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Why I'm glad that Penn Badgley isn't impressed with people who fancy his character from 'You'

Louder for the people in the back: Joe Goldberg’s behaviour is not cute.

y1_cage_joe_12102017_bs_244-1 Source: Netflix

DEPENDING ON WHO you speak to, you’ll get some wildly varying opinions on the new Netflix Original series You. 

The trailer for the show totally put me off of it, because I immediately thought “Wow! What a creep!” But later that day, I saw a handful of people I know on Instagram praising the series, and talking about how cute Penn Badgley’s character Joe Goldberg was. I decided to give it a shot, and regretted that decision within fifteen minutes of starting the series.

It was all a bit cheesy, and clearly made to appeal to teenagers (I’m talking about the whole “Wow, I’m so deep because I think I’m above people who read Dan Brown novels. I’m also misunderstood. People are so disappointing.” thing – and for the record, that’s not me feeling attacked because I’m a Dan Brown fan, I’ve never read any of his books but Christ, let people read what they want to read.)

The fact that it was supposed to appeal to teens made me even more uncomfortable about it. Just as there’s nothing wrong with reading Dan Brown novels, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cheesy Netflix series or a movie like Twilight for what they are. But a lot of the time, impressionable young people can watch these shows completely uncritically, and that’s where the problem lies.

31382 Source: Netflix

It’s not just teenagers who are guilty of this (#NotAllTeenagers, btw – there’s no doubt in my mind that there are plenty of kids out there who would think that Joe Goldberg is an abusive freak), because like I said a few paragraphs ago – I saw so many grown adults fawning over Joe Goldberg on Instagram right after the series was released. 

It’s clear which side of the debate I’m on here. I’m not into the romanticising of emotional abuse, so I decided I’m not going to bother finishing the series (I know what happens in the end, though). In between me and the people who are obsessed with Joe Goldberg are casual viewers, who are just hooked on the Gossip Girl/Pretty Little Liars feel of the show, who don’t feel any particularly fondness towards Joe. I would like to reiterate once again that I’m not harbouring any kind of judgement towards people who wanna enjoy this for what it is. I’ve just seen a worrying number of people feeling a bit too much sympathy for Joe. 

The show is narrated from Goldberg’s point of view, so viewers at home get to see how he manages to rationalise all of the batshit things that he’s doing. So, plenty of viewers can see his point of view and as a result, actually want him to succeed. In most cases of stalking and emotional abuse, outsiders have no idea what’s going on in the mind of an abuser, but these people most certainly are not thinking “I’m gonna do this completely absurd thing at random, just because I feel like doing something a bit mad.” Just like Goldberg, they’ve managed to justify their actions to themselves, for whatever reason. 

screen-shot-2019-01-07-at-15-23-36-1546874631 Source: Netflix

In an interview with Refinery29, Caroline Kepnes who wrote the novel that You is based on said, “We relate to [Joe's thoughts] because we all get that way. We all feel like the world is against us. Unlike Joe, we don’t act on it.” This is worth remembering when watching the show. There’s absolutely nothing romantic or endearing about acting on any of those thoughts or feelings of entitlement.

As far as you might think we’ve come in the last few years, that’s something that people still seem to struggle with. If you want to read more about that, i-D summed it up perfectly in their article ‘Netflix’s ‘You’ shows the problem we still have separating romance from emotional abuse‘. If you’re too lazy to click that link, here’s the main point of i-D’s article: 

Until recently, we’ve romanticised and idolised the male character who tries, tries and tries again to convince the girl of his dreams that he’s right for her, and it’s led us into a murky world where we’re unable to separate archaic ideas of romance and chivalry from the actuality of stalking, gaslighting and emotional abuse. 
The show invites us into his mind, but not to glamourise his behaviour or even to make us sympathetic. It does it to show us how easy it is to be drawn in by toxicity. 

And yet, there are still so many viewers who are largely uncritical of Joe’s behaviour, minus the whole murder thing – but they can see past that because of his charm. 

So, that’s why it’s really important that we’re hearing it from the horses mouth – the horse being Penn Badgley – who some viewers might see as inseparable from Joe’s character, due to the fact that Badgley’s Gossip Girl character (Dan) was also pretty similar to Joe Goldberg. 

Last night on Twitter, Penn decided to respond to some tweets fans had been writing about You. One young woman wrote, “Kidnap me pls”, to which Penn replied “No thx”. He continued pointing out that this kinda stuff isn’t very cute, over the course of a few tweets. 

You get the idea. Another Twitter user wrote, “I’ve never trusted anyone less than Penn Badgley”, to which Penn replied, “My favourite feedback so far.”  When another fan wrote that the amount of people romanticising Goldberg’s behaviour was scaring them, Penn replied, “Ditto.” 

Thankfully, in the second season it looks like Joe Goldberg might be a bit less charming. When Badgley responded to the tweet about viewers romanticising Joe’s behaviour, he said that he’s going to take that into account for future episodes. 

Hopefully this means that Penn Badgley’s going to dial up the creepiness in future episodes and make his character lose a bit of his appeal to fans. However, in an age where there are Tumblr fan pages dedicated to serial killers like Ted Bundy and other violent individuals like the Columbine school shooters, it’s likely that there’ll be a number of fans who’ll, somehow, still be into Joe. 

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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