Season 3 of ‘You’ is here – and that’s really exciting for some people (in more ways than you might expect). You may begin to wonder what’s so appealing about serial killer, stalker, and abuser Joe Goldberg after you scroll past the tenth fancam captioned “I can fix him”.
The master manipulator has captured the hearts of some Twitter users since the launch of the show, but season 3 seems to have everyone declaring their love to Joe Goldberg. Romanticizing villains is something that happens with almost every piece of media, and it’s arguably harmless so long as fiction can be separated from reality. But it seems that some fans seem to unironically wish they could find a man like Joe.
Actor Penn Badgley, who plays Joe Goldberg, is well known for criticizing his own character. He reminds fans that Goldberg isn’t “actually a person who just needs somebody who loves him. He’s abusive. He’s delusional. And he’s self-obsessed.” Badgley even made a series of tweets in 2019 questioning fans’ adoring attitudes. His responses mix humor with a little dose of realism.
By the way, if you’re wondering about Penn Badgley’s profile picture, another Twitter post can explain that. Cardi B and Badgley did a fun little swap.
While Badgley’s calling out Goldberg stans, professionals explain why they may romanticize this fictional character’s actions. In an interview with indy100, behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva said some viewers find Goldberg’s attention to detail and masterful planning to be romantic, since “many haven’t experienced romance and they would like to have it emulated in their lives.”
Silva elaborates further on why Goldberg’s abusive past and his need to control and protect women based upon that past may appeal to people, especially those who have been in abusive relationships themselves.
“Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and David Berkowitz were perceived not as master manipulators but charming, powerful, hypermasculine, and an idealised version of a partner… For some women, they see a person that is broken, and that failed to be loved at some point in their lives and can deeply empathize with him. They can see past the pathology and see a person who can benefit from their nurturing.”
Those who have been abused may find themselves stuck in a cycle of lowered self-esteem and standards for future partners, which “can lead women to seek out abusers because they have internalized and believe that they deserve the abuse”. Seeing this abuse portrayed on television can feel familiar and thus attractive to abused people, especially when Goldberg is convinced he has romantic intentions and is doing it for the benefit of the women he’s with.
Berman Center clinician and LMSW Amira Johnson believes that our society’s values may influence us to be accepting of people like Joe Goldberg and even find them desirable. She explains that “we’ve been born and raised into societies that desensitize inhumane treatment… certain acts, even though they may be violent or harmful to someone else, can be seen as acceptable if it can be somehow justified.”
“From the acceptance of war and corporate greed to the illusion that men are superior to women, we’ve all accepted societal norms that subconsciously make us believe that such actions as those Joe Goldberg displays are enticing and derive from a place of power and love.”
Instead of seeing Goldberg for the monster he is, Johnson says viewers “focus on the actions Joe displays that make him seem loving and as if he truly cares about the women he’s dating… Actions such as killing his love interest, Beck, his partner in season one in order to eliminate any obstacles that keep him from being able to have her to himself.”
Joe Goldberg stans, if this was a painful callout for you, don’t worry. As consolation, Netflix is already providing for you with a confirmation of the next season.
Can’t get enough of ‘You’? Check out this article on how Joe Goldberg could be the next Ted Bundy.