Written by Sam Ross – Edited by Natalie Cowan
Nicolas Cruz, the man responsible for the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, has received a lot of exposure in light of his sentencing trial that took place at the end of October. Most of the attention he’s garnered is negative, as numerous survivors spoke out in the trial’s closing remarks about how his actions have permanently changed their lives. Family members of victims whose lives were cut short, also spoke on behalf of their loved ones who couldn’t. Outside of the courtroom, people from all over the world have expressed their anger via social media about Cruz’s heinous crimes. Although the general consensus seems to be that Cruz is a horrible person, who deserves to be condemned for his actions for the rest of his life, there have unfortunately been some outliers: those who have defended him and even seem to admire him. When Cruz was first detained in 2018, he received mail that contained messages of support and even money from crazed ‘fans’ (Christensen & Wallman, 2018). One of the letters went as far as to compliment his “beautiful eyes” and “handsome freckles,” and included several explicit photographs (Bacon, 2018). These adoring sentiments toward Cruz have not faded over the years, with some of his fans now turning to TikTok to express their affection for him by making fan edits. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a criminal who committed heinous atrocities against humanity has attracted a large following.
Generation Z in particular seems to be especially drawn toward the topic of crime. The murder mystery genre has grown immensely popular, spawning novels, television shows, and films. How to Get Away With Murder and You are two incredibly popular examples of this. These are television shows that present fictional settings with some mystery and criminal elements. Documentaries on actual criminal cases have also grown in popularity, with Netflix being the producer behind quite a few in recent years. American Murder: The Family Next Door, is one of the most famous examples of this: it is a documentary that depicts the events leading up to Chris Watts murdering his wife and two children.
Aside from these conventional documentaries that simply recount the information, provide proof and interview witnesses, there is a different type of true crime genre called biographical dramas. These genres of film recreate the stories of real people with actors. Although dramatic aspects are added, they are for the most part, all based on real life. The new Dahmer show, as well as the 2019 film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile falls under this category.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a film about the American serial killer Ted Bundy. Bundy was responsible for the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murders of at least 30 women in the 1970s (Bonn, 2019). The film mainly depicts his trial and his romantic life with his then partner, Liz Kendall. The way in which Bundy, who is played by Zac Efron, is portrayed is rather disturbing as he is seen to be totally charming and suave. On top of that, Efron is an actor whose most defining feature as a celebrity is how attractive he really is;he’s known for his looks. In casting actors like Efron to play the role of criminals in these films, producers, creators, directors, etc., must account for the expectation that fans will inevitably make the link between their celebrity crushes and these ruthless criminals. In making these on-screen associations, the romanticization of criminals is bound to happen. In fact, similar to the fan edits made for Cruz, there was a spike in fan edits made after the release of this film. These fan edits were made not only for Efron, who was playing the role, but with actual footage from Bundy’s trial in real life.
Now, the casting of Efron as this character was done so with specific intention and reason. Ted Bundy was known to be a charming manipulator with cunning appearances, who also had a large following himself. Because of this, in the eyes of a production or directing team, casting Zac Efron was the appropriate artistic decision (Thomas, 2019). However just because a decision was logically sound does not make it ethical or right. Just because Bundy was a sensation in the 70s-80s, doesn’t mean he should become one again.
Another instance of casting decisions leading to potential criminal romanticization, is with the newly released Netflix show Dahmer-Monster. This show also has a conventionally attractive man cast as the serial rapist, killer, and cannibal. However, this casting decision is hard to fight with logic, because Jeffrey Dahmer himself was not the charming, attractive man that Bundy was thought to be. Dahmer was an awkward outsider who lured in his prey late at night within bars, and captured people he thought to be easier targets: in other words, people of colour. Casting actors who are already recognized for their attractiveness, is a surefire way to encourage people to fetishize these predators.
I personally am of the belief that productions like Dahmer and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile should no longer be made. People argue that they’re made for educational purposes, but there are already countless documentaries that can inform people about these men. Having actors recreate their stories and evoke an emotional response from the audience is not only unnecessary, but harmful. Families of these victims have already been through so much, let alone having to watch countless recreations of their family members’ deaths. One can only imagine how it must feel to be a family member of these victims, and watch as people swoon over the man that single-handedly ended the life of their child, friend, or spouse.
Jail,prison,police,crime,law – free image from needpix.com. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.needpix.com/photo/235987/jail-prison-police-crime-law-arrest-criminal-arrested-guilty
Andone, D., Royal, D., & Spells, A. (2022, November 2). Parkland School shooter sentenced to life in prison without parole for 2018 massacre. CNN. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/02/us/parkland-shooter-nikolas-cruz-sentencing-wednesday#:~:text=Broward%20Circuit%20Judge%20Elizabeth%20Scherer,the%20sentences%20to%20run%20consecutively.
Christensen, D., & Wallman, B. (2018, March 28). Crazed girls flood parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz with fan mail. Sun Sentinel. Retrieved November 10, 2022, from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-reg-nikolas-cruz-prison-love-letters-20180327-story.html
Thomas, H. (2019, May 3). Zac Efron is exactly the right Ted Bundy. here’s why. CNN. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/03/opinions/zac-efron-is-exactly-the-right-ted-bundy-thomas
Bonn, S. A. (2019, December 30). Examining serial killer Ted Bundy. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/wicked-deeds/201912/examining-serial-killer-ted-bundy
Bacon, J. (2018, March 29). Nikolas Cruz fans send sexual pics, adoring letters to confessed killer. USA Today. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/03/29/nikolas-cruz-fans-send-provocative-photos-adoring-letters-confessed-killer/468750002/
Hopper, C. (2019, July 24). Why is today’s generation so interested in true crime? Advanced Psychiatry DFW. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from https://advancedpsychiatrydfw.com/why-is-todays-generation-so-interested-in-true-crime/