I was actually going to call this article Joe Goldberg versus other YA love interest. But as I kept thinking about it… the problem with toxic relationships isn’t only about Young Adult. I could name numerous male hero’s in adult fiction that get on my “don’t date, something is off with this guy radar”. So let’s not narrow it down.
The Netflix series You, based on the wonderful book you written by Caroline Kepnes has exploded and become a hit series. All over the world woman are drooling over Joe Goldberg. It has gone so far that actor Pen Badgley, who plays Joe has commented on the messages he gets from fans of the series as being unhealthy. Even psychologists and criminologists have bowed over the popularity of Joe Goldberg and his effect on woman.
I have followed these articles and videos with quite some interest, because as readers of my blog might now, I absolutely adore Joe Goldberg after finishing You and Hidden Bodies years ago. But before diving further into the essence of this post, I want to get something quite right.
Why I love Joe Goldberg
I am a sucker for a good villain story. Fairy-tale retelling from the villain, I am there for it! I indulge myself now and again in non fiction books about serial killers and I love true crime on Netflix. (Making a murderer, Ted Bundy…. I just devour them all!) I am intrigued by bad guys. Their motives, their way of thinking… it is just so incredibly interesting. No matter how toxic.
Apart from that Joe is brilliantly written. All the characters, especially female lead Beck are written as very morally grey characters. I remember absolutely loathing Beck in the book. (In the series I grew a little more fond of her.) Take Peaches, the best friend… safe to say she is not mentally stable herself. Or that awful dude Beck is sleeping around with…. You get my point. A story filled with loathsome characters.
And then in comes Joe, the actual psychopath in the story. But he is written as this considering, friendly boy next door which makes him the least loathsome character of the bunch. That is… if you are willing to forget that he is a creepy stalker who murders people to get what he wants. But he is so charismatic, that as a reader you get pulled in by him. Just like Beck….
In the series he is even more dangerous. Because he isn’t just the polite, fun loving, charismatic boy next door… No he is played by a very attractive male specimen… Which makes the viewer even more compelled to like Joe. If he would have been played by a homeless, unattractive dude who looks like he slept under a bridge for seven weeks people would be screaming bloody murder… But not with Joe, because look how sexy, attentive and sweet he is. (When he is not stealing your panties or stalking your Facebook that is…)
So yes, I get the allure of Joe Goldberg. I was drawn in myself and for me the most powerful aspect of the book is the fact that you are hoping for a happy ending for Joe. Even knowing that you are cheer-leading for a creepy disturbed lunatic! And that is the difference between me and some of the other ladies out there on the world wide web. I love Joe as the bad guy… but boy is he a dangerous fellow!
Woman and disturbing men
With Joe it is very easy to say he is a crazy sociopath. I mean he kills, he stalks, he hurts, he lies…. It doesn’t take a scientist to know Joe is trouble. But what is it with all these woman falling for a guy who is clearly toxic? Well… let’s be honest here guys, doesn’t he remind you of some bookish boyfriends we all used to love?
Let’s start of with one of the most iconic Young Adult love interest of all times. The boy woman of my generation grew up with and fell in love with. I am just going to say it Edward Cullen. Sexy, mysterious vampire Edward Cullen who waited hundreds of years to find his true love in Bella. Girls all around the world would be sighing when he came on the screen. Books were closed with happy looks because “he is so perfect”. Is he girls? Is he really? Do you want to spend your life with a man who breaks into your room at night and watches you sleeping, without you knowing? Is that really what you find romantic? Or what about a man who reads the thoughts of all your friends and acts upon what he reads. Let’s be real is this so different to what Joe does? I mean… Joe isn’t some thousand year old vampire who is able to read your mind. He has to read your facebook.
Another male specimen that lots of woman wanted between their sheets…. the rich and sexy Mr Christian Grey. All around the world woman were enchanted with the wicked games Christian Grey played. Nothing wrong with some kinky sex, especially if it is between two consenting adults…I am not going into all the details of the consenting sex… because we would be here for a while. But again lets be completely honest… Is what Christian does so much different than what Joe does? Micromanaging Anna’s life, shadowing her, investigating her friend, threatening her friends, tracking her phone…. Sounds a lot like stalking isn’t it.
Not believing me? Well, what would you say if your best friend told you she met a guy. A really sexy guy. Two days later he turns up at her door. Did she give him the address? No, she didn’t. But hey, let’s not forget, he is really hot. So she has sex with him and at he certain point she asks him to stop. She even kicks him in her attempt to stop in. Does he stop? No, he keeps on going… Would you say go for it girl, this is the love of your life. No, you will tell her to run for her life for crying out loud!
Now I have only mentioned the two most iconic toxic male leads of the last years. But if you want I can keep on going…. I didn’t go into classics but think Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Or Travis from Beautiful Disaster. And to not only stay with men… because boys aren’t always bad, Celeste from Tampa.
So Joe you say…
This blog post isn’t about “proving” that Joe is a good guy. He is a very bad guy. Bad news… trouble…. There is no excuse for his behavior and if Joe was a real person he would need to get help. What I am trying to say is that the character of Joe can be seen in very different ways.
He is clearly the bad guy.(Lets forget for a second about all those woman who are calling him a man looking for real love. Those are woman with issues…) No-one in his right mind will read You and say “That Joe, what a lovely guy. I wish my boyfriend / husband would be just like him.” Even if you sympathize with him in the story there is still a voice in your head shouting “YOU KNOW HE IS A SICKO!!!!” But where is that voice when it comes to all those other toxic hero’s in novels. Why is it harder to see that all the Christians and Edwards in the world have problems. Why is it socially accepted that a boy breaking into your room to stare at you at night is considered romantic, but a guy steeling your panties and keeping it in a box is creepy? It is the same toxic behavior!
On the other hand Joe is romanticized all over social media… Woman are idolizing him and giving him love sick puppy looks. Is it because they are conditioned to love toxic hero’s?