Oh No, Not Joe — If "YOU" Find Him Hot, You Better Stop
By Tiffany Fang
"How far are we willing to go to forgive an evil white man?" - Penn Badgley
TW: murder, r*pe, assault
Hello, there, you.
Yes, you, sitting there. Your eyes are glued to the screen in front of you, popcorn ready right next to you. What could you possibly be doing? From your intense expression, I can assume you are probably getting ready to watch some Netflix. I see that your finger is hovering over the mouse about to —
Oh no. You’re not.
You can’t be… and yet you are.
You are about to click on the first episode of the second part of Season 4 of You to watch Joe start Joe-ing again, aren’t you? *sighs*
I guess I’ll take a seat next to you as I wait to hear more of Joe Goldberg’s out-of-pocket thoughts and watch him increase his body count… his murder body count, that is. Duh.
Now, I’m guilty of enjoying You just like the next person. I screamed when they announced the fourth season, watched all of Part in one sitting, and may have also binge-watched all of the Part 2 in the midst of editing this article... don't mind me. Joe’s sociopathic actions and commentary (and unfortunately, murder) are what draws millions of viewers into the insane world of You (well, that and Penn Badgley, of course).
According to Time Magazine, the show has racked up over 40 million views since it first aired in 2018. That is a lot of people watching the show, and a lot of people being influenced by this content. It has made its way to the top and become one of Netflix's most popular shows to date.
However, there is one major issue that is prevalent when it comes to discussing this show, specifically when it comes to dissecting the character of Joe, a sociopathic, manipulative stalker, and murderer, who seems to convince himself (and us) that he is rightful for all of his actions. When we lay out the facts, our brains know that he is objectively a terrible person; he has murdered more people than I have fingers (or in Joe speech, three more people than he has toes). And yet, we continue to forgive him, with some of us even finding him… *gags in disgust* attractive; some go as far as to romanticize him. Even Penn Badgley, the actor who has spent years embodying and delving into the mind of Mr. Joseph Goldberg, strongly dislikes the character.
Some might even call him Joe’s #1 hater (this is why we always stan the actor, not the character).
Unfortunately, Joe is not the first stalker and murderer to be romanticized and fawned over.
So the question is, why are so many people romanticizing murderers— specifically, white male murderers?
Top Three Traits in a Love Interest: Stalking, manipulation... and murder?
Joe Goldberg is not a good person. In fact, he’s what we would most definitely call a very, very bad person. I think this fact is blatantly obvious for anyone who has watched or even knows the basic premises of the show. My friend even calls it “that show where that Gossip Girl guy stalks and kills girls.” It's a pretty accurate descriptor, to be honest, so I'll give them that.
Joe is incredibly interesting to watch. Regrettably, even I have found myself laughing at his judgmental out-of-pocket thoughts many times. Although I never caught myself giving Joe googly eyes, I did find myself being a little bit too forgiving towards him when first watching the show.
He’d always kill someone, and then somehow redeem himself slightly by either taking care of the sad boy next door or buying a brand-new iPhone for the girl next door.
He’s changing, I’d tell myself. At least he’s trying.
Many of the characters in the show that he killed were portrayed as very unlikeable people. An abusive stepdad in Season 1 down to Henderson who drugged and took explicit pictures of girls in Season 2. It was easy for me as the an audience member to be okay with these specific characters in the show being killed by Joe -- after all, it is just a show.
The point is, no matter what Joe did, I somehow unconsciously found a way to not totally despise him and even root for him.
We see flashbacks of his traumatic childhood, and we sympathize with him. I guarantee that the rest of us have fallen into this endless back-and-forth trap, if not with Joe specifically, then with other objectively bad characters in general. We know the facts of what he has done, but as the show continues, we convince ourselves that he still cared about people and wanted to get better… right?
