January is Stalking Awareness Month and Netflix released a series called YOU just in time for a very important conversation. The show delves into the mind of Joe Goldberg, played by Penn Badgley, a young manager of a bookstore in New York. He meets a young lady, Guinevere Beck, and can’t help but want to know more about her after their in-store encounter. However, he takes it a step too far….
We’ve all looked people up on social media after meeting them in hopes of remaining in contact or seeing each other again. But Joe uses Beck’s social media presence as a starting point for his intrusive research, even learning her exact address and making their encounters appear coincidental, including (SPOILER ALERT) the one where he watched her fall onto the train tracks so that he could “save” her. Their relationship spirals out of control when Joe does whatever he can, kill, steal, or lie, to keep her close to him.
This show brings up an important conversation because of the conflicting emotions it is causing its viewers. Joe’s back story causes viewers to empathize with his character, he’s also an attractive young man, which makes the things he does seem less harmful. He even seems like a genuinely great boyfriend to Beck, outside of the creepy things that he does when she is not around. He makes her breakfast, inspires her to do what she loves, makes nice with her friends, and the list goes on. A genuinely nice guy on the outside, but he is still a stalker. 76% of femicide victims are stalked by their intimate partner, Beck demonstrates this exactly (The National Center for Victims of Crime).
Penn Badgley is definitely easy on the eyes but does that make it right to take the harmful actions that his character is portraying as less threatening. As people react to ‘YOU’ on Twitter, he has been shutting their advances down, constantly trying to shed light on the real issue at hand. People have made comments such as, “Is it bad that I am attracted to Joe?”, “I’d let Joe kidnap me”, and so on. Well, Badgely is not here for it. He has been responding to these problematic tweets by saying that yes, it is bad that you are attracted to this character, regardless of how good-looking he is. Also, that he would not be even slightly interested in kidnapping anyone, even if it was just a joke. There is a problem with how society is reacting to such a serious matter as if stalking is something to be taken lightly. In the United States alone, 7.5 million people are stalked in one year (The National Center for Victims of Crime).
‘YOU’ gives the perfect example of what most stalking cases can be like. 85% of victims of stalking are stalked by someone they know, 61% of females and 44% of males are stalked by a current or former partner (The National Center for Victims of Crime). Beck is being stalked by her boyfriend. It is not a stranger on the street who is following her every move, it is the one person that she should be able to trust the most, her partner. And although Joe is human and he has past trauma that has made him into the man he is, that does not excuse his actions. Nor should we take it lightly just because it is a tv show and he is an attractive actor. What is being demonstrated in ‘YOU’ is real and should not be joked about. People are going through these kinds of situations on a daily basis and our remarks about them have real-world implications. So, the next time you make a joke about stalking, think about how your words are impacting the world we live in.
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