CULTURE

Why Jeffrey Epstein Is the Perfect #MeToo Boogeyman (Based on Our Love of True Crime)

The Epstein scandal is the most pristine horror story to come out of the #MeToo era.

Scarlett Johansson still loves and believes in Woody Allen. Chris Brown's fans are still celebrating his music. Even Roman Polanski is still premiering films to applause.

But unlike other predatory men brought down by #MeToo, there's no (arguably) defensible art attached to Jeffrey Epstein's legacy—only horror, perversion, and the power of fame and fortune. In short, the Epstein scandal is the most pristine horror story to come out of the #MeToo era. It's a heavy, opaque drama about a multimillionaire financier who created a "cult-like network of underage girls—with the help of young female recruiters—to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day." If the unfolding scandal were a film, it'd have a high production quality and an instrumental soundtrack.

Actually, never mind. Jeffrey Epstein is soon coming to your screens—all of them, apparently.

Barely a month after the 66-year-old was found dead in his Manhattan prison cell, society is already cannibalizing the late billionaire by retelling his story across various media platforms. As Vanity Fair recently reported, re-imaginings in the works include: a four-part docuseries from Radical Media in development by Netflix; a Lifetime project called Surviving Jeffrey Epstein; a scripted project and possible documentary by elite Hollywood producer Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short); and whispers abound of major studios exploring their own scripted projects about Epstein.

Since Julie K. Brown's investigative report first exposed Epstein in 2018, every freshly uncovered detail has solidified him as our ideal modern boogeyman. Unlike other powerful men brought down by the #MeToo movement—high profile figures who've been publicly accused of wielding their positions of authority to prey upon others, from R. Kelly and Michael Jackson to Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein—Epstein's perversions are concrete facts. No culture war army, no political party, no apologists exist for him. And that makes him the perfect, creeping enemy whose mythos includes all the preferred flavors in the American palate: corrupt power, obscene wealth, and unchecked perversion condoned by a network of famous friends and politicians, including world leaders like Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, and Bill Clinton. Even better, the story of this #MeToo boogeyman is unfolding in real time, with real consequences at stake for potentially "hundreds of other people," according to CNBC.

As high as we might be on our love for true crime, Epstein's crimes seem especially tailor-made for Hollywood. As one source told Vanity Fair, "It may be the most significant scandal in American history in many ways because of the level of the people involved, the currency of it, this vast criminal web almost certainly involving blackmail, and then the guy dies when prison guards just happen to be looking the other way? When you have a scandal of this magnitude, it is only inevitable that there would be a multitude of attempts to tell that story for a larger audience."

Now, Hollywood producers and podcasters are cashing in on the story:

Oscar-winning director Adam McKay recently released the podcast Broken: Jeffrey Epstein through Three Uncanny Four Productions. The podcast is hosted by The New Yorker's Ariel Levy and features Julie K. Brown herself. As McKay notes, "The Epstein story still has dozens and dozens of unanswered questions," and Broken endeavors to unravel his deep connections with the rich and powerful who allowed him to get away with his crimes. He's not the disease," producer Laura Mayer says. "He's a symptom of it."

Another podcast crafts a more narrative version of Epstein's crimes a la Serial. A new release titled Epstein: Devil in the Darkness features exclusive interviews with Epstein's former employees, including a New Mexico ranch hand who claims she was hired to recruit young girls to become Epstein's "massage therapists" and his former chauffeur, who's heard in the premiere episode telling the producers that Epstein was referred to as "the pedophile" by the staff: "It was a joke, it was, 'Yeah, we're going to pick up the Pedophile,' because we'd go and we'd pick up these young girls. But I don't think we really believed that's what was happening, but it comes to pass that that's the truth, that's what was happening. But we used to call—it was a big joke in the office all the time." Producers also feature an exclusive interview with Epstein's cellmate in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, who witnessed the man's first suicide attempt.

While we'll have to wait and see if those podcasts will delve into the many conspiracy theories already surrounding Epstein's death by (reported) suicide on August 10, there's also a book in the works from Julie K. Brown. Her confirmed deal with HarperCollins will "expose the inner workings of the sexual pyramid scheme Jeffrey Epstein forced girls into, and will implicate powerful, wealthy and influential politicians, academics, businessmen and public figures," according to the publisher.

