Netflix's You created a phenomenon for binge-watchers everywhere, sparking a conversation around our societal understanding of what we consider inherently good and evil.

You's first two seasons follow bookstore clerk Joe Goldberg (played by Penn Badgley) as he uses murder as a means to get closer to the women he fixates on. In the latest 10-episode season of the show, viewers follow Joe from New York to California where he ultimately meets Love, the latest woman he sets his mind on. Joe finds himself in another calm, calculated, yet clumsy murder spree as he tries to win her affections.

On the promotional tour for both seasons, and particularly on the tour for this latest release, Badgley discussed his connection (or lack thereof) to his character, who is adored by thousands.

In many interviews, Badgley is refreshingly aware of the white male privilege he shares with Joe. In numerous soundbites from the press run, the 33-year-old actor can be quoted probing the question, "How far will we [as a society] go to forgive a white man?"

1. Calling Out Male Privilege on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he expounds on his point. "How patient and willing to forgive we are [as a society] someone who inhabits a body that inhabits mine, [has] the color of my skin, my gender, these sorts of things, these sort of privileges," he said. "And how less forgiving [we are] of those who don't fit those boxes."

Using many press sit-downs and interviews to raise foundationally similar questions, Badgley is clearly utilizing his platform to bring awareness to these privileges and to further examine ideologies that question society's understanding of love and morality.

When speaking, Badgley is noticeably careful not to support the alarming attraction his fans already have to his character. Fans across social media platforms and live show tapings have displayed an overwhelming attraction not only to Badgley, but his sociopathic and narcissistic Netflix persona. In the Colbert interview, he described his struggle to play such a likable person, especially someone who provokes such a "thirsty" reaction in so many people.

www.youtube.com

2. Responding to "Thirst Tweets" at Buzzfeed

Because of the open affection for Joe, Buzzfeed invited Badgley to read "thirst tweets" from fans. The tweets ranged from lustful declarations to murderous desires. Aside from tweets aimed to ask about the plot of the show or the potential of a season three, Badgley gave quite a few of them short responses and passed on many entirely.

While Badgley makes it clear in repeated interviews that his responses to probing comments may seem tongue-in-cheek or downright snarky, the Gossip Girl actor has a clear discomfort with the open commentary.

The widespread attraction that many viewers feel for Joe brings to mind similar affections targeting the 1970s serial killer, Ted Bundy. Young woman were also unreasonably attracted to his charismatic charm and smile, even during his trial for the murdering of over 30 women across seven states between 1974 and 1978. Then his story was reimagined and romanticized in 2019 when all-American High School Musical star Zac Efron reawakened the allure of the famed killer by playing Bundy in Netflix's Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.

www.youtube.com

3. Killing Off Joe on Entertainment Tonight

Badgley didn't mention Bundy (or other romanticized serial killers, for that matter) in his press run; perhaps he didn't want to offend Zac Efron. On Entertainment Tonight, Badgley was asked what he would like to see happen to Joe, and Penn immediately responded with "death" (which he, of course, laughed off politely).

www.youtube.com

4. Talking Justice on Buzzfeed's AM to DM

During his sit-down with Buzzfeed's talk show AM to DM, Badgley elaborates on his realization that Joe is "irredeemable." He toys with the notion that there needs to be justice in Joe's story but not for the fictional character—more so for "the rest of us in the world." Given Badgley's hope that Joe will receive a fair punishment for his murders (whether it be jail, a mental institution, or death at the hands of a failed conquest), the audience should also feel hopeful that there may be a just ending to this story, which ultimately is a tale of a man using today's advanced technologies to invade women's privacy. As viewers, we deserve to see a righteous end to this technological dystopian nightmare.

Badgley shared that he was constantly conflicted when he was not in front of the camera, even though he was essentially doing his job. "I'm a full puppet," he explained with a laugh. "That is the job of the actor, you're a vessel for these things."

www.youtube.com

Badgley has been more publicly outspoken during his run as Joe than he was during his five-year run on the hit series Gossip Girl. With age, Badgley has become more self-aware and understanding of his position and platform, and he seems to want to utilize it only for the greater good. Performing a fictional, but also realistic, character like Joe gives him the space to share his understanding of morality and justice. While Joe is seemingly difficult to play, hopefully Badgley will find peace in knowing that his performance has sparked difficult conversations about how society views predatory (white) men.

Beyoncé in "Black Is King"

Beyoncé has released Black Is King, and as usual, her work is subtly shifting the world and inspiring millions.

