Netflix’s ‘You’ Normalizes Abusive Relationships and We Fell For It

Amaris E. Rodriguez , Opinions Editor

As a typical college student, I usually pick a show to binge watch on Netflix between classes and homework. My last victim was “You” starring the-ever-so-misunderstood Penn Badgley, better known as Dan Humphrey from the CW’s hit show “Gossip Girl.”

The show centers around Joe Goldberg, a bookstore manager who becomes infatuated with Guinevere Beck, a typical New York University (NYU) graduate student who happens to walk into the bookstore one fateful day. Joe immediately begins stalking Guinevere through social media and eventually dates her, becoming her “perfect” boyfriend.

The show clearly serves as commentary on the dangers of social media, as Joe is able to find out a lot of information on Guinevere through her unprivated accounts. However, the main topic, which can be easily missed if, like millions of girls across the Netflix streaming system, you fall for Joe and his ever-charismatic ways, is the idea of toxic masculinity.

Joe quickly molds himself into the perfect boyfriend for Guinevere. While he does have the love for literature on his side, everything else is fabricated around her. After saving her from a near death train accident, which he was able to do because he stalked her to an open mic poetry night, they fall in love. As I was watching the show I found myself pausing and asking my sister “but I mean he’s not really that bad, right?” Yup, I fell for it too.

Joe embodied everything that girls are taught they should want. He focuses all his attention on Guinevere, he encourages her to go after her dreams and he tries to play nice with her friends, that is until one is as equally obsessed with Guinevere as he is. Badgley’s smooth voice over tells us how he will attend to Guinevere, make her favorite breakfast every morning and do anything for her. And when that everything turns into killing her ex-boyfriend, we are expected to look past that too. “I mean if you can look past the whole murderer thing, he’s actually a pretty good boyfriend,” I said. Not my proudest moment.

“You” plays up the idea of the nice guy troupe. When you look past that, Joe is a sociopathic murderer, and you will, because that is exactly the intent of the show, Joe is a “nice guy.” However, that nice guy quickly turns into someone who feels that he is owed love because of how much he invests into Guinevere. Joe is quick to recap and remind the audience everything he has done for Guinevere and how dare she not love someone who is willing to do anything for her? According to Psychology Today, entitlement is one of the early warning signs of dating an abuser.

The show, which was cancelled from cable network, Lifetime, after being considered a failure only to be later picked up on Netflix, does a great job of portraying Joe as a caring boyfriend but its consequences can turn deadly. In “You” Joe is a stalker, and according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline “on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States- more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year,” and “an estimated 10.7 percent of women and 2.1 percent of men have been talked by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”  

“You” is a very entertaining show and I’m not going to lie and say that I won’t watch it again because I will probably binge season two. It does what it is meant to do, and judging by the memes praising Joe, maybe it does it a little too well. It is important to realize and analyze the characters fully, and sometimes as an audience we forget to do that. Joe is a sociopathic stalker and murderer, and nothing – but even his troubled past –  is an excuse for that. We need to take the show for what it is, solely entertainment, and watch it fully knowing that normalizing toxic masculinity and toxic relationships is not okay. If anything, the show can serve as a cautionary tale, which should you find someone who has the same traits as Joe, seek help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a violent relationship please seek help. Resources are available on campus. Students can contact  Rae Joyce Baguilat, at [email protected] and NEIU’s Director of Equal Opportunity, Title IX and Ethics Natalie Potts at [email protected].