And of course, Netflix is getting in on the action. Radical Media has already optioned James Patterson and John Connolly's 2016 biography and true crime book, Filthy Rich: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, and sold the rights to Netflix. The docuseries has already been in production for a year.

But why? Is there something, anything, to gain from replacing our resurgent fascination with serial killers like Ted Bundy with Jeffrey Epstein true crime features?

Well, for one, no one's arguing that Jeffrey Epstein was a nice guy. While popular serial killer narratives feature the paradox that the most profane sociopaths conduct themselves as upstanding citizens (yes, Ted Bundy worked at a suicide hotline and John Wayne Gacy was a tireless volunteer in his community), most people who knew Epstein described him as "creepy" (unless you're Trump, who found him to be a "terrific guy"). Secondly, Epstein's VIP status was solely based on his obscene wealth, and his millions were slowly acquired throughout a lifetime of being obscene, from beginning his career as an inappropriate prep school teacher in 1974 to becoming a swindling financial trader and consultant. He wasn't a musical icon like Michael Jackson, against whom sexual assault allegations continue to divide his fans, nor was he an actor, auteur, or major studio producer involved with classic pieces of cinema, like Woody Allen or Harvey Weinstein. There's no admiration of his art to stir conflicted feelings. As Americans, we're free to see Epstein as the embodiment of the evils of wealth in corrupt industries—which, perhaps, can bring home the message driving the #MeToo movement, that society's blind idolization of fame and fortune is so glaringly flawed and that classist unaccountability is too immoral to ignore.

Disney

Everybody loves Disney live-action remakes.

In a world plagued by racism, disease, and a seemingly endless bounty of spiraling misfortune, at least we can all agree that Disney knocks it out of the park every time they dredge up an old, animated movie for a live-action makeover because cartoons are for babies.

Sure, some of us thought the original Beauty and the Beast was fine, but could lame, 2D Belle ever hold a candle to 3D Emma Watson? And yeah, the original Lion King was okay, I guess, but there's nobody in the world who preferred cartoon Scar's rendition of "Be Prepared" to the incredible feat of getting a real lion to sing it in the live-action remake.

Being a Disney fan can be hard sometimes, as you have fond memories of beloved childhood movies but also don't want people to make fun of you for liking cartoons. That's why, out of all the corporations in the world, Disney is undoubtedly the most selfless, willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to bring their old, outdated movies into the modern age—all for the fans.

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CULTURE

In Defense of Stanning Serial Killers: Twitter's #TedBundy vs. #CharlesManson Is a Symptom of Post-Irony

In online post-irony media, empathy gets lost in our nihilism, and we mock the idea of a moral world by stanning serial killers.

Thanks to Investigation Discovery, the murder channel where any struggling actor has a chance to die in a grainy reenactment, #TedBundy was trending once again.

The ID documentary, Ted Bundy: Mind of a Monster, aired on Sunday night as the first segment of a new true crime anthology in which each episode "explores the inner workings of America's most infamous serial killers." People on Twitter were predictably mad, condemning the media's obsessive coverage of Ted Bundy. Indeed, he's been treated like an American outlaw and anti-hero rather than a rapist, pedophile, and necrophiliac who confessed to murdering over 30 women throughout the 1970s. But while many oppose pop culture's glamorization of mass murderers, certain niche communities on Twitter, namely self-proclaimed serial killer "stans," took issue with something else entirely: Who's more glam, Ted Bundy or Charles Manson?

Yes, it appeared that Manson fans and Bundy fans feuded over which of their favorite homicidal all-stars was the baddest bitch around. One of the earliest Tweets to mobilize murder "stans" came from a K-Pop fan account for the girl group BlackPink. Later, the user scoffed at people taking their trolling so seriously, but the damage was done. The notion that "Charles Manson walked so that Ted Bundy could run bitch sit down," brought "Ted Nation" (no, we're not kidding) out to battle.




