Netflix’s hit show “You” follows Joe Goldberg, a young, attractive New Yorker who manages a bookstore, helps neighborhood kids and commits the occasional murder.
Its immense viewership is largely attributed to Joe’s charismatic, likable nature. The show’s pilot begins with an “American Psycho”-esque monologue that creates a sense of familiarity with his character and makes the viewer feel comfortable with him.
In the first season, Joe meets his love interest, Guinevere Beck, at the bookstore he works at and feels an immediate attraction to her. Beck, a grad student and aspiring writer, sparks Joe’s interest with her impressive taste in books, which leads him to the logical next step — stalking her on social media.
As the series progresses, Joe’s actions become increasingly ethically questionable and extreme, though his status as a personable white male makes it easy for viewers to sympathize with him. Joe repeatedly acts as the classic “good guy,” as he goes out of his way to help his neighbor, Paco, who struggles with tough family life or “saves” his new girlfriend from a terrible ex — by killing him.
The series continues to show Joe’s actions as positive, so that when he commits his first murder, the crime seems rational, even justified. The viewer can easily validate Joe’s actions and begins to root for him.
The true crux of the show and Joe’s personality take advantage of how society frequently romanticizes abusive behavior. Although Joe may be an extreme example, his actions mimic those of a classic male protagonist in many popular romantic comedies. His (mostly) honorable intentions and good-guy nature lend themselves to an overall likable character.
Joe’s obsessive nature draws him into the social media world to gather more information about his victims in order to tailor his personality to best suit them. He then uses his new insight to woos his targets with his manufactured personality. He takes his social media usage to the next level in season two when he installs spyware on a phone belonging to Ellie, the 13-year-old sister of his building manager.
Ellie parallels Paco in the sense that Joe takes both of them under his wing — at least, that’s what Joe believes. The spy software enables him to read her texts with the famous comedian Henderson, a Harvey Weinstein-type sexual abuser who uses his fame to lure unassuming girls, whom Joe ultimately murders to protect Ellie. Henderson’s death further illustrates how the viewers are led to see the situation through Joe’s twisted perspective.
Using social media, Joe stalks his girlfriends, exploiting the vulnerability of people who make private details public. Similarly to how Joe morphs his personality, teenagers today may feel compelled to manufacture a social media presence, a facade to create the illusion of a perfect life. Although social media is intended to provide insight into someone’s life, it is often curated with misleading positive images.
For instance, popular social media app Snapchat includes the feature SnapMaps, which places those who opt into using it on an eerily specific map of the world. SnapMaps allows the user to zoom into a person’s location, down to a specific building, potentially exposing them to anyone who wants to stalk or harm them.
“It’s honestly scary. Anyone could potentially have a stalker-like in ‘You’ and have no idea,” Palisades Charter High School junior Samantha Yawitz said.
This spans almost all social media sites where anyone with a public profile is automatically exposed to the world.
Joe is an extreme example of this phenomenon, but as social media pervades every inch of our day-to-day lives, our online and physical security becomes increasingly jeopardized. In a time where anyone can find nearly anything about someone else, privacy is becoming extinct.