Much like your star sign or your Myers-Briggs personality type, who you choose to stan says a lot about you. And somewhat worryingly, a growing number of people on Twitter appear to be positioning their intense fandom around real-life serial killers. Specifically, Ted Bundy, who raped and murdered at least 30 women (the real figure remains unknown) in the 1970s.
The story of Ted Bundy has been drummed into the public consciousness this year, with no fewer than three separate explorations of his crimes in film and TV. First there was the documentary series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, a documentary series which came to Netflix in January. Then former teen heartthrob Zac Efron played Bundy in film dramatization Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. And most recently, Investigation Discovery aired Ted Bundy: Mind of a Monster over the weekend.
Fascination with serial killers is nothing new: the explosion of true crime podcasts and documentaries over the last decade speaks to a very human need to reckon with the violence that people can be capable of. “One common, overarching explanation is that true crime stories allow women to talk about and explore vulnerability,” says Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites: Four Stories of Women, Crime and Obsession. “Reading a true crime story about a stalker who murdered his girlfriend might be a way for a woman to process her own anxieties.”
But the recent saturation of Bundy content, coupled with other films and TV shows which use real life criminal atrocities as the basis on which to tell a fictional story, seems to have inadvertently cultivated an aura of mystique around these murderers, even as the narratives ostensibly seek to demythologize them.
And with the culture of Twitter being what it is, comprising little to no room for nuance, that curious appeal has escalated to the point where killers like Bundy garner stan accounts who talk about them as if they are the new Noah Centineo, and not responsible for multiple deaths. Much like the Columbiners, a Tumblr community of teenage girls who have a shared obsession with school shooters, serial killer stans’ attention and empathy is focused on the perpetrators of these violent crimes, not the victims.
Whether or not this latest version of standom is actually for real, or rooted in Extremely Online irony, remains unclear (“electric chair is a slur” certainly points to the latter). But one thing is for sure: when you come for a Bundy acolyte, they double down with cult-like fervor, just like any other stan on Twitter.
Speaking of cults, Charles Manson is another figure experiencing renewed cultural relevancy; Damon Herriman recently played a fictionalized version of him in both season two of Netflix drama Mindhunter and Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. The resurgence of both Bundy and Manson in pop culture led to stans of both criminals pitting their deeply problematic faves against each other, starting with a tweet that reads like a Nicki Minaj fan coming for Cardi B: “Charles manson walked so that ted bundy could run bitch sit down.”
The person behind that first tweet has since revealed they’re actually just running a fan account for the K-pop band Blackpink, and the Charles Manson thing was all a joke:
The Bundy vs. Manson thing might have just been a sick joke that spiraled out of control, but the fact it kicked off in the first place should be enough to verify that at least a small number of these stan accounts are genuine.
The recent spate of serial killer content might mean that Bundy and Manson’s crimes are fresher in our collective memory, but for a younger generation, this is probably the first time that they’re even hearing these names. Those murders took place three decades before any of them were born, and so maybe that is why they’re able to tweet poor taste memes about hiding bodies without any context of what that kind of violence actually looks like. To them, this is all just history. But for the families of the victims, it’s real life.