Granted, some opted to mix reason and logic into their trolling, declaring their love for Hannibal Lecter, the "supreme FICTIONAL serial killer, who has the superior courtroom fancam."

Have we become so desensitized to chaotic violence (with more mass shootings so far in 2019 than there have been days in the year), so immersed in doomsday thinking (what with the "existential threat" of climate change looming over us until 2050), and so acclimated to daily human rights abuses and obfuscation of truth that human decency is a social construct now, and murder is sexy?!

No, not really. We've always been this gross, but now we have the Internet.

Executed by electric chair on January 24, 1989, Ted Bundy has been resurrected in the public eye by this year's Netflix documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes, and a feature film starring Zac Efron, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Accordingly, there's been a resurgence of Bundy-shaped hybristophilia, a sexual paraphilia and cultural phenomenon in which an individual derives sexual arousal and pleasure from having a sexual partner who is known to have "committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery." They are, by and large, female (like Carol Ann Boone, who fell in love with and conceived Bundy's child while he was on death row), and they're commonly referred to as "prison groupies," "serial killer groupies," and now: serial killer stans.

And let's not forget Quentin Tarantino's recent revisionist history take on the Manson Family's murder of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, projected to become his highest-grossing film. Manson is also featured in season 2 of Netflix's crime drama Mindhunter, in which Damon Herriman plays the cult leader as a captivating madman.

But Twitter's collective recoil at young women expressing attraction to serial killers also fuels trolls, who love to goad people into outrage––this time, by posing as Ted Bundy and Charles Manson "stan" accounts.

"Ted Nation" coming for Manson stans began as an inside joke. As one Bundy stan told Rolling Stone (anonymously, of course): "Basically, me and a small group of friends had a long running inside joke over who would win in a fight: Ted Bundy or Charles Manson. It was all 100% ironic and it was about six people in the group the first day." Allegedly, the origin was just a group chat among friends, but then, he says, "Random people obviously found out and made more accounts, a lot of them being actually serious, which I found out this morning when I deactivated my Ted account." The unnamed source added, "A lot of people called us disgusting and told us to get raped or kill ourselves. But we kinda justified this by telling ourselves 'Well, we know we don't actually stan him' and knowing we were just parodies."

But in the age of online irony poisoning and millennial angst-induced nihilism, parody of a real phenomenon is tantamount to the real deal. #TedBundy soon became dominated by people expressing their outrage and disgust over people turning serial killers into lawless, cowboy-esque cultural icons, "parody" or not. Many posts are similar to this one: "Just so we're clear, this man was not a hero. Ted Bundy wasn't someone who was kind or special. He was a misogynist who enjoyed murdering women. He wasn't some playful scamp, so please consider his victims."

Others pointedly re-directed conversations about serial killers' "legacies" to the remembrance of their victims.



"Stanning" serial killers is both a real neurosis and a script with which to act out the glitchy psychology of modern life. On the one hand, it's a deeply unsettling phenomenon that has occurred time and time again when violent men become spectacles of psychosis and societal antipathy. At the same time, bored social scientists have long pointed out that intense celebrity fan worship is correlated with mental health, as "individuals with high levels of celebrity worship are more likely to have poorer mental health as well as clinical symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social dysfunction."

But with the Internet's labyrinthine folds of irony, cynicism, alienation, and our underlying need to make sense of chaos and disorder, we pretty much trust nothing. Why not make a mockery of worship by pretending to worship the darkest sides of humanity? Or mock the idea of a just, moral world by elevating immorality? Everything we've traditionally worshiped as a society, from government to religion, has seemed to fail us, so why not invest your time in boy bands and beauty gurus, conspiracy theories and real-life boogeymen?

Surely, the answers have something to do with respecting victims' memories and their surviving family members, with not glorifying abject violence as not to encourage unhinged individuals to act on their impulses. But amidst tribalist political divides and human rights becoming a social construct, empathy seems to be a sacrifice of the post-irony, modern glitch. Giving into it and joining (or even laughing at) the joke might make us complicit in all the problems we're supposedly fed up with, but then again, it's Twitter: Some people are just assh*oles.