Social media is fun! Uploading an Instagram story of your latest rooftop excursion is fun! Sharing “some personal news” on Twitter is fun! Simply put, getting likes about the most titillating morsels of your life is fun. But, after the Sunday night premiere of Lifetime’s millennial psycho-thriller You, it’s unlikely anyone will be able to look at social media in the same carefree way ever again.
Because, Guinevere Beck’s (Elizabeth Lail) extremely normal, extremely cavalier internet use is the door that opens her life up to Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a violent stalker wearing the mask of a rom-com leading man. The fact that Joe’s machinations are just so easy is what makes the entire show so terrifying — and that’s the point.
You is co-created by Sera Gamble, who is also behind Syfy’s The Magicians, and Riverdale producer Greg Berlanti. While the pair has been looking for a way to work together since the beginning of the decade, things didn’t fully come together until they decided to investigate just how much technology has wreaked havoc on our privacy with You, an adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name.
“That's something we both were very interested in looking at through the lens of a guy who’s not Mr. Robot,” Gamble told Refinery29 of her writing process with Berlanti. “[Someone] who’s not a super hacker genius, crazy guy. He is much more someone you might bump into in the course of your day.”
That’s the problem for open-hearted, flirty Beck. She does merely, randomly, bump into Joe during the course of her day, and he casually learns her full name. It’s a fact that doesn’t bother her since Joe is a cute New York City bookstore manager, aka a man with the best romantic comedy career possible.
Except that mere hours later, Joe is secretly using an Instagram photo of Beck moving into her apartment to reverse Google image search her home. The photo is so wildly nondescript, anyone would assume it would be impossible to pinpoint its location. Yet within seconds, Joe has Beck's precise address: 171 Bank Street in the West Village. The next morning, unbeknownst to Beck, Joe is standing outside of her apartment, which doesn’t have a single curtain, staring at her as she gets dressed.
Throughout the pilot, Joe goes on to watch the object of his obsession have sex and masturbate, and even breaks into Beck’s apartment with the help of city policy loopholes.
All this horror arises from Joe simply having Beck's full name, haunting determination, and the power of Google at his fingertips. Or, as Gamble put it, “Anything he does on the computer, you could do on the computer. A lot of it is stuff I do actually do.”
As the writer explained, she would certainly Google someone she might date, or even an individual she planned to meet in a business capacity, calling that kind of universal behavior “polite due diligence.” But, Gamble added, “[What’s] the line between that and getting into people’s personal space? It’s easy to sort of trip over in 2018.” Joe, however, doesn’t trip over that line. He runs right over it and steals your iPhone in the process.
Although You will make you question whether social media is the enemy, it also reminds viewers how necessary it is for young women trying to make a living in a world that demands a dominant digital presence, Gamble pointed out. If you pay attention to the posts Joe finds on Beck’s accounts, they all brand her as an academic and yogi living a noteworthy New York lifestyle — which is exactly who she needs to be if she wants a job.
The aspiring poet tweets about going to class, reminding everyone she’s an intellectual getting her MFA. She Instagrams photos of her wealthy, well-connected influencer friends, which is attractive when both the publishing and media industries are obsessed with metrics like a writer’s perspective “digital reach.” She takes selfies of herself teaching yoga, which could hypothetically connect Beck to someone looking for, you know, a yoga teacher.
“Your online life isn’t real — it’s a collage. You pasted this Beck up; this together, lovable, cute little bendy creature,” Joe complains in voiceover during the pilot about Beck’s social media presence, like it’s a bad thing. Yet it’s not — the entire “collage” is a smart move.
“The more I thought about it, the more I got angry about the catch-22 we put on 20something women who are trying to make their way in the world,” Gamble explained of our social media introduction to Beck. “How, essentially, when you’re clever enough to see what is demanded of you for your success, you also might be clever enough to see you might be shamed for doing a lot of it. I wanted to get into that.”
So maybe the internet isn’t a black void that’s going to tell a stalker our apartment number. Maybe it might just get us our dream job instead. But while we wait for that delightful DM, we should all probably go private.
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