I had my first manicure recently. It was gel polish and the lady, after ascertaining that I was breaking my mani-virginity, stressed that ‘the most important thing is that you MUST NOT PICK IT OFF.’ Instead it was recommended that I book another appointment to come and have it removed at the salon in a few weeks’ time. But life got in the way, I couldn’t be bothered to book an appointment and something about the stress with which she insisted I mustn’t pick it off ‘even if a little bit flicks up’ meant that, well, I had to pick it off. Just to see what happened. (Disclaimer: nothing much happened except that it kind of took part of each of my nails with it but, hey ho).
When I told my sister-in-law about this desire to pick it off pretty much because I had been told not to, she nodded emphatically and said “Yeah like when you’re told ‘Whatever you do, don’t hit the red button!’…so obviously you have to.”
The Ted Bundy Project by Greg Wohead is in many ways a show about red button moments. It is about the desire to look, listen and read the very things we know we should most avoid. For whilst Wohead starts with his own repeated listening to serial killer Ted Bundy’s confession tapes, this show is also relevant to conversations about why we look at photos leaked from celebrities’ iCloud accounts, obsess over the details of high-profile murders recounted in newsprint or watch disgustingly violent horror films. In turn it is therefore also a show about our mixed relationship with the desire to look where we shouldn’t. Specifically, about how we moralise towards others who are seemingly breaking taboo and accessing information we feel they shouldn’t be. Part of the fundamental attraction of this show is the opportunity it offers to hear from someone who did this ‘weird’ thing and listened to Ted Bundy’s confession tapes. We go to be voyeuristic towards a voyeur. Similarly a lot of time is spent by a lot of people thinking about those other terrible people (who are apparently in their millions, despite no one ever really admitting to be one of them) who access hardcore pornography or wondering ‘who actually buys The Sun?’
The sad truth of course being that those freaks don’t just walk amongst us, they are us. Even if you’re not getting your red button kicks visiting gore websites online you are likely feeding the same impulse by feigning sympathy for ‘troubled’ musicians like Amy Winehouse whilst gorging on images of her emaciated body or simply pulling and pulling on that enticing bit of skin right by you thumb nail.
The idea behind the Ted Bundy Project could be highly problematic – potentially a gross exploitation of a real-life situation that left a large number of young women raped and murdered. Yet this show is anything but a thoughtless employment of ‘sensational’ material to get a cheap reaction. Instead Wohead forces the audience to the very brink of deep uncomfortableness. The irony being that he does this not through talking about explicitly violent acts – the inclusion of which are responsibly advertised in advance – but by making us question this basic desire we have to be bloody Orpheus and have just a little peek back…