Let us dive into the Netflix original series YOU. For those of you that have yet to commit to this questionable Netflix phenomenon, there are some spoilers ahead.
The following is a little thought experiment:
- A man in desperately in need of therapy, falls in love and obsessively pursues his love interests until they turn sour, all while leaving a trail of bodies in his midst.
- A handsome, hopelessly romantic man with a traumatic past is driven by his unfiltered passion, going after the woman of his dreams in the hopes of “happily ever after”, while bravely unearthing any obstacles that come his way.
The above experiment shows the importance of how messages are made to come across – A and B may seem to refer to two different people but are actually perfect encapsulations for one fictional character, Joe Goldberg.
Who Is Joe Goldberg?
He’s certainly not your average Joe. Joe Goldberg is the lead character in this series, introduced as a regular guy that moves to a new city with the intention of starting over and repairing his heart from a bad breakup. As the series progresses we are slowly introduced to the fact that he had a deeply traumatic childhood and believes that true love is all he needs to be happy. He then goes on to fall in love and begins to exhibit troubling behavior such as stalking, breaking & entering, and murder.
We experience everything from his perspective, fueled by his well thought-out narrative. We see what he sees while his words swirl in our heads. Gripping and suspenseful, YOU does manage to keep the audience captivated with its complicated characters and nuanced portrayals of what is wrong with society as a whole.
Do we really empathise with Joe or is this a classic case of controlling the narrative? Whoever controls the narrative, controls how certain messages are viewed by those exposed to it – it is quintessentially the basis of telling people how to think and feel about a particular topic. It can be extremely one-sided and very dangerous.
But Joe Is The Protagonist!
Protagonist is not a synonym for hero. Joe might be the hero in his story but in reality, he is deeply misguided and motivated by blind obsession. He isn’t in love with people but rather he is in love with the idea of an all-consuming love.
From the moment he lays his eyes on his love interests, he feels like he deserves to know everything about them – whether that’s by stealing their phones, hacking into their socials, or stalking their every move.
Joe is led by his delusions. He massively invades everyone’s privacy and does anything necessary to force a connection with his love interest, for example, knowing where she will be and pretending to run into her while using information he gathered through his stalker skills to act as if he knows everything about her, like the proverbial soul-mate.
Are People Attracted To Psychopaths?
The actor who plays Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) was asked about why he thinks people are attracted to a psychopath, the actor replied with “It says something about how much we are willing to be patient and forgive someone who inhabits a body like mine, the color of my skin, my gender and these sorts of privileges and how much less willing they are to forgive those who don’t fit into those boxes”. He also says that that the show is a “social commentary” and that people cannot be blamed for liking his character because the content is created to be “provocative and hopefully thought-provoking”.
As Netflix puts it “ Joe Goldberg isn’t hot, Penn Badgley is.” – even though yes, Penn Badgley isn’t so bad himself.
When Joe murders Peach Salinger, he justifies it through the rationale that she is a horrible person who will never let his relationship last. He hides his jealousy, insecurity and entitlement behind the delusion that this is a necessary means to an end.
In season one, Joe breaks into his love interest’s home and while hiding behind a shower curtain, his final thought before almost getting caught is “ I’ve seen enough romantic comedies to know that guys like me are always getting into jams like this”. This dialogue alone shows us just how out of touch with reality Joe is. Joe constantly views murder for the sake of love as a big romantic gesture, “slaying the beast” as he would put it.
The Portryal Of Love vs Joe
Love Quinn is one of Joe’s love interests. She is the female Joe Goldberg, but comes off as ‘crazy’ and ‘irrational’ because our views on her are more objective as we are not as in-tune with her inner workings the way we are with Joe. When Love murders someone for the sake of not losing Joe or keeping her family together, even Joe himself sees her as a monstrous person who is capable of anything, whereas when Joe does the exact same thing he comes off as a man that would do literally anything for the woman he loves. This reflects the sexist view that women are irrational and emotional, whereas men are more logical and therefore their actions have a certain rational depth to them.
Love Quinn also comes from a traumatic childhood, the details of which remain very vague and don’t seem to factor in because we don’t witness her inner monologue the way we do Joe’s.
The Final Consensus
It is true, YOU is a show like no other, but it is also a dangerous precedent to set in a world where men still have trouble grasping the concept of privacy and consent. It is dangerous to unleash the idea that such behavior is “romantic” or that women like to be pursued to such lengths.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a show and then moving on, but it is very important to stay mindful of the kind of content the masses are being exposed to. It may be just a show to most viewers, but pop culture has a massive influence on people and we cannot afford to glamorise behavior that is inherently wrong.