The fine line between love and obsession has been crossed time and time again in television history. From the sleep-watching habits of Edward Cullen in ‘Twilight’ to the present day stalker Joe Goldberg in ‘You’, this TV trope has presented itself across genres from romance, to horror and even documentaries.
There’s no question that the results of this portrayal have been harmful to society, contributing heavily to the global acceptance of toxic masculinity and unhealthy relationship behaviours. The argument was brought to the forefront of conversations when online communities began condemning E.L. James for her misrepresentation of BDSM in her popular novel, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Heavy debate followed on whether or not Grey’s actions were romantic, or downright inappropriate and creepy.
More recently, the aforementioned Netflix show ‘You’ has inspired similar debate with its lead character and romantic interest, Joe, going to extreme lengths to ‘protect’ the female lead Beck.
Audiences find themselves justifying his actions int he first episode; creeping on her Instagram, tracking down her friends on Facebook and her occupation. The justification being that whatever she puts online for the public to see cannot be considered a privacy breach. This kind of behaviour has been normalised in modern relationships and has led to toxic breakups and unhealthy obsession with social media and what we share. The series spirals into chaos as Joe goes further and further into extreme precautions to protect Beck, including [SPOILER] murdering her ex-boyfriend [SPOILER].
The purpose of this leap seems, in my opinion, to be an attack on this traditional character trope, ‘the romantic stalker’. It is done with a view to shock audiences into saying these male protagonists for what they are, to recognise the early onsets of toxic behaviour in relationships. While stalking one’s Instagram is hardly on par with cold-blooded murder, it’s a worrying trait all the same and a breach of trust and privacy.
If this was the writer’s intentions however, he severely missed the mark. Social media users and fans of the show continued to justify Joe’s twisted actions, claiming that ‘he loves her’ and ‘it’s not his fault’. The alarming reaction triggered a heated online debated and divided the internet to those justifying Joe’s actions and those condemning his fans.
Eventually, lead-actor Penn Badgley was forced to step in and intervene with his canonical interpretation of the character. See below: