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I am Watching YouThe consequences of romanticizing criminals in love stories
Kim So-yeon  |  samzykim@yonsei.ac.kr
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승인 2019.04.03  18:50:59
트위터 페이스북 구글 카카오스토리

 

   
 

WHAT ARE you willing to do for love? Some spend enormous amounts of money on materialistic goods, others take time off their day just to be with their partners. One man, however, knocks his partner unconscious and locks her up in a glass container when she announces that she will leave him. The Netflix series You puts charming and psychotic together to make one murderous stalker who will do anything to secure his love. The majority of the internet is head-over-heels for Joe Goldberg, an awkward bookstore manager who falls in love with struggling writer Guinevere Beck. While he seems dependable and nice, the change from his quiet curiosity to a fanatical obsession keeps us glued to the screen and we can hardly stay away. The fascination with this newly proclaimed romantic icon shows just how easy it is to trust those who could hurt us, and the blurred lines between romance and abuse presented in the show make matters worse. Witnessing some fans dreaming about these kinds of people in real life should make us wonder whether letting a character like Joe play the “good guy” is a safe idea, especially when their innocent dreaming turns into an unhealthy romanticization of abuse.


Too blinded by the charms
   Joe Goldberg is a clear example of a high-functioning sociopath who knows how to make you love him. From the moment he lays eyes on Beck, his number one priority is to become a constant presence in her life. Every “accidental” encounter—which is planned out by stalking her social media accounts—turns into a mind game to seduce her. For the oblivious Beck, he is Prince Charming, ready to come to her side at the right moment. The audience is well-aware of every step in Joe’s conniving scheme, but the need to question his morality is crushed under the desire to feel the same intense affection and commitment they see on screen.
   The drama essentially normalizes controlling and abusive behavior, while downplaying its psychological harm. The show tries immensely hard to make him the hero of the story. Throughout the episodes, we hear Joe’s narration and see the world through his perspective. His monologues portray him to be a completely normal and innocent man even as we see him killing off two people out of jealousy. He reasons that they were terrible people who were out to harm Beck, characterizing them as the antagonists to his romance story. Viewers believe that the victims deserved it as well – but only because Joe explained to us so persuasively why they were horrible people. As his rationalizations for his terrible decisions start to make more sense to the viewers, they end up not even noticing how understanding and compliant they have become to his delusional “good guy” image.
   His charisma adds immensely to his already manipulative and abusive persona, making such qualities more appealing and desirable. The actor was purposely cast to be attractive, further hiding his psychotic side. One example is how the show begins with his tendency to stalk people, but the scene takes more care in making him look beautiful. The camera zooms into his dreamy eyes and chiseled jawline as he watches Beck through the window of her apartment from afar, drinking in every detail of her movements with adoring eyes. Viewers, especially younger females, instantly swoon over his looks, completely disregarding the issue at hand. The constant emphasis on Joe’s appearance also contributes to lessening the effect of the horrendous acts he performs throughout the show. By the end, the audience has become unknowingly desensitized and accepting of Joe’s insanity. Ultimately, such desensitization could unconsciously influence people to ignore signs of emotional abuse. 
   Emotional abuse is one of the subtler forms of abuse, but the psychological damage is substantial. What Joe does is constantly manipulate Beck into believing that she is unworthy without him and make her seek for his approval regularly. He lies, invades her privacy, places boundaries between her and other people, and restricts her environment so that she can only be with him. All the negative events that happen in her life were all orchestrated by Joe to make her anxious and turn to Joe for comfort. Beck herself does not realize that she is in an abusive relationship, but the damage is still done when she begins blaming herself for all the misfortune in her life and becomes emotionally distressed and vulnerable. While the relationship may seem perfect on the outside, it is quite far from being healthy.

The unintended consequences
   You’s romanticization of a creepy and manipulative relationship has brought about pressing concerns, especially its negative impact with the younger demographic. Millie Bobby Brown, a child actress best known for her role as Eleven on Stranger Things, went on her Instagram account to commend the actions of Joe, who had become the internet’s favorite stalker. Brown’s younger followers ended up fervently supporting her words, which not only shows how children can easily be influenced by the media they consume, but also sheds light on how fast a misguided message can become a social mindset. Furthermore, normalizing this type of behavior may lead to some people emulating Joe, or falling victim to individuals like him who hope to get their own “crazy” love story.
   Viewers are also becoming more desensitized to topics like abuse due to being continuously fed fantasy stories of dysfunctional main protagonists whose actions are always justified. Writers must put more thought and care into approaching topics of emotional abuse and separating them from romance, or else they may end up making light of real trauma that many suffer from. Without educating people on the toxic qualities of people like Joe, viewers may end up subconsciously seeking these types of people in real life without recognizing the consequences that come with it. While these character tropes are definitely intriguing to see on screen, their depictions should be handled in ways that show how toxic they can be if encountered in real life. 
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