Recently, Millie Bobby Brown posted on her Instagram story that she was watching the new Netflix show ‘You’; a show in which a book store manager named Joe, played by Penn Badgley (Dan from Gossip Girl) stalks and manipulates a woman all under the distress that he’s in love with her. He does some pretty horrible things include murder people, all in the name of love.
However, Millie seemed to have a different opinion on the situation; ‘So I just started that new show You… He’s not creepy, he’s in love with her and it’s okay… By the way, I know everybody is gonna say ‘Ahhh, he’s a stalker, why would you support that?!’ But like, he’s in love with her… just watch the show and don’t judge me on my opinion.’
She’s not the only person who had that opinion. Penn Badgley himself took to Twitter to remind people thirsting after Joe that he is a stalker, killer and overall terrible person.
It brings up an issue that has been on my mind; are we obsessed with male problematic romantic characters? Have we always let bad behaviour slip through the cracks?
While people on Twitter and other media outlets, such as Teen Vogue, heavily criticised Millie Bobby Brown for her opinion of Joe from You, I could not. Because I, for a very long time, was obsessed with character Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl. In the pilot episode of the show, Chuck attempts to rape the 14-year-old Jenny at a party. And yet me (and the tv show itself, I would like to add) forgets all about this terrible incident when his storyline with Blair and their 6 seasons long on-and-off romantic relationship begins to blossom. We look past all the times when he was an emotionally manipulative, cruel and horrible person (Remember when HE SOLD BLAIR FOR A HOTEL). And yet, I always had excuses for him when people pulled me up on my deep, unabiding love for him. He was hurt emotionally as a child, he was misunderstood. HE HAD LAYERS YOU JUST DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.
The problematic male romantic character, however, seems to have been around for a long time. We have Heathcliff in Wuthering Height who can only be described as an arsehole. In fact, the model Lily Cole made a short film called Balls about the ‘violent, awful character’. In the Notebook, Ryan Gosling’s character threatens to kill himself if Rachel McAdam’s character doesn’t stay with him. And he will likely continue. The movie After, set to be released in Irish cinemas, based on fan-fiction about Harry Styles is about a young woman named Tessa falling for a boy called Hardin who throughout their relationship manipulates, gas-lights and emotional abuses her and is yet is still seen as the great romantic hero of the story, with a massive female audience. While had to predict box office numbers now, with its huge fanbase, it’s set to do well.
When I asked among my friends who was a male character from any genre, tv, movie and literature did they fancy and love the most and Mr Darcy was easily the most common answer. He was all the basic things: rich, hot and brooding. What more could a girl want? However, writer Dolly Alderton makes the point that he was the inventor of negging which are low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances. ‘Him being held up as a romantic hero is a myth which has had a really insidious ripple effect on dating culture right up until now,’ Alderton stated. Maybe she has a point? Because we have continually made excuse for our favourite romantic male characters we have affected our own dating life and how men now interact with women? Our romantic culture must not be taken for granted, it affects everything we do in our lives and perhaps we should immortalize men who never romantic heroes to begin with?
And yet, as always I live in hope of the future. For instance, while the success from Sally Rooney’s novels Normal People and Conversations with Friends has been well earned, having received praise about showing a modern Ireland, a deep understanding of people and all the variations emotions we all feel and a stunning look at love and life. But what is being lost in the mix, is that Sally Rooney has written the 2 male characters that are both vulnerable and maybe in their own right new, modern romantic heroes.
Nick the 32-year-old, b list actor, from Conversations with Friends, is the older man we have all imagined we would have a fling with. He is understanding has seen the world, wonderful in bed. Says all the right things but isn’t abusive. What a concept. And Connell is so understanding to Marianne’s struggle’s and is always trying to look out for her best interests. He also carries deep shame from times he has hurt Marianne and genuinely apologise’s for his actions. The romantic problematic male hero is far from dead but perhaps in the hands of writers like Rooney, they can be made into better people.
By Ailbhe Longmore – Arts & Lifestyle Editor