Opinion: Romanticizing Killers Isn't Necessarily a Bad Thing

I usually base what I’m going to watch on Netflix on what everyone else is watching–pretty normal, I suppose. So when I heard about the new show You from several people, I decided to give it a shot. Horror movies are my thing so it seemed right up my alley.

I started watching and got through the series pretty quickly and with every episode I was left feeling nervous and anxious about what would happen next. However, there was something else more distinctive I noticed. Obviously the entire show is centred around the antagonist (Joe) stalking his love interest and obsession (Beck) and we quickly see things escalate as his actions steer towards being malicious and psychotic.

Despite this being a pretty straightforward plot, I found myself in a weird place. As the plot picked up, I realized I honestly was cheering for Joe as he relentlessly crossed the line for this girl. Every so often I would catch myself and get mad, changing my thought process, but it kept happening in such a natural way I knew it couldn’t be a case of my morals randomly giving out. But why was a part of me egging on a character who was evidently a violent psychopath?

During my research, I realized that both my reasoning and this weird subconscious thought process goes far beyond this specific show. With You, Joe is a very attractive young guy. The show centres around his manipulative and frightening behaviour, but despite the fact what he’s doing is obviously unacceptable, there’s a bit of a romantic tint to it. Like, the fact that all of his gestures are being played out ultimately because of love. The heated scenes and his remarks to Beck are often very charming.

We are also given a great deal of context as to what Joe is thinking and feeling at every moment, and rather than watch him stalk her we really feel him do it. Adding this layer to an already terrifying subject, gives it a new element which can often be hard to interpret.

Over time, the prejudice around crime or criminals has been something we’ve tried to eliminate as a society. We’ve all heard those horror stories of wrongful convictions based on things like fitting the typical 'criminal profile.' Even worse than that, we hear about cases of unsolved murder chains or cold cases, enabling the convicted to commit many more crimes before actually being cut off.

The media has contributed largely to the way we can understand the nature of crime–especially in the case of horror movies. The internal conflict when watching a very likeable character do unspeakable things and attempt to get away with it or reason with why can often make us stop and think. Shifting away from far fetched things like mass murderers in masks and supernatural spirits dragging people out of their beds at night and more towards real people committing real crimes and backing up how and why makes us aware but also, in a weird sense, almost makes us think we understand.

This can seem scary in theory: why would we want to put ourselves in the shoes of the kinds of people that we’ve always been afraid of? This shift from pining ourselves against the antagonist to actually travelling alongside them can be recognized a lot from the kinds of TV shows, books and movies being released recently, as well as the framing of criminals in media.

For instance,1970s killer, Ted Bundy, is being talked about a lot right now with the recent release of both a documentary mini series and feature film centred telling his story from beginnign to end. Despite the severity of his crimes, there’s a huge emphasis on how handsome and charming he was in both. I mean, Zac Efron was cast to portray this character; it’s clear how he is meant to be perceived and understood.

The documentary attempts to put the spotlight on Bundy not only for the crimes he committed but to give us an understanding of his personality. He is seen as being misunderstood, damaged and troubled. It makes a male lead character out of him and despite the fact his crimes are sickening, it also leaves an audience feeling feeling conflicted. He is a criminal but is he a victim of something else?

Alongside his dazzling personality and good looks, it’s almost hard not to feel some sort of lust for him. And people evidently did. When he was alive, police consistently ruled Bundy out of being convicted based on this impression.

Developing an understanding of infamous people and situations like this might seem like a strange approach, however this encourages awareness that terrifying things don’t always happen the way we might think. There isn’t always substantial evidence, or a bad-stomach-feeling when something sketchy is going on. The idea of a criminal stereotype has died down and rather than claimingthese kinds of portrayals are guilty of romanticizing, we can understand this is a real truth that should not be sheltered. Acknowledge how you feel when watching these shows, and realize your feelings mean something.

Always stay safe, be aware, and don't just automatically trust the next charming person you meet.