Obsessive Phenomena: 'You' and 'Dirty John'

Two things that the entertainment industry is currently obsessed with are the Lifetime-turned-Netflix show "Youand Bravo’s one-time docu-series "Dirty John." They’re both shows about…well, obsessions. 

Beyond being terrifying thrillers with dangerous leading men, the similarities and differences between these two series don’t end there.

Spoiler alert: the rest of this article is going to dive into the captivating and impressionable characters that have made these shows the phenomena that they are.

The Assailants

"You" is narrated by Joe Goldberg, a manager of a bookstore who becomes obsessed as he falls in love with a writer who walks into the store one day. It’s hard to miss that there is something amiss with our narrator as he shares how he met Guinevere Beck. As a viewer, it does not take long to figure out that he has gotten away with murder before this story starts.

The title of "Dirty John" comes from a nickname that John Meehan received from classmates while in law school, which he failed out of. When he meets Debra Newell, he tells her that he’s a doctor. The reality is that he just got out of jail two days before meeting her in person. They made contact on a dating site on the day of his release.

Other than the alliteration of their names, Joe and John share similar characteristics. Neither one understands the concept of family. Joe’s parents left him and never came back, leaving the original owner of the bookstore to raise him. John never forgave his mother for cheating on his father, who taught John how to exploit people and the system. Their obsessive natures don’t show through to their victims until their possessiveness comes to light. When both of their relationships start, Peach didn’t approve of Joe, and Debra’s family didn’t like how they were treated once John was in the picture. No one should romanticize these traits, or they may end up as a victim as well.

The Victims

Guinevere Beck is an MFA student who meets Joe when she is looking for a book. She falls into his arms when he saves her from dying on subway tracks. It’s a bit exaggerated, but her daddy issues play a role in her seeing Joe as her hero. That’s also the role that Joe has cast himself in this twisted love story. 

Ambrosia Home is the name of the interior design company that Debra Newell built up from the ground. With a few daughters and four divorces in her past, Debra turned to online dating to find love. That’s how she met John Meehan, who joined the website the day he got out of jail. Below the surface of this story is the darker one, where Debra’s older sister Cindi died at the hands of her husband while they were filing for divorce. 

Both women fell for the wrong man, but have more in common than that. Obviously, they are ambitious women. They both also turned to mental health professionals once they experienced problems with their relationships. In neither scenario did these professionals really help these women. Beck and Debra also both became victims after getting out of bad relationships. Debra divorced a man who made her question her worth. Beck was seeing a boy named Benji intent on playing games and couldn’t commit. It’s no wonder these women fell for men like Joe and John afterward. At least these assailants made them feel like wanted, desired women. 

"You" and "Dirty John" are both romanticized cautionary tales. Luckily for Beck, "You" is a work of entirely crafted fiction, so no one actually dies. On the other hand, "Dirty John" is not a work of fiction. It is based on articles written by Christopher Goffard. Debra Newell is a real-life victim, and she’s very fortunate that she and her daughters survived John Meehan. John Meehan's fate was not so fortunate.

After watching both of these shows, I'll take my luck and stay home with my wine—no strange men necessary. 

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