Opinion: Netflix and the romanticization o​​​f violence

A viewer watching Netflix. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

What show are you watching on Netflix right now?

This is a common question asked in our generation and, if you’re like me, your answer to this question right now is “You.”

No, I am not actually just watching people. Rather, I have been consumed by Netflix’s newest show “You” which follows the life of a stalker through his perspective.

When I was told to watch “You” I thought I would be watching the typical crime show: stalker tries to stalk and eventually gets caught. However, after watching the first few episodes of “You” I had forgotten that the main character, Joe, played by Penn Badgley, was a stalker.

“You” makes the viewer empathize with Joe. When you’re watching, you find yourself rooting for him and wanting him to get the girl he’s stalking, Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail.

Viewers face the conflict of whether to keep rooting for Joe, even when he murders multiple people in order to get to Beck. It is easy to justify these actions because Joe believes that he is protecting Beck, and the viewer gets consumed in Joe’s point of view.

I was happy to find out that I wasn’t the only person having these conflicting feelings. Badgley had to remind people on Twitter that Joe was a murderer and they shouldn’t be romanticizing him – Badgley tweeted this after some viewers had expressed a desire to be kidnapped and stalked by Joe.

Shortly after watching “You,” I decided to check out another short series that everyone had been talking about – “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.”

“The Ted Bundy Tapes” was uncomfortable and frightening to watch seeing as it is a true story, unlike “You.” This documentary style series was a mix of interviews with people closely related to the cases and, most intriguing, recordings from interviews done with Ted Bundy after he was convicted and sentenced to death.

As with “You,” crazed fans took to Twitter to express their fascination with Ted Bundy – for instance, citing how attractive he is. Tweets expressing how attractive Ted Bundy was were met with a response from Netflix.

I ended my week by watching another trendy Netflix documentary – “Abducted in Plain Sight.” This true story follows the life of Jan Broberg who was kidnapped by her family friend as a small child.

Broberg’s abductor, Robert Berchtold, was their neighbor and close friend. He was a master manipulator who even convinced Broberg’s parents to not press charges after he kidnapped Broberg.

Berchtold crafted a plot in which he convinced Broberg, who was 12 years old at the time, that she had been in contact with aliens and she needed to save the planet by procreating with Berchtold, who was a middle-aged man.

Broberg, who was in love with Berchtold and convinced they needed to be married at the time, eventually realized the manipulation and abuse she had underwent. Other women have come forward and said that Berchtold also abused them.

The question I now ponder after watching these series is whether this is romanticization of violence and if that is a bad thing.

I think that “You” romanticizes violence by inviting the viewer to empathize with Joe, a stalker and a murderer. Joe continually commits heinous crimes but they are overshadowed by the fact that he is supposedly doing it out of love.

“You” also romanticizes violence by showing virtually no consequences for violent actions. When Joe *spoiler alert* kills Beck at the end of “You” he ends up selling her book for profit and has no repercussions for his actions.  

While “You” is just a fictional show, I think it is important to be mindful of how this portrayal of violence affects our minds. Hopefully, no one watching “You” will go out and commit the crimes Joe does, however, continual exposure to the romanticization of violence makes it more acceptable in our minds. If we see relationships portrayed in this way over and over we might become desensitized to it and be more willing to accept these types of behaviors.

I believe that “The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Abducted in Plain Sight” both do a good job of not romanticizing the criminal. These incidents are taken from real life so they might be more likely to be cautious of how they portray the aggressors.

Disclaimer: I would not recommend watching all these shows in the same week as I foolishly decided to do. I have been afraid of being stalked or murdered by a serial killer for weeks now.


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