You is Not For Me—Examining the Twisted Perception of Netflix’s New Sensation

If you’ve logged onto Netflix since December 2018, there’s a strong chance You has popped up under the heading “trending now” next to The Haunting of Hill House and a smattering of other series that have captured the public interest and grown the number of Netflix’s subscribers. After having my curiosity piqued by the craze surrounding The Haunting of Hill House, my best friend and I marathoned it over Christmas break (and yes, it was incredible). I watched You, however, based on the recommendation of some old friends who had visited my family over winter break. It wasn’t long before the content began to disturb me.

If you punch You into the Google search engine, a box pops up on the left side of the screen providing a brief summary of the show’s plot and data that describes the general public reaction to the show’s content. The series scored a 7.9 out of 10 on IMDB and 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. According to Google, 93% of Google Users liked the show. I am at a loss to explain the fervor surrounding this series. I found it not only unoriginal, but irritating and uncomfortable to sit through. It was completely unworthy of the hype it earned.

Credit: Lifetime

The description provided by Google summarizes the plot:

“What would you do for love? For a brilliant male bookstore manager who crosses paths with an aspiring female writer, this question is put to the test. A charming yet awkward crush becomes something even more sinister when the writer becomes the manager's obsession.”

This is a misleading portrayal of the actual content. You can be explained in a single sentence – a psychologically twisted man preys on a young woman leading to both her death and the death of many other people in her life. You have Joe, the predator, and Beck, the prey. There is no deeper, complex meaning.

In roughly four episodes, you witness the villain Joe kidnap and eventually poison an ex-fling of Beck. Without her knowing, he monopolizes her social media and tracks every message she sends to her friends, every status she posts online. He sulks outside her apartment analyzing each sexual encounter that unfolds in her apartment while masturbating in nearby bushes (poor Beck is too dense to realize the importance of owning curtains on a first-floor apartment). He uses information stolen from her phone to stalk her at family gatherings.

I’d like to pose a question: why is this being marketed as a love that develops into obsession? This morbid behavior is that of a stalker and a murderer. It is not love simply because Joe drives her to get a new bed or offers to make her pancakes, and it is not “charming” and “awkward” because he’s a quirky outcast who would rather socialize with books than people.

He is not “brilliant” because he manages to light a body on fire in the nick of time before being discovered by a young couple out for a hike. That storage unit, the transparent box he uses to store rare books, is a cage that imprisons and tortures people for the majority of the series. And when he shows Beck the rare books stored in that unit, viewers watch with the absolute certainty that she is going to end up there as well.

Credit: Netflix

You originated as a popular novel written by Caroline Kepnes and was first aired on Lifetime in September 2018. It is supposed to showcase the dangers of social media and provide an intimate glance into the mindset of an obsessed, male predator. And to credit the show, Joe’s narration is intriguing. It is not, however, justifiable or worthy of attaching nuance to his behavior.

Perhaps Kepnes’ writing presents multi-dimensional characters that drive a riveting plot worthy of the praise that accompanied the TV series. If this is indeed the case, her skill is not translated properly onto the screen. Her creepy anti-hero that is supposed to embody the modern day predator was swiftly reframed to meet the romanticized narrative of a misunderstood lover.

Since the show’s rapid rise to popularity, the internet was quick to assume a stance of victim blaming and discard Joe’s monstrous actions in favor of his seemingly good ones. Fans tweeted gushing comments such as “Ur gorgeous. I can see past that crazy shit lol” and “but we can do nothing if you’re a hot murderer lol.” In short, the severity of Joe’s actions was overshadowed by the combination of his looks and his desire to cook her pancakes.

It’s easy to cast off this fervor as silly commentary written by a small population of giggly, scatterbrained romantics. But a closer analysis of the characters finds that the show provided an easy opening for this twisted romanticization to arise.

Joe is the underdog. He doesn’t adapt well to social situations nor does he feel accepted by Beck’s snobby, materialistic friends. His job as a bookstore manager lends a sensitive aura to his already calm, approachable demeanor. He whispers dreamy, cliché compliments into Beck’s ear while they lay side by side on a mattress in the middle of a furniture store.

These qualities were supposed to highlight the false appearance technique of the predator lying in wait, but instead, they mislead a sappy viewership into believing Joe is genuinely well-meaning in his behavior. The stalker narrative then becomes romanticized and justifiable. This characterization allows audiences to forget that minutes ago Joe was sending Benji into anaphylactic shock. They “can see past that crazy shit.”

Credit: Lifetime

The rigging of Beck’s character to portray a distinctly unlikeable figure fuels the romantic fire engulfing Joe. Beck is naive, reckless, and exists in a constant state of vying to prove she is not superficial. She delivers an ode to a pancake serving spoon about a dad that she lies about being dead. She is another example of the overused narrative depicting the struggling writer who doesn’t yet know how to express herself.

And in the end, she becomes just another victim of male brutality. Her character, composed of clichés and surface-level traits, falls short of capturing the public’s favor. Juxtaposed against Joe’s complex psychological landscape, Beck appears shallow and serves only to falsify the nature of his intentions.

My hope is that the majority of the show’s viewership has looked beyond the sentimentality surrounding Joe and recognized the monstrous nature of his character. A horrible reality exists in which women are stalked, harassed, and killed by seemingly innocent suitors every day. It is difficult to watch this play out on screen and sickening to witness an influx of responses that fawn over these cruelties.

Whether this article motivates you to binge a different series or start episode one to decide if what I say is valid, let my argument serve as a disclaimer and a warning. You handles very severe narratives in a highly distasteful and disrespectful fashion. Do not fall into its trap of intrigue and false conceptualization of romance.


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