You: Why are Viewers Attracted to Joe
Cowritten by Aly Cerda
One of Netflix’s newest shows, You, has become a center for controversy. Based on the novel by Caroline Keepes, the show follows the main character, Joe, as he stalks and eventually begins a romantic relationship with Beck. What starts off as a possible love story quickly turns a psychological thriller; as within ten minutes of the first episode Joe has already found out where she lives, works, studies, and hangs out with her friends. This is 10 out of 57 minutes of the first episode, and already Joe has revealed to be a stalker. So why are so many young girls thirsting after Joe?
Media has always had a pattern of portraying love interests as controlling, untrusting, and emotionally abusive. We see this trend in characters like Edward from Twilight, J.D. from Heathers, and Tate Langdon from American Horror Story. The trend has seemed to die and any time it has been mentioned, it has been negatively critiqued. For example, around Twilight’s ten year anniversary, articles have been published about Edward’s creepy behavior. Clearly, from the response to You, the cute stalker is still romanticized by young girls.
Penn Badgley, the actor who plays Joe, has spoken up about the attention his character has been receiving. After being mentioned in a tweet asking him to kidnap the users account he responded with “No thx” and after one fan tweeted “Okay but @PennBadgley was sexy as Dan but lord Joe is a whole new level.” He then commented on that tweet saying, “…of problems, right?”. Through these tweets and interviews, Badgley has expressed disappointment with how much love the character is getting despite him being a legitimate stalker and murderer.
It’s important that we recognize his physical appearance is what makes it easier to look past all of the abusive tendencies this man has. Not only is Joe conventionally attractive, but he’s also a straight white cisgender man which helps him when he has to lie to the cops. At one point in the show, Joe lies about supplies he has to get rid a body and tells the cops that it’s for maintaining a garden near his apartment, and they believe him. Because how could such a scrawny and nice-looking guy like Joe kill a man?
Although Joe is fictional and his fans are not in any actual danger, this glorification speaks volumes to how our society still romanticizes abuse and gives men unhealthy advantages in relations. Because while You is one of the few shows that criticize the trope, stalking for love where male characters stalking female characters is framed as romantic, young girls still love Joe.
You has been renewed for a second season and will be based on Keepe’s book Hidden Bodies which is a sequel to the original book. Hopefully, this new season will go deeper into Joe’s life and abusive personality which can hopefully open up more viewers eyes to how his charm and smarts are just an abuse tactic that abusers use to reel victims in. More TV shows and movies need to explore this dark topic so young audiences can start to view these characters are problematic and avoid them in their real-life relationships.