How creepy can you get in 15 seconds? A lot, apparently, judging by the new emerging TikTok Ted Bundy role play video trend. The platform for short-form mobile videos is known for its humorous videos and dance clips, but some users are going dark, with hundreds of users choosing serial killer Ted Bundy as their inspiration.
Some TikTok users have created videos mimicking Ted Bundy, as they set out to grab their victims or even drag them from under the bed, with appropriately creepy audio clips playing along. Other users prefer to role-play the victim, showing themselves applying makeup before a blind date with an internet stranger, only to reappear crying and with her face bruised. Another user draws inspiration from cult leader Charles Manson, with a video showing her as a cult member. Several of these videos are published with a black-and-white filer, underpinning the idea that they are inspired by the actions of serial killers from many decades ago.
It’s impossible to accurately determine how this trend started, but we can conjure a few scenarios on how it came to be. Ted Bundy is a hot topic right now, with 2019 marking the 30th anniversary of his execution, and a few movies and series fittingly released during this year. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile released in May, starring Zac Efron, while the four-part Netflix documentary series Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes premiered in January. These events may have renewed the interest surrounding Ted Bundy.
One of the things that may make video creators feel fascinated by Ted Bundy and other serial killers is how these projects tend to ignore the victims and focus on Bundy as a relatable person. Humanizing the killer while largely avoiding discussing the 30 women who were known to be his victims is insensitive and may push for some individuals to think that it is a “cool” thing to do to be famous.
“Media needs to be done in a very cautious manner due to the potential of contagion and romanticizing the topic,” Dr. Christina Conolly, Chairperson of School Safety and Crisis Response at the National Association of School Psychologists, told MTV News. “We do not want individuals thinking that this may be a ‘cool’ thing to do to become famous.”
However, some video creators tend to give other explanations for their videos. One of the recurrent themes is to raise awareness for domestic abuse, while other creators such as George Garaway said that they were just looking for a new challenge. Some viewers didn’t react well to it, asking him to “stop glorifying abuse.” As soon as he removed all mentions to Ted Bundy, the criticism suddenly stopped. It was the mention of the serial killer that was upsetting viewers.
“I could make the same exact video with the same creepy tone and themes, but as long as Ted Bundy’s name wasn’t involved it was all of a sudden considered OK,” Garaway said.
Some TikTok users such as Christina Alekseeva are calling out the trend and asking creators to stop doing these videos, in respect for the victims and families that have suffered through the actual events.
Conolly mentions that one of the biggest dangers is when users watch the videos without any sort of context. It’s not unlikely that instead of raising awareness for a sensitive issue, it actually “triggers” someone instead of serving as a warning:
“Unfortunately videos like this may ‘normalize’ violence,” Conolly said. “It can unfortunately lead to doing more harm than good.”
According to Dr. John Mayer, a practicing clinical psychologist, having an interest in true crime isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it may help people to develop awareness and defense mechanisms. The wide media coverage that true crime gets nowadays makes this easy, but the current trend of TikTok videos did worry him.
While this is a trend that will eventually fade in a few months, another trend will surely rise soon after. Hopefully one that involves fewer serial killers, cult leaders, and bruised faces.