Accurately portraying villains helps protect victims

As someone who has spent hours scrolling through descriptions of various cults on Wikipedia and watching videos describing the disturbing adolescence of Jeffrey Dahmer, I fully understand society’s obsession with serial killers and murderers.

Those of us who aren’t interested in cannibalism and dismemberment are fascinated by those sociopathic tendencies, and we’re looking for more content to freak out about. With recent releases, Hollywood films have started to reflect that fascination, only to face unwarranted backlash.

Many have taken offense to “The Ted Bundy Tapes” on Netflix, and the December release of the fictional TV show “You,” telling the story of stalker Joe Goldberg. The release of the trailer for the Ted Bundy movie “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron, has added fuel to the flames, as those concerned say that Hollywood is glorifying serial killers on the big screen.

While the storyline may be overdone, Hollywood isn’t glorifying these violent, manipulative men, it’s portraying them as they actually are: often charismatic, charming and handsome. While the bouncy background music in the trailer might be insensitive or tacky, we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the upcoming Bundy film.

Many of the worst people in history have a reputation of having a kind exterior. Those who joined the Manson Family said they were drawn in by his personality and charisma. Ted Bundy was known to be charming, with women defending him even after his arrest.

These TV shows and movies usually aren’t painting these criminals as upstanding, kind citizens, but as three-dimensional and realistic—disturbed people who  murder and manipulate those they choose to surround themselves with, but also occasionally spend time calling their grandma.

Those who watch films that depict positive aspects of his personality probably won’t leave the theater in admiration of his attractiveness, but having a better understanding of how unassuming emotionally damaged people can manipulate others. People in abusive relationships often spend years under their partner’s pretense of love and undying adoration, remaining blind to red flags that might have revealed the damaged violent interior behind the person they fell in love with. If anything, these storylines act as a warning for those overlooking the occasional violent outburst from their partner, or those who don’t recognize themselves as a victim of emotional manipulation.

While Zac Efron might spur misguided pre-teen girls to squeal over serial killers in their Tumblr blog, the complex portrayals in these movies will help reasonable people have a better understanding that manipulative people often lie unseen in society, hurting others without openly acting as a villain.