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Why Do We Romanticize Joe Goldberg?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Warning: Spoilers of Seasons 1–3 of You

Joe Goldberg, of the hit Netflix series You, appears to be the perfect sardonically sexy man. Thoughtful, brooding, and bookish—who could resist an “I wolf you” from the man who seems to have invented the idea of loving obsession? 

Season three of You premiered on October 15, depicting Joe’s new life with his wife, Love, and son, Henry. The season has its twists and turns, mainly due to Love’s equally murderous tendencies and the relationship’s fatal themes of adultery. Despite this, we see Joe in a whole new light—he’s a family man now, struggling to hang onto suburban normalcy while tempted by other women and covering up his and his wife’s murderous escapades. 

Despite what we know about Joe from the past two seasons—a tortured man who has journeyed from New York to LA, fleeing a crime scene of his own making each time he finds himself in a relationship—we can’t help but feel for him. Our romanticization of Joe Goldberg is somewhat shame-inducing, but not as abnormal as we think. 

In order to answer why we romanticize Joe, we must analyze his actions outside of his label as a serial killer. Joe’s character, unlike many other serial killers, primarily kills out of love. Whether it’s Benji for Beck, Elijah for Candace, or Ryan for Marienne, we see Joe’s motivation to kill out of sheer protection and adoration. When we look at these murders through a wider lens, it’s apparent that Joe is acting selfishly. But, one facet of You that manages to keep the viewer attached and sympathetic to Joe is his first-person narration. We don’t just assume Joe is killing to finally fulfill his and his lover’s utopian fantasies, we know. We hear it in Penn Badgley’s wittingly charming voice. 

What actors we cast to play serial killers can matter just as much as the characters they play. Like Zac Efron who plays Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, Penn Badgley in You isn’t a total creep like their real-life serial killer counterparts would be. Zac and Penn appear and behave like the perfect boyfriend. This translates onto the characters they play and our perceptions of them. Immediately, our morals are challenged. 

Further, another aspect of our attraction to Joe Goldberg could be hybristophilia, defined as a sexual or romantic interest in those who commit crimes. Psychologists surmise that hybristophilia originates from our savior complexes and desire to heal. And serial killers are perhaps the most alarmingly vulnerable and tortured individuals to exist. All three seasons of You feature flashbacks of Joe’s childhood, showcasing the trauma that led Joe to become a killer. Season three specifically depicts young Joe as a protector, shooting his father who abused his mother. We see the little boy in Joe and fixate on the glaringly wounded parts of him. This can trigger our savior complex and the intrinsic desire to nurture him.

Our attraction to Joe Goldberg is a result of You’s impressive ability to psychologically manipulate its viewers. While our attraction to him has its reasons, I challenge you to question why pop culture thrives off of the sensationalized hot killer trope. Do characters like Joe numb us to the barbarity of violence? Step outside of Joe’s narration and find the sinister, not so sexy side of Netflix’s star killer.  

Sources:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shadow-boxing/201204/women-who-love-serial-killers

https://harpymagazine.com/home-1/2019/5/17/why-are-women-so-infatuated-with-serial-killers

https://www.insider.com/is-joe-from-you-psychopath-mental-health-experts-say-no-2020-1

Zoe Hussain

New School '25

Zoe Hussain is a freshman at Eugene Lang College at The New School. Her ambition in creative and political fields defines Zoe’s experience. As an intern and volunteer with congressional campaigns and voter registration initiatives, Zoe used graphic design to amplify the messages of progressive grassroots movements alongside fellow students and voters. Beyond her mission to inspire widespread social and political change, Zoe incorporates art and fashion into her endeavors. Her experience at Duke University’s Young Writer’s program inspired her literary efforts, giving her the drive to be a part of various creative writing groups and continue sharing her work through spoken word. Zoe is a receiver of two Scholastic Silver Key Awards and 3 Scholastic Honorable Mentions for poetry as well as a recipient of a 2020 Nassau All-County Art Achievement award. In her free time, Zoe enjoys listening to music, drawing, and working towards her goal of creating meaningful dialogue about mental illness, social media ethics, and politics. Contact info: Instagram | zoooeemama Email: [email protected]
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