The Effect of TV Series 'You' on American Psyche

By Rachel Epperly and Bailey Marshall

On September 9th, 2018 the series You first aired on Lifetime TV and quickly found its way onto the Netflix scene on December 26th, 2018. The dramatic thriller soon became one of Netflix's most talked about shows. After being inspired by the plot from a book by Caroline Kepnes, Greg Berlanti and Sara Gamble paired with Warner Horizons, Alloy Entertainment, and A&E Studios to launch this psychological mind twister.  

Formally known as Dan Humphrey in Gossip Girl, Penn Badgley took on the role as the main character, Joe Goldberg. Elizabeth Lail also co-starred alongside Badgley to complete this casting dynamic duo.

This show, like many other Netflix hits, became very popular among teenagers upon its launch. Besides the hooking drama and romantic theme there is also an underlying level of terror that the show portrays to viewers. Statistics claim that “one in six women will be stalked in their lifetime” and this series brings that reality to life.

Elizabeth Lail first got her start as an actress in the ABC show Once Upon a Time playing the role of Anna. Following that, this American actress from Texas played in the movie Dead of Summer. Starting out, Guinevere Beck, an aspiring author living on her own, makes her first contact with Penn Badgley, or Joe Goldberg, at a run down bookstore managed by Joe. Automatically, Guinevere shows how she sees a glimmer of light upon meeting Joe by telling her friends about a guy she met at a bookstore.

Penn Badgley was no stranger to the screen either. First starring in the 2006 film, John Tucker Must Die, Badgley continued to establish himself as an American actor and musician as his career took off. However, Badgley is most recognized by his fans from Gossip Girl that aired from 2007 through 2012. Badgley’s undeniable attractiveness paired with his experiences playing a boyish lover made him the best actor for the role.

After coming off of a serious relationship, Joe, sees, whom her friends call “Beck,” walk into his life as a savior. He begins practically worshipping her presence while he tries to pursue a romantic relationship with her.

Moving away from home and taking the step to live on your own can be scary enough, but You brings into the spotlight other factors that young girls may not be aware of. After meeting her once, Joe turns their flirtatious interaction into something more. He cultivated an obsession with the charming blonde and invades Beck’s privacy automatically by...finding out where she lives, watching her through her windows, and even following her wherever she goes in disguise.

The reason that You has gained so much attention from watchers is because humans have an innate part of their brain that craves entertainment that can be achieved through fear. Nothing scares people more than the looming possibility of death that is undetected. According to Margee Kerr, Ph.D., sociologist, and author of Scream, “Our body is a refined, well-oiled machine getting ready to fight or flee. So if we're in a situation where we know we're safe like a haunted house, scary movie, or roller coaster, think of it as hijacking the flight response and enjoying it,” states Kerr. “This is similar to a high arousal state, not sexual, but like when we're happy, laughing, excited, or surprised. Those chemical signatures look similar to when we're scared; it's just a different context.”

Fear is not always a bad thing, especially when it is derived from a fictional story, but it is argued that there is a line to be crossed. Some critics believe that You carries a negative message that glorifies the criminal offense of stalking and sexual assault. Because the story is told by Joe, a collective narrator in this case, it makes the viewers deem what he is doing as acceptable and even romantic.

For years, the media has been glorifying love and the “do anything for love” concept, but with American culture becoming more violent and reflective of the media, is this romanticism okay? After creators received backlash for dismissing the psychological issues of Joe’s character and using them to construct a riveting plot, a fan fought back proving just how blind this series can make viewers to reality. “He’s not creepy, he’s in love with her and it’s ok. So I’m obsessed with it, I’m binge-watching it, absolute banger Netflix,” Brown said in an Instagram story, which was later deleted. This was not the only misinterpretation of Joe’s dangerous obsession with Beck; Brown was merely one of the few viewers that expressed their opinion that You was a true romantic love story.

Will shows like You serve as a bridge that allows society to cross into an era of criminal glorification and acceptance of immoral behavior, or will it act as a wake up call that sheds light on mental health issues that aid in creating unhealthy relationships like Joe and Beck’s? This is solely up to the viewers discretion. Indeed, this is the beauty of entertainment.