A pretty face with a murderous mind
By Mackenzie Gellner, Contributor
Recently, the idea of romanticizing attractive psychopaths has taken over the realm of newly released series. However, it has been a concept held for years both in the media and in reality.
Lifetime’s new television show, You, was recently released on Netflix, with the show delving into the mindset of a lovestruck psychopath. Young book clerk, Joe Goldberg, meets Beck, a masters student, when she steps into his work. From that moment, he’s hooked. Correction, obsessed. He shows his maddening affection for her as a murderous sociopath. But … he’s hot.
You encaptures the unhinged inner workings of a stalker, yet romanticizes Joe by making him charming and, well, not hard on the eyes. Viewers’ morals are being conflicted to the point that they are even tweeting about it and Penn Badgley, the actor of Joe, feels compelled to remind people the madness behind the attractive man.
One tweet read, “Okay but @PennBadgley was sexy as Dan but lord Joe is a whole new level.” To which Badgley replied, “…of problems, right?”
In You, Joe rationalizes every disturbing action he takes because it’s all for Beck’s best interest — he steals her phone, follows her to events, murders her ex-boyfriend and best friend. You know, just your average helpful, sociopathic date. Since the narrative is based on Joe’s own thoughts, the viewer feels compelled to root for him. He’s got good intentions, a charming demeanor and a pretty face. This is where the issue sparks — if the viewer did not find Joe attractive, would we still be rooting for him?
Stalker behaviour is becoming more normalized through media portraying them as lovestruck, misunderstood heartthrobs. You is not the only television show or movie taking upon the myth centralized in many romantic tales — he’s just doing this because he loves you.
Movies and television shows, such as Love Actually, He’s Just Not That Into You, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gossip Girl, 500 Days of Summer and several more support this myth, yet we keep watching even if we know what it’s perpetrating. And worse, we consistently continue to romanticize every single one of them, dreaming it’ll turn into our own reality. This doesn’t result in enjoying these films and shows as being insane — viewers just need to be aware of how it is reflecting into their own perceptions of people in real life.
Even take the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast, a certified fairytale in society. Inevitably, the viewer hears the title and awes in the love we recall it portraying. However, when critically analyzed, the story unfolds from being just a love story. In the article “Beauty and the Beast: The Romanticization of abuse in popular culture”, written by Laura Beres, “For a viewer who is living in a violent relationship, who needs to maintain faith in something beyond her immediate situation, this story suggests that if she acts in a loving way towards her abusive partner, he might learn from her how to be loving and might turn into a prince for her.”
In Beauty and the Beast, the Beast imprisons Belle’s father and only releases him if Belle agrees to take his place. She becomes a prisoner in his castle and is only freed when they begin to fall in love. Yet, it is considered one of the most iconic love stories. This begs the question on whether writers, directors, and producers should stray from this narrative, or if it is on the viewer?
For a more realistic example, Netflix released Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes which documents America’s most notorious serial killer, Ted Bundy, who was convicted of over thirty women’s murders in 1978. Although known as a murderous monster, Bundy was described by women as essentially too hot to have committed those heinous crimes or strangely attractive even though he’s a convicted criminal. This type of unrationalized aweing behaviour towards Bundy is similar to the reaction received by Goldberg in You.
According to Psychology Today, this type of behaviour, hybristophilia, is colloquially known as the ‘Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome.’ Hybristophilia is a type of paraphilia defined by the sexologist Professor John Money as essentially a person who is into people who have “committed an outrage or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.” During The Ted Bundy Tapes, people who were interviewed reflected on his handsome appearance and charm. During the series, one woman stated, “He was charming, good-looking, smart; are you sure you got the right guy?”
Imagine this for a moment though: what if the stalkee was not attracted to the stalker? Is it still romantic if they break into your home, steal your belongings and murder your best friend? Here’s the next catch: no matter the attractiveness of the stalker, it should still be considered unacceptable, terrifying behaviour. Don’t let a pretty face manipulate your morals.