OPINION: “There is such danger in watching YOU on Netflix while women in Australia are dying.”

This week, many people in Australia are taking part in a web of contradictory and public lies.

One one hand they are actively voicing their concern, outrage, and sorrow over the death of Israeli student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne , who is believed to have been attacked while walking home at night, chatting to her sister on the phone.

They are also tearfully following the abduction and escape of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who was taken from her home after watching her parents be murdered by a man who then kept her imprisoned under his bed.

Also in the thoughts of these same people no doubt is Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon, whose body was found in a suburban park in June 2018 after she was followed home, raped and then murdered.

Of course, these horrific news stories should never leave our minds, just as the names of these women should be forever on our lips, they deserve both our outrage and our continued calls for action.

However, in this same week and adjacent to these events, thousands of people in Australia are also devouring, eagerly discussing and even waxing lyrical about the “thrilling and sexy new stalker drama” YOU on Netflix.

In YOU a seemingly shy and charming bookstore manager named Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley) meets and falls for aspiring writer Guinevere Beck (played by Elizabeth Lail) against the backdrop over everyone’s favourite rom-com city, New York.

After becoming beguiled by her, he proceeds to insert himself into her life in different ways, standing outside her home at night and peering through her window, stealing her phone, following her to cafes and bars and then murdering her ex-boyfriend and best friend all before locking her up beneath his bookstore.

Pretty romantic and compelling content, isn’t it?

netflix show you
Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Elizabeth Lail as Guinevere Beck in YOU. Source: Netflix.

Now, I can already feel the wave of impending eye rolls and exasperated sighs stemming from the majority of people reading these words, all threatening to crash down on me like an indignant tsunami.

How, I hear you all ask, how can you dare to talk about a Netflix show in the same breath as you talk about real women who have been assaulted, stalked and murdered? One is entertainment and one is real life, they shouldn't exist in the same conversation or even in the same thought process.

But the problem here is not with placing these two ideas in the same sentence or even so much with the TV show itself, the issue with YOU is in

The fault is with the consumer as much as with the product itself.

As groundbreaking as we like to think YOU is, it has actually been created using a very tried and tested story formula that has been in place for decades, one designed to make you see a violent and dangerous man as a complicated and intriguing character and the women within his story (HIS story, always) to be flawed, faceless and deserving of some of the things that happen to her.

The way we consume shows like YOU and the characters within them directly plays into how we view the roles of men and women in the real world, whether we are actively aware of that fact or not.

YOU feeds into the idea that it is socially acceptable to see TV shows through one of two lenses.

If a show involves a woman being murdered, raped or assaulted we feel obliged to label them "gritty" and "compelling" but if the show is about female career or friendship they must be passed off as "frothy" and "guilty pleasures".

After all, how will the world know how smart you really are unless you post publicly on social media about how you enjoy crime-themed dramas where a woman (preferably conventionally attractive, partially naked is best) is assaulted and then has her bloodied body dragged across the screen?

There is no doubt that YOU has already been a phenomenal hit for Netflix. In a letter to shareholders this week the streaming service confirmed that the TV show will be streamed in an estimated 40 million homes within its first month.

And while the number of people watching the series is impressive, the conversation around it continues to be alarming.

With the actions of Joe, because he is played by a conventionally attractive actor and is a well-spoken character, viewers of the series have been easily able to romanticise, explain away and even fetishises his actions towards Beck.

It is because we are privy to so much of his inner monologue that we begin to see how his actions make sense, how his controlling behaviour is almost longed for by an audience who see his fascination with her as something they would want for themselves...minus the murder, one would hope.


For context, conversations around Joe tend to go a little like this...

"Yes he followed her home...but he also saved her from being hit by that train."

"Yes he broke into her home...but he also really cares about her and her career."

"Yes he followed her out of town and to a hotel...but he supported her when her dad abandoned her."

In contrast, here's how conversations tend to go when discussing the character of Beck.

"Yes he stood outside her window...but why doesn't she have curtains for God's sake?"

"Yes he stole her phone and used it to manipulate her...but then she calls herself a writer and hardly ever writes, so who is really the liar here?"

"Yes he spied on her in bars and restaurants...but why the hell couldn't she recognise him in that hat?"

"Yes he stalked, manipulated and eventually murdered her...but is she even pretty enough to warrant that level of stalking, what's so special about her?"


The way Beck is depicted in the series is part of a larger issue in pop culture where female characters are seen as interchangeable plot devices that can be tortured or raped in order to either progress a male storyline or to enrich a male character.

This story device is known as "fridging", a term coined by writer Gail Simone for the website Women in Refrigerators created in 1999. It is used to describe scenes where female characters are injured, raped, killed, or depowered solely as a plot device. It stems from a comic book where a hero returns home to find his dead girlfriend's body stuffed in a fridge.

The stalking, assault and ultimate murder of Beck in YOU is done in a way that not only romanticises the actions of Joe, but also seeks to shift the blame from in. A way of thinking that can translate into how we view cases like this in real life.

Take into consideration what we know about the recent case of Jayme Closs, who was kidnapped and held hostage for three months after her alleged abductor spotted her board a school bus.

After clocking her, he then began to meticulously plan how he would abduct and imprison her. He allegedly stole license plates to replace his own, checked out her family home twice, purchased a black ski mask and shaved his head to avoid leaving any hairs at the crime scene, according to police reports.

Now, are you swooning over that, dear Netflix viewer?

Would you find his actions romantic, endearing or thrilling if he, say, had the face of Penn Badgley and you were able to put his actions into context via charming voice overs?

I really hope not.

The reality is, we need to stop romanticising stalking and violence against women on our TV shows if we expect the same to happen in real life.

The TV shows we watch and promote, the books we read and share and the podcasts we devour and revel in may have been created for entertainment purposes and not as a response to reality, but they still matter. They help form the culture we accept, the conversations we have and the world we all live in.

We cannot continue to fan over a TV show that romanticises the actions we are also fighting against.

What are your thoughts on the Netflix series YOU?

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