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.
Charles manson walked so that ted bundy could run bitch sit down https://t.co/2NcqyXlMxx— keey (@keey)1565721813.0
please say sike #TedBundy https://t.co/ptSoxpFNfl— honor loves taemin 🤩 (@honor loves taemin 🤩)1566180424.0
y’all don’t seem to realize he killed, raped, and abused actual women and he would’ve done the same shit to you if… https://t.co/HW6f8DSRh4— 𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐲 (@𝐥𝐚𝐢𝐧𝐞𝐲)1566210125.0
anyways charles manson is a flop and ted bundy is a whole man 🥰🥰 https://t.co/42WUECJ1Jx— ♡ ted bundy stan ♡ (@♡ ted bundy stan ♡)1565813357.0
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."
y’all really out here stanning ted bundy and charles manson when you could be stanning hannibal lecter ???? could n… https://t.co/1bMNw2Temr— gem (@gem)1565740786.0
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.
i liked the song that played at the end of episode 5 of Mindhunter S2 so I shazam’d it and it’s by Charles Manson 🤒 https://t.co/KE2OIM64ik— eli roth fan account (@eli roth fan account)1566006045.0
"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."
Yall bitches who sexualize #TedBundy need Jesus https://t.co/Zy132f7hA4— Queen B (@Queen B)1566187914.0
Others pointedly re-directed conversations about serial killers' "legacies" to the remembrance of their victims.
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… https://t.co/SVwUnOVl9n— E.J. Hammon (@E.J. Hammon)1565948458.0
Why is this sick man #tedbundy trending again?? Don’t trend him...Let’s trend his victims instead. #KimberlyLeach w… https://t.co/ZUV4fy91S7— 🌹Jenny🌹 (@🌹Jenny🌹)1566181000.0
While #TedBundy is trending, I’m going to take the opportunity to say that Ted Bundy deserved to feel every single… https://t.co/u8VSdnrBVj— 𝐃𝐄𝐏𝐑𝐀𝐕𝐈𝐓𝐘 (@𝐃𝐄𝐏𝐑𝐀𝐕𝐈𝐓𝐘)1566184295.0
"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.
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.