“Trauma can explain behavior, but it does not justify it.” -Psychology Today
“You” does a scarily good job of making us sympathize with Joe, even after we witness everything he does. Being able to hear every single one of his thoughts and how he justifies and explains why he thinks the way he does and does the things he did that are objectively wrong convinces us as an audience that it is okay that he did that.
We build ourselves to hate these characters so that when Joe does harm them, we feel no remorse or disgust toward them, especially when the show surrounds Joe but incredibly unlikeable characters, making Joe even seem like the best of the worst. Those of you who have already watched Season 4 know this is especially true (I literally cannot stand anyone). Somehow this convinces us that it's somehow okay for these insufferable people deserve to be killed by Joe. These, however, are the justifications and thoughts that come from the mind of a killer.
It is also not just the show’s portrayal of Joe that makes so many people forgive and sympathize with his character so easily. It’s his entire identity. And although the show itself is fiction, it is not far from real life.
White men getting away with murder or even having the public forgive and romanticize is nothing new.
The Fascination with White Male Murderers
This is definitely not the first time this has happened. White men already receive their fair share of hype by simply being white men. But suddenly, as they slip into the role of a murderer, their actions are easily forgiven by their pretty face and full head of hair. "He killed a blank amount of people… but he’s hot." The combination of pretty and white privilege could not be displayed any better than in this example from one of my favorite shows, "Friends":
To dissect when this really begin, we have to start from the source: Ted Bundy.
Ted Bundy is the prime example of a white man who got away with murder who flew under the radar for so long and when finally brought to court, even grew a fanbase (those notorious groupies cheering for him while he was in court), simply because he didn’t “seem” like the type of guy who would do something “like that”.
By seem, I mean white and “attractive”, and by something “like that”, I mean r*pe and murder.
Although this is a real life case of the romanticization and sexualization of a murderer, it does mark the huge beginning of being attracted to, and in some cases, obsessed, with murderers.
Casting attractive actors is obviously the norm, but having Zac Efron perform as Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2018) did not help the oversexualization of murderers in the slightest, leading to the next big epidemic of sexualization of yet another white male murderer: Jeffrey Dahmer.
The romanticization of Jeffrey Dahmer happened the most recently when Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story came out in early 2022 when people all over the internet, especially TikTok started, to gush over him because the actor, Evan Peters, was — you guessed it — white and attractive. Despite all the horrendous things Dahmer has done, parts of the public have been able to wipe it all away for yet another attractive white man. Although many individuals simply find the actor from the biopic attractive, there were still a select amount of people who actually took it as far as to find Dahmer himself attractive.
Additionally, casting conventionally attractive actors as these awful people does the opposite of help with an audience's perception of this real person -- as we've seen from past releases,
Although I know that most of us, Rowdy Fam, are not culprits of this "sexy murderer" trap, it's important to recognize that many people out there are. Admittedly, it's easy to get reeled in, and even easier to spot others who are as well. We all individually make up the public, and we all have a massive influence on each other, especially with the Internet allowing anyone to express their opinion at any given moment. It's our job to not only check ourselves but to check others when certain "opinions" become trendy, specifically those that are harmful.
One of my favorite YouTubers, ur internet mom ash, has videos of her reacting to the entirety of the series, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her reactions and commentary on it because she calls Joe out on all his bullshit. It’s a great reinforcement of hate that he deserves. Although more of us are realizing that this is an issue, it is important to continue spreading this notion. Together, we need to be more conscious of how we view certain types of people and make sure that we separate an actor from a character when watching a media portrayal of criminals and pay attention to our own biases and look at the facts rather than their face when deciding how we treat these individuals in our heads.
In addition to being a writer for Rowdy Magazine, Tiffany Fang (@tiffanym.f) is an avid watcher of the show “You”, if that wasn’t already quite obvious (she literally can’t stop watching it). As she was writing this article, she saw the five new episodes of Part 2 of Season 4 drop and she literally began bouncing with excitement, attempting to force herself not to click and miss more sleep. It hurts how much she misses Victoria Pedretti in the show.