Romanticizing ‘You’ challenges our current mental health movement

Hey, you. 

If you are reading this, you must be an avid Daily Trojan reader. Or, perhaps you are the spontaneous type, stumbling across this while scrolling through your Twitter feed, enticed by the mention of the Netflix phenomenon “You.” 

In a recent interview with actress Gina Rodriguez, actor Penn Badgley opened up about his portrayal of protagonist Joe Goldberg and commented on the public response to the show, specifically citing the logline on Lifetime as “How far are you willing to go for love?” 

Badgley instead insisted, “To me, it’s ‘how far are we willing to go to forgive an evil white man?’” 

This discussion raises several questions regarding the intersectionality between race and mental health, with the conversation becoming more complex when we consider the public’s romanticization of Goldberg — a mentally ill, probably sociopathic serial killer — as a “hot murderer.” 

Like Badgley has reiterated countless times, these mindsets are not only toxic but also reinforce a twisted logic in an age that strives for equality regardless of race, gender, or able-bodiedness. We must redirect our conversations when considering the intersectionality between mental health and race. How far will we go in overlooking abhorrent behavior to normalize insanity, but also, how far should we go to fully encompass all aspects of the mental health stigma to reduce it?

Looking at the intersectionality between mental illness and race, Goldberg epitomizes the token white sociopath — charming and alluring on the outside, but manipulative and conniving on the inside. Viewers using sex appeal and romantic ideation to permit his devilish behavior is undeniably predictable; it’s not the first time we have seen it happen — it actually parallels the high-profile case of Ted Bundy and his garnering of female fans during his trial back in the 1970s. 

This kind of glamorization, however, does not happen with black men. Instead of being sexualized, they are criminalized.

In fact, black people are 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated in jail than white people. Furthermore, people of color in the criminal justice system are less likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem. After all, the Cook County Jail is also America’s largest psychiatric facility, which shows that our current justice system already innately criminalizes mental illness and consequently worsens mental health stigmas. 

Ultimately, these statistics posit that underrepresented groups are disproportionately affected by stigmas. Because they have less access to mental health services, only about 30 percent of African American adults with a mental illness receive treatment every year while an average of 43 percent of all Americans with a mental illness receive treatment. 

This disparity highlights the intrinsic prejudice in our society that paradigmatically overlooks and undermines marginalized groups, while continually exonerating majority groups. And this is not the only instance where it has complicated a progressive movement for equity. The modern feminist movement, for example, is sharply polarized due to the unique struggles that women of color in America face compared to white women. 

If the public’s reaction and perception to Goldberg can teach us anything, we should learn that stigmatization is multi-faceted and more difficult to dwindle than we previously thought. These social issues do not have one-size fits all solutions, and by ignoring the intersectionality and variation within these movements, we inadvertently perpetuate these stigmas. 

By romanticizing Goldberg, we reinforce the racial dichotomy in mental health conversations and undermine insanity. Because of his whiteness, we look past his state of mind and excuse his otherwise unforgivable behavior. Fundamentally, the way in which we frame a white sociopath warrants the need for a reevaluation of how to approach mental health. 

To destigmatize mental health, we must do more than open up the conversation. Sure, we can continue being cognizant of using phrases like “I’m so OCD” and normalize talking about personal experiences, but we have to expand this to the pervasive trends that counteract these efforts. 

We must address discrepancies, like the inequities in how we characterize insanity and approach them from all angles to understand the systemic reasons for why mental health care is worse in marginalized communities, or why our justice system criminalizes those with mental illnesses, especially people of color. With these refined perspectives, we can move away from problematizing psychological thrillers and work toward having more meaningful conversations. 

In the meantime, let’s continue watching “You” while keeping this in mind. We can get a lot more out of it than a mere scare. 

Matthew Eck is a sophomore writing about culturally relevant social issues.  His column, “The Eck’s Factor,” runs every other Thursday.