Shit You Should Care About… Sexy Psychos, A New Genre?

I’m one of the 40 million people who’ve unashamedly arisen from a YOU binge, and holy shit, it did not disappoint. But, as a media studies major with an overactive brain, not even the most tragic bingeing material can ever be viewed un-analysed, so naturally I’ve got some thoughts on the show.

Whilst viewing YOU, my mind was a rollercoaster of “he’s so sexy,” and then “that’s actually not OK, he’s such a creep,” and then there was bit of, “oh yuck, he’s masturbating outside her house,” and also (shamefully) “wow he’s a literal murderer, yet Beck is still my least favourite character - god she’s annoying.”

Coincidently, at the same time as I was watching YOU, the trailer for Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was released, starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy. As I was watching the trailer, I found myself thinking about this strange new genre that seems to be emerging, of sexy-psychos, and how it could affect us as viewers. For me, the whole ‘hot-psycho-weirdo’ portrayal is challenging me and everything I’ve ever known about creeps and serial killers.

My whole life I’ve been taught to watch out for “creepy old men,” or for “strangers offering candy” and to avoid literally anyone wearing a trench coat or clear-framed glasses. But, what about the creeps who don’t dress to their stereotypes? What about the ones that look just like you and me?

At first it was not easy to recognise any benefits of adding sex appeal to these creeps. I really had to dig into the rational and unbiased area of my brain and dodge all my preliminary thoughts. What I really wanted to focus on was how fucked up it was that we were associating sex appeal with such psycho’s, and how harmful it could be to have young people thirsting over these dudes, but as a freshly graduated Bachelor of Arts student, I know I need to try and see things from all sides.

So, since I’m still not sure whether I want to rip off Penn Badgely’s clothes or his head, let’s decode how we feel together, shall we?

Thought 1: Should we be literally romanticising the tendencies of these creeps by using such hot actors?

It’s all about context, & sex sells. It’s a fact.  

Firstly, the differences between YOU and the Ted Bundy Franchise: 

YOU is based on a Novel, which has been purely adapted for TV entertainment purposes, so obviously Penn Badgley and his good looks were needed to sell the T.V show and accurately portray the character. In this case, a hot actor was needed, and the fact that he was also an absolute creep was part of the narrative.

The Ted Bundy phenomena is however a total different genre, trying to document, as true to reality as can be, who or what, rather, Ted Bundy was, and how he did what he did (no spoilers here). Now, I didn’t meet the guy, but I believe his charm and demeanour were paramount to his crimes, and therefore his fictional representation had to depict this. This doesn’t excuse the way that we are receiving the adaptations, but human behaviour can rarely be excused when Zac Efron is what we are up against. As a bonus, the whole sex sells idea isn’t going to do any harm to the franchise - so it’s win win. The producers feel that they are accurately portraying Bundy, and the audience gets to feast their eyes on a hunk. 

So, hotties are cast to play these creeps due to a matter of context, and the fact that sex sells is a bonus (for viewers and producers.)

Mr Harvey, The Lovely Bones

Mr Harvey, The Lovely Bones

Somewhere between watching Joe Goldberg stalk his crush around New York City, surreptitiously masturbate on her doorstep, and commit increasingly bonkers acts of violence to win her love, the viewer of You comes to an uncomfortable realization: This guy is a megacreep … but he’s also pretty hot?
— Vulture

Thought 2: If this whole sexy-psycho thing becomes a new genre, will it desensitise us?

This is one of my main concerns! We see this all the time. When you are little, things like drugs and alcohol scare you, because they seem so foreign and scary. When you grow up and are subject to them more and more, often they become less scary, and just a part of normal life. When I first learnt about stranger danger, or watched The Lovely Bones, I was freaked out. Even now, any creepy story about one human targeting or stalking another creeps me out. Right now, the premises of these TV shows and movies are most definitely shocking - disturbing even But if this genre of sexy psychos becomes “mainstream,” will we take it less seriously? Will our brains start to tune it out? Will we be less careful because we think these things only happen in fictional circumstances?

It’s a rabbit hole of hypotheticals, but it’s worth considering.

Thought 3: Could this actually be a good thing? Using sex appeal to bring these issues into the social arena?

Yes, it could be.

It’s challenging our already accepted and preconceived notion of serial killers, and teaching us that they can look just like you and me, or even Zac Efron. They don’t have all have that “serial killer” aesthetic.

Killers don’t come out of the shadows with long fangs and blood dripping off their chin. They’re people you know that you like, that you admire.
— Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy, Conversations with a Killer

Ted Bundy, Conversations with a Killer

Thought 4: If we are making movies and T.V series about narcissistic serial killers, isn’t it giving them exactly what they want?

Assuming that these people that kill or stalk for their own personal pleasure, are narcissist’s (meaning a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves), wouldn’t that mean that by giving them their own TV show, docu- series, movie - or any type of attention - would be giving them what they want? Avenging them even? 

This is interesting to me. It’s like when a kid throws a tantrum to get attention - but then you make a movie about them. (Well not exactly, but you get my point.) People like Bundy are living on, in more than just criminal records now.

In sum (kinda)

My conclusion is that I have no conclusion. I can’t say which point is more valid. Yes, it’s good that we are starting a conversation about how creeps live among us, and that popular culture is facilitating this. And yes, it’s gross that by using such attractive actors to portray such evil people we are effectively thirsting after psychopaths.

So, I may not know how to feel about all of this right now, but what I do know for sure is that I’m certainly waiting with bated breath for Season 2 of YOU, and the premiere of Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Awful and Vile. 

Case semi-closed.

Luce xx

Banner Image sourced from Teen Vogue