The musical film dropped today on Disney+. It's a visual companion to 2019's The Lion King: The Gift, an album inspired by last year's remake of The Lion King, in which Beyoncé starred as Nala. The moment it released at 12AM PT, fans lost it with excitement.


Black Is King is rooted in Black history. "History is your future," Beyoncé says prophetically toward the beginning. "One day you will meet yourself back where you started, but stronger." The film is studded with references to African history, portraying the lives of African royalty.


Keep Reading Show less
CULTURE

The "Hunger Games" Prequel: Do Awful Men Like President Snow Deserve Our Sympathy?

Why do we keep trying to sympathize with awful men?

Lionsgate

The first excerpt from Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, is now available to read, and the new protagonist might come as a surprise.

You might have guessed the prequel would star Haymitch Abernathy––rebel leader, sole survivor of the 50th Hunger Games, and mentor to Katniss and Peeta from the original novels. Or perhaps Effie Trinket, the eccentric advisor from the capital who, in spite of her position, remains sympathetic to Katniss' plight.

Nope. The story revolves around President Snow, the murderous tyrant who actively oppresses poor people and subjects children to death games as the villain of the first three books. Except now he's just Coriolanus Snow who is, as Entertainment Weekly puts it: "A teenager born to privilege but searching for something more, a far cry from the man we know he will become. Here, he's friendly. He's charming. And, for now anyway, he's a hero."

Hunger Games Prequel Scholastic

Ah, yes, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is set to be everyone's favorite kind of story––an attempt to make us sympathize with an awful man who murders people.

Of course, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is hardly the first narrative to cast an awful person––who almost always happens to be a white man––in a sympathetic light. These proverbial "Awful Men" stories include television series like You and movies like Todd Phillips' Joker. But however critically acclaimed any of these stories are on an individual basis (and some of them are, indeed, very good), the media landscape is oversaturated with them, which begs the question: Why do we keep trying to sympathize with awful men?

In his 2014 book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, author Brett Martin posits that series like The Sopranos and Mad Men provide a "compensatory wish fulfillment" for middle-aged men. Joker, too, could easily be viewed as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for young men who feel misunderstood by society at-large.

But The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes isn't geared towards middle-aged men. The primary demographic of YA literature is 12 to 18-year-olds, many of them girls. Moreover, Suzanne Collins is a woman, as is You showrunner Sera Gamble. You goes so far as presenting its main character, stalker and murderer Joe Goldberg, as both sympathetic and sexually attractive. As such, there's strong evidence that our cultural obsession with "Awful Men" runs much deeper than just male power fantasies.

Joe Goldberg You Netflix

Perhaps our obsession with "Awful Men" is almost like a collective form of Stockholm Syndrome. From abusive partners to rapists (1-in-6 women will statistically be the victim of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives) to the president of the United States (who has "allegedly" assaulted at least a few women, too), it's almost impossible to find a person who doesn't have an "Awful Man" story of their own. Whether their "Awful Men" are sexual predators, wannabe dictators, or just a run-of-the-mill angry man in your inbox, in real life "Awful Men" are a genuine epidemic. Naturally, empathetic people want to understand why awful people do the things they do.

But at some point, we need to ask ourselves if the origin stories behind "Awful Men" actually matter to us, and more importantly, why we're so willing to waste our time consuming content that paints them in a sympathetic light. After all, understanding why awful people do bad things does not make them any less awful. It doesn't matter if they're awful because of unchecked depression or an abusive childhood or ambitions gone awry. The truth is that plenty of people have perfectly valid reasons to be bitter or angry or miserable, but still don't end up awful.

For instance, if we posit that a significant percentage of "Awful Men" are awful because of unchecked depression (a la Joker), then we have to wonder why depression is twice as common in women than men and yet school shooters, rapists, and murderers are overwhelmingly male. Why do we feel such a strong need to sympathize with the people who commit such horrific acts? Why do we, as a culture, continue to fictionalize and editorialize "Awful Men" into "understandable" circumstances? Is this act, in some capacity, an attempt to excuse and justify the negative behaviors of the "Less Awful Men" in our lives––the ones who are awful, sure, but not so awful? Or what if, at the end of the day, these "Less Awful Men" don't deserve our sympathy either?

Ultimately, Suzanne Collins can write whatever she wants. If she wants to dig deep into President Snow's roots to justify why he thinks it's okay to murder children and wage class warfare, that's her prerogative. But wasting your hours reading it... Well, that's on you. Besides, if you want to spend hours consuming stories about unlikeable but still sympathetic people, you're better off reading My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. You'll still get all the intense socio-psychological machinations, just minus the "casting a guy who murders children and engineers class warfare in a positive light."