Why do we fantasize about psychopaths on the shows?

“Admit that you too, you found something in Joe for him?” Well, yes, I recognize it. Like many fans of the series You on Netflix, I felt empathy for Penn Badgley, aka Joe Goldberg. He is attractive, endearing, and romantic. But he is also and above all a psychopath. So why have thousands of young women, like me, fantasized about him?

Compliments are rife on social media, even calling Joe Goldberg a “sexy” as he embodies a neurotic, paranoid, murderous man, ready to do anything to keep the woman he loves. He is obsessed with Guinevere Beck, future writer – and again, the word is weak. We should rather say totally obsessed with the young woman. An obsession that drives him to kill. It’s chilling, right? Obviously not for everyone.

How to justify the unjustifiable?

Thousands of people have managed to justify Joe Goldberg’s behavior on the grounds that he would “only” kill people he deems harmful to his sweetheart. A little like dexter: forensic expert by day, serial killer by night. At the time, nobody wanted him to get caught by the police, because he only killed murderers. The fantasy and the myth were therefore the same for Dexter as for Joe: their motivations appear to be justifiable. Joe wants to protect Beck at all costs. “The paranoiac, often, explains his hold on a person by the fact that he seeks to protect him. This is called erotomania, the delusional conviction of being loved.details the psychoanalyst Michael Stora. The passion to excuse the atrocity.

It also happens that extenuating circumstances are found for him: he is an orphan; he was abused and often locked in a glass cage by his adoptive father. He was cheated on by an ex-girlfriend, which would suggest that his jealousy is now more easily triggered or even exacerbated.

Dexter is played by actor Michael C. Hall.

A beautiful voice and a beautiful face

Also in the case of You, the series is so well put together and staged that empathy seems almost natural. Joe, in a suave tone, comments and absolves his own actions: “She voiceover enables the viewer to justify the unjustifiable. It’s Joe’s beauty, his sensitivity, his suffering that can make the character endearing., explains Michael Stora. Thanks also to Penn Badgley’s advantageous physique, because beyond the endearing character of the character, the attributes of the actor play a lot in his favour.

The handsome brunette capsizes hearts, like Ted Bundy, the one who killed more than thirty women, in the United States, in the 1970s. Charming in appearance, the serial killer fascinates so much that he even played with the media to convince of his innocence. Nod to the cameras, marriage proposal during his trial, Bundy plays on his playboy physique to seduce the crowds. A documentary recently released by Netflix has generated such enthusiasm that the streaming platform had to reframe some fans.

If serial killers and/or psychopaths were ugly, would the same fascination with them exist? “The next door neighbor” is not expected to be a serial killer. We think of the killers as ugly, mean, hideous… If one of them is beautiful, we will say to ourselves that he cannot really be a monster and therefore cannot really commit monstrous acts.Explain Emily Tibbatts, author and specialist in serial killers. Beauty appears to be stronger than the dangerous nature of the characters. This was also the case for Hannibal Lecterthe famous cannibal is judged as “touching” and “charismatic”.

Charisma and beauty would therefore be the keys to making unbalanced people attractive? The proof, Zac Efron is the future Ted Bundy of the big screens. “The choice of Efron to play this killer is a message in itself, we are above all interested in the ‘handsome man’ side of this killer”, Determines Emily Tibbatts. But the cast and the trailer are not unanimous. The actor is deemed too handsome and his role too cool, bordering on glorification. “In a series, the hero, even if he is a killer, is often handsome, intelligent, with a part of crack in him and a story in which everyone can recognize themselves and become attached. And even in the case where a fiction is taken from reality, it is fictionalized, we will add components to it, remove others so that as many people as possible can appropriate it and put themselves in the place of the executioner »recalls the university and blogger Isabel Girard.

Zac Efron at the Sundance festival in January 2019. | Rich Polk / AFP

What does it say about us?

“The loving and passionate dimension of the relationship he has with Guinevere Beck gives Joe legitimacy, especially in the eyes of teenage girls”, explains Michael Stora. For the psychoanalyst, in the context of You, it is the young women who are most likely to fantasize about the seductive Joe Goldberg because “teens are often torn between love and death”. This period of transition and identity changes, between childhood and adulthood, is marked by a loss of bearings and a whole series of questions. It accentuates the psychopathological vulnerability of young people. Risky behaviors are therefore more conducive, for example 7.8% of young people have already attempted suicide. The relationship to death appears increasingly derisory and less shocking for adolescents, especially when it happens through screens.

Other young people will be able to identify with Joe, who suffered a painful adolescence marked by rejection and loneliness. 74.5% of girls and 57.6% of boys prefer isolation as a “method of struggle” when they feel bad. Clearly, if you are still a teenager, it seems almost understandable to feel compassion for Joe, who himself had a bad time in his adolescence, and can therefore potentially relate to your story. “II often thought that we liked to identify with characters who allowed themselves what we wouldn’t allow ourselves. We enjoy stepping into the shoes of someone nasty”adds Laurie Hawkes.

“By escaping evil, one finally reassures oneself of one’s own normality, especially in a society where it is important to distinguish oneself from one’s ‘animal’ side”

Our culture is based on the fight of good against evil. If evil fascinates us it is because it represents the forbidden. “It’s a catharsis that allows you to unleash your impulses without brake”, summarizes the academic Isabel Girard. According to her, man is fascinated because he is taken to the dark confines of human reason, where his values, his humanism and his ideals are undermined. That’s what the criminology professor Alain Bauer would call the “deep me”of pure consciousness where “the innate and the acquired merge”. “Evil is a constituent element of the human that we fight through education and culture, but which attracts us permanently”he explains.

This attraction would thus rest on the dark depths of consciousness, where moral codes appear very different from those of today’s society, where guilt does not exist. “By escaping evil, one finally reassures oneself about one’s own normality, especially in a society where it is important to distinguish oneself from one’s purely instinctive and irrational “animal” side and from one’s unmoderated primary instinct”, concludes Isabel Girard. She would describe the serial killer as “a kind of negative superhero who often represents, in the collective imagination, strength, power, cunning, and chaos. It is a vector of excitement and attraction..

Of the screen and the real

Feelings that might explain why many women, fascinated by killers like Ted Bundy, marry them when they are in prison. For Emily Tibbats, there are several types of women who are capable of marrying serial killers: they can be manipulated, have psychological problems, or they are perverts suffering from hybristophilia syndrome: “Sf such a woman meets a criminal and he gets out of prison, there is a good chance she will join him in committing crimes up to and including murder, as was the case with Monica Olivier with Michel Fourniret.»

This fascination for this type of criminal is therefore not based on the same psychological springs. “On television, if an image shocks us, we just have to turn our heads, pause and move on. In reality, faced with a serial killer, none of this is possible, it is the full and complete raw truth with all that it entails: suffering, torture, and death at the end that arises . It is not romanticized, nor watered down like on Netflix”, explains Isabel Girard. Michel Fourniret, or even Emile Louis, are not imaginary constructions that represent the forbidden, they are very real and bring up psychological problems.

For the characters of Netflix, our compassion can also be explained otherwise. “We are like the children who have always liked to be told stories of witches, wolves and monsters, but snug in their beds, with mum and dad right next to them. These stories allow us to project our fears and emotions, and therefore to protect ourselves from them. We fantasize about the villain, because it reassures us since he is ultimately distant, imaginary, metaphorical. In any case, this is the opinion of Emily Tibbatts. So whether it was for Joe or Dexter, empathy and fascination would only exist far behind a screen, the locked door. Having this type of feeling, for this type of character, would therefore not make us weird people.

Why do we fantasize about psychopaths on the shows?