If you find yourself rooting for the bad guy, you are not wrong or alone



The villains you know and love

The new season of You came out on Netflix this past February, and I cannot figure out why I even enjoy it. 

Basically, the show features main character Joe Goldberg basically obsessing over women—I’ll spare you the gruesome in-between details—and killing them, pretty brutally in most cases. 

The thing is as you watch it, while you cringe and wince at the murders, you almost feel like you’re rooting for him. 

Joe narrates the show basically through his inner monologue, and he justifies his actions as we hear him speaking. However, another thing to note about You is there is no lack of crazy characters, and it does not end with Joe, so sometimes, it feels like there are no morally good options.

The thing is, as you watch it, while you cringe and wince at the murders, you almost feel like you’re rooting for him.

I noticed my subconscious support of Joe as I watched this recent fourth season, and to avoid spoilers, Joe was put in a life or death solution, and I was rooting for him to escape regardless of the fact that he is a murderer. 

This led me to question how shows get viewers to support the bad guys and why it is such an interesting trope.  

To continue with You as my example, there are a few tactics used to keep the audience “team Joe.” 

For one, Joe isn’t all bad, and I know that sounds crazy, given he is a literal murderer, but try to bear with me. 

The show makes sure to blur the lines between what’s good and bad. He is kind to most people, and most of his rash actions stem from his love—or obsession—for some women, it changes by the season. And, along with that, he does a lot in order to help or do what he sees as protecting, these women. 

In this, they make him the hero and the villain, so when he does something wrong, the viewer validates it because of what else he has done.

Joe also shares a characteristic with most known real-life psychopaths. He is extremely charming, and even when we watch all of the horrible things he has done, it forces us to question ‘Could he even do that?’ when we know firsthand that he did.

As far as villains go, many also classify them as ‘misunderstood,’ which may make them more relatable to viewers than a princess or main character we are made to adore in many movies. Many people tend to find these token happy and good-hearted characters as ditsy, air-headed, or just annoying, so making a character more human, someone who makes mistakes, creates a more genuine and likable character. 

While Joe, the serial killer murderer, is an extreme example of this phenomenon, many characters in Disney films such as Ursula and Maleficent, have committed less extreme crimes and still attract this remorse and following of sorts from viewers. 

We all love a character that feels more like you. And though Joe is, by far, a stretch for most, he represents all of the bad guys we all cheer for in the back of our minds.