OPINION: Violent criminals: They’re just like us

OPINION: Violent criminals: They’re just like us

By Jay Berghuis

From Netflix releasing the documentary series “The Bundy Tapes” Jan. 24 to Zac Efron’s new film “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” which premiered at Sundance Jan. 26, Ted Bundy is everywhere in the media. Bundy and other white, attractive male criminals sit at the center of public fascination.

The choice to focus on violent maniacs is often criticized for romanticizing and normalizing their actions. Criminals are presented as endearing, charming and successful. When women swoon over them, think pieces such as Affinity Magazine’s “Please stop fetishizing serial killers” and Mashable’s “Can we please stop casting hot actors as psychopaths?” abound.

Such criticisms ignore an important piece of the puzzle. These shows and movies have one glaring fact in common: Their stars are almost entirely male, white, heterosexual and upper class. We often refuse to view these people as criminals, but the social status they hold is an integral part of their storylines. It is the reason why we continue to excuse them. If Bundy had been black, I doubt he would have been able to escape police custody, and I doubt the judge would have complimented his intelligence during his murder trial.

We routinely allow privilege to excuse the inexcusable. According to a Feb. 17, 2018, New York Times article, the majority of mass shootings are committed by white men. Still, reports on shootings refer to them as “lone shooters” and refuse to acknowledge the undeniable pattern of privilege that encourages violence.

It is a reality in our culture that some young, white men feel disenfranchised by growing movements for social equality for women and people of color. Large online subcultures are dedicated to blaming feminism and racial equality movements for society’s ills, including the Red Pill movement—an anti-feminist group which sees feminism as “cancer”—and Incels—a subculture that Isla Vista mass shooter Elliot Rodger belonged to, which is centered around the idea that male violence against women is justified because women refuse to have sex with men. A world that does not preserve their privilege feels undeniably threatening. 

Sexist and racist ideologies that lead to violence make logical sense to the people who ascribe to them, otherwise they would not be followed.

Bundy was smart and working through law school. Acting as though people who are capable of brutality exist outside of our world, somewhere on an undefined “far right” that we never have to engage with, is a mistake. These people sit in our classrooms and offices. If we refuse to confront hateful worldviews just because those who hold them have societal power, we are playing into the hand of violence.

Real-life violent criminals are just like Dexter Morgan and Norman Bates. They are the people we look at and write off as non-threatening because our culture trains us to equate privilege with success. The first step toward ending this violence is to recognize it when it stares us in the face. Society cannot dismiss the charming, attractive men in our lives as “not the type.” Overwhelmingly, the “type” is exactly who we are writing off.

The choice to cast attractive young men like Zac Efron is not dishonest or romanticizing; it is exactly what we need to see. We need to internalize the fact that violence comes from people we want to trust and whom we have put up on a pedestal.