You’d never expect the boy next door to rape and kill you.
This isn’t how this post was supposed to begin. I was planning to lead with a joke. It was supposed to be funny, albeit dark, and it was supposed to get shared around the interwebs because all the moms everywhere would be collectively clucking their tongues, saying “WHY IS HE SO PRETTY?!”
This post was going to be a light-hearted listicle of all the reasons it’s OK to have a crush on Zac Efron, even if you’re conflicted about it.
I was going to tell you about how really you shouldn’t feel TOO badly about finding him attractive, because friends, in case you weren’t aware, he’s in his 30s now. He’s not a teen. He’s a fully grown man. The same age as my kid brother, you know? Like that’s not weird?
As it turns out this will be more of a mixture of light and dark because as I’m learning, sometimes the only way we can deal with pain is to make light of it.
Consider a recent conversation with a friend:
Me: “Did you see who is playing Ted Bundy?”
Friend: “OMG yes. I’m so conflicted.”
Me: “He’s perfect. I mean, I would 100% follow Zac Efron down a dark alley.”
We laugh, gleefully, because TOTALLY. Zac Efron can do whatever he wants. Take me, Zac! Ravish me, Zac! Oh fine, kill me, Zac! At least I’ll die happy.
Hahaha oh the terrible fantasies of a SAHM!
But when I sat down to write this out, the giddy scandal of it all was replaced by dread.
I would follow him down a dark alley.
Sobering words, because there is truth in them. I’d let my guard down with a man I don’t even know, if he’s handsome and charming and quick-witted.
Or at least, I would have.
Once upon a time.
It was at an outdoor concert in Seattle. Summer. The sun had just set and I was waiting for a favorite band to play. It was the end of the work week. I didn’t notice him until he was standing right next to me.
“Hi,” he grinned, his eyes all sparkly and twinkly and full of intelligence. He was tall, tousled, and comfortable in his own skin. Quiet. Confident. Easy conversationalist.
He befriended me, earned my trust, and later that night, he raped me.
I couldn’t even see it as rape until years later, with the help of multiple counselors and therapists. It was a study in cognitive dissonance: how could THIS man, whom I had immediately categorized as a friend, as safe, as someone to be trusted, have done something so horrifying? His eyes had been so kind.
Until they weren’t. Until they were hard and cold and full of a truth that chilled me to my core: he had done this before.
Joe Berlinger, director of both Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, has been criticized for casting Zac Efron as the lead in his biopic. His critics ask: is Zac Efron too handsome, too charming, and too likable to convey the horror of a person Bundy was?
My take: No. Zac Efron is perfect for the role, and it’s not just because his eyes are pretty (would you believe me if I told you I haven’t even seen Baywatch? My love is pure). He’s perfect because we’ve all seen him sing and dance and flip that mop of teenage hair around. He’s perfect because if you don’t have a crush on him, you probably wouldn’t mind hanging out with him because in addition to his love of baby animals and the great outdoors, he’s no Justin Bieber: His reputation is squeaky clean. Why wouldn’t we trust Zac Efron? He kisses puppies.
And it’s THAT quality, my friends, that makes the horror of Ted Bundy’s story so bone-chilling: He fooled EVERYONE.
Berlinger’s documentary had me glued to my seat, and not just because I learned Ted Bundy grew up in Washington State, only minutes away from the house where my husband and I brought home both our baby boys. The people who knew Bundy were shocked to imagine he would have anything to do with harming another human being. He was so nice, so helpful, so friendly. So smart. So good-looking. He had everything going for him—what kind of motive would a person like that need to do such evil things?
Similarly, I’ve often wondered: Why would some dude named Kevin feel the need to trick me? I gave him my number—and I didn’t give my digits to just anyone—why couldn’t he just call and ask me out? He was attractive. He was charming. He was witty. He seemed kind. Who knows what might have happened between us?
But he had to make sure we had sex that night.
The truth, of course, is that rape has very little to do with sex and everything to do with power.
The same kind of misplaced power that can lead to murder.
“If you actually watch the movie, the last thing we’re doing is glorifying him,” said Berlinger to Bustle, regarding criticism that Efron’s sex appeal distracts from the horrific crimes committed by Bundy. “He gets his due at the end, but we’re portraying the experience of how one becomes a victim to that kind of psychopathic seduction.”
When I was a girl, we were taught about stranger danger, about unmarked vans and creepy old dudes with candy. We were taught to never walk alone at night, and our dads put pepper spray in our Christmas stockings. The blatant message was: horrible people will want to do horrible things to you. So we took self-defense classes and learned how to carry our keys with the pointy ends jutting out between our fingers.
But somehow I missed the message about not trusting someone who makes you feel immediately at ease. Somehow I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the men who would hurt me the most in my lifetime would not be creepers in dark alleys, but attractive, intelligent, educated peers who thought the world owed them something.
This is the world we live in, that a woman who survives a sexual assault counts herself lucky that she wasn’t killed. Good thing he wasn’t a psychopath. Just a rapist.
So what do we do with all of this, other than decide how we feel about the film?
We keep telling the truth. As survivors, we keep telling the stories of what happened to us, in honor of those who can’t speak for themselves. As mothers, we teach our children what trust, power, and consent really look like.
For my part, I’ll own up to the fact that I was attracted to the man who raped me. He was seductive, and he raped me. These two truths are not mutually exclusive.
If you decide to watch the movie, remember that it is intended to be viewed as a cautionary tale.
And if you still think Zac Efron’s pretty, I won’t judge.
I do, too.
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Wicked, and Vile streams on Netflix May 3, 2019