was released, creating a character based on the two boys called Tate Langdon, who teen-heartthrob Evan Peters played.
The show made Tate a troubled and possessed boy who was being treated horribly at home, and in a grand act of revenge against the cruel world, he killed his classmates. The show did a complete recreation of the columbine shooting with just one kid instead of two and even had the ghosts of the kids he killed come back as antagonists who were trying to “bully” Tate for having murdered them. (Don’t they know that the power of love changed him!? So rude!)
Why they’re Mega-Ugly
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold—tweedle-dee and tweedle-idiot—are mega uglies. They’re ugly babies who felt like they had the right to take out their feelings on the world around them, and it’s good that they’re dead.
Eris Harris was a hateful little slime of a man who was very far-right in his ideology (bordering on Nazi territory), he was a narcissist who had issues with everyone around him but himself, and Dylan Klebold was an idiot who followed whatever Eric Harris did because he never once thought a single original idea.
These two took thirteen innocent and promising lives away because they felt entitled to do it, and I don’t care if their hair is floppy or if they’re tall or slender; they’re both some of the ugliest creatures to ever walk this earth!
I know they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and beauty is subjective, and there is beauty in everyone. I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments except for when it comes to serial killers and murderers. If you think that any of these people are cute, you’re just objectively wrong. When I look at these men, I think of the innocent people they’ve killed, and I feel sick, and if you have any empathy at all, you should feel the same way.
Maybe there isn’t a way to ethically consume true crime or serial killers, but if there is, it sure as hell doesn’t involve the glorification and sexualization of these disgusting men. When true-crime loses sight of the victim and their advocacy, it loses its humanity.