Romanticization of Murderers

Most people agree that homicide is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit. The act of taking someone else’s life, especially when it is premeditated, is condemned by American society. Our law system and culture proves that we have no mercy for coldblooded murderers, and do everything in our power to condone this behavior. If this is the case, why then do entertainment productions continue to create films that portray these killers as relatable people? Why do we romanticize these characters who commit homicides when we criticize the same behavior in our society?

The entertainment industry has created a vast variety of productions that portray murderers, for example “Law and Order” is one of the well known series that give a general introduction to how our justice system works. “Law and Order” follows lawyers and prosecutors in the discovery of crimes, as well as other legal processes. On the other hand, “Criminal Minds” takes a different take and focuses on the criminal’s psychological backgrounds and behaviors. Both series have not received much backlash, although they incorporate drama, the public can refer to these productions as educational for how much they correlate with our current criminal law system.

Why is the show “You”, starring Penn Badgley, so different from the ones mentioned above? Is it that bad to show a different side of the killer? As season 4 premiered last week, it got me thinking how much we condemn killers but were romanticizing Joe, the main character. With people expressing how they would love to have a Joe in their life, to go as far as to kill someone in the name of love. We begin to sympathize with the murderer of this series, Joe, by learning of his childhood trauma. As the audience justifies his actions due to the lack of relationship with his parents and the lack of love growing up. Joe demonstrates that there is more to a murderer than just the event of the actual killing taking place, we get to understand everything that goes through his mind during the murder. For the most part this is something that is not easily understood, as we are trained to take a murder as someone who has full intention of actually killing someone. Through Joe we are able to experience a different side, the struggles he faced each time before actually engaging in murder.

Is the entertainment industry slowly introducing us to feel sympathy and compassion for murderers like Joe? Arguably it is just a series for entertainment purposes, but this show definitely displays striking ways to get away with murder. Can this be encouraging murder or even be considered as promoting acts of violence in the name of love?

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2 thoughts on “Romanticization of Murderers

  1. As someone who is an avid horror I naturally watched You. In my opinion this show felt less like a horror and more like a drama, focusing on Joe’s love life, his background, and overall trying to get the audience to fall for him. In most horror movies or shows the murderer’s background can provide and explanation as to why they are committing all these acts. In some cases, however, typically when they are conventionally attractive, the audience uses this as an excuse for their actions. In the case of You, the audience romanticizes Joe and his issues because they find him attractive. This is also the case with Ted Bundy when many people found him attractive and often excused him from what he did. In the 4th season of You, the audience starts to shift away from these feelings of Joe and begins to see him for who he truly is because his mind starts to reflect his actions. We start to see his innermost subconscious and go crazy. The actor who play Joe, Penn Badgley himself has even said publicly that he does not understand this public fascination with Joe because of all the terrible things that he does. It seems in media it can be difficult for viewers to identify the perpetrator with his actions as it is easy to separate them as two different entities especially when we have access to their thoughts, feelings, and past. I am a massive consumer of horror literature, film, and television as it is my favorite genre and I often find myself doing exactly this. Depending how the character is portrayed is exactly how I will feel about them rather than the terrible acts they have committed.

  2. As someone who is a fan of the show, I also find myself rooting for Joe Goldberg despite him being someone I would absolutely despise in real life. I think this goes hand in hand with the idea of separating fiction from reality and if fiction can really have an impact on someone’s thoughts and views in the real world. I’m sure that most people who romanticize Joe in any way only do so because he is fictional, knowing that they would rightfully criticize him if he was an actual person. However, I do believe it’s dangerous territory to garner sympathy from the viewers due to Joe’s traumatic childhood. I find time and time again that people try to excuse the actions of murderers because of the circumstances they may have dealt with in the past. For example, when it comes to many school shooters, I find a lot of Americans try to pinpoint the blame on the perpetrators’ mental health or the fact that they’ve been bullied. While these circumstances may serve as some sort of explanation, they should never be used an excuse. Many people deal with mental health issues and bullying and they don’t go around committing large-scale crimes or even crimes at all, so why should terrible people like school shooters be allowed sympathy because they’ve dealt with it too?

    [spoilers for season 4 below]

    I think with season 4 the show is starting to turn away from having sympathy for Joe/romanticizing him as it seems that they are showing his true “evil,” nature. In the past seasons, Joe can be seen as a caring person due to his role in protecting younger people such as Paco in season 1. In season 4, his student Nadia would have normally filled that role in being someone Joe sees as having to protect, but at the end of the season he gets her jailed by blaming the murder of the guy she was seeing on her. This and other actions of Joe’s in the season have proved to leave a sour taste in viewers’ mouths, and I’ve noticed more and more fans online losing sympathy for him and actually wanting to see his downfall. As well, Penn Badgley himself as said that he doesn’t like the character Joe, so I do believe that the show is more for entertainment and isn’t necessarily meant to make people sympathize with murderers like Joe. Whether someone does or not is more a reflection of their morality and beliefs.

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