‘You’ season three is a portrait of white mediocracy

Joe and Love thrive on privilege and low expectations

Joe is a portrait of straight, white, cis men’s privilege, and Love is his perfect partner.

In the latest season of You, new parents Joe and Love Quinn-Goldberg are as hot and murderous as ever.

Spoilers ahead—obviously.

As the show progresses and the bodies pile up, one might expect viewers to turn on the bookstore manager-turned-clerk-turned-librarian and his equally violent counterpart. Given the number of thirst-Tweets, however, that’s far from the case.

Where Joe is calculated and exploitative, Love is impulsive and rash. They rack up one hell of a body count together in season 3 —and I kind of love them anyway.

The third instalment of the Netflix series finds the newlyweds setting down roots with their son Henry in the tech-obsessed suburban hellscape of Madre Linda, a fictional Northern California neighbourhood for the richest of the rich.

The Quinn-Goldbergs’ neighbours are insufferable, vain, and cruel. They’re the perfect backdrop to make the protagonists all the more likeable.

In the overwhelmingly rich, white space that is Madre Linda, Love and Joe are almost out of their depth when it comes to privilege. Their manic self-heroizing, however, is untouchable.

Throughout You, Joe has benefitted from asserting his morals over the ever-rotating cast of side characters.

In season one, for example, he recognized Beck’s friend as racist and slammed Peach’s parents’ homophobia in his internal monologue. He fails to do the bare minimum in terms of not committing homicide, but he slips just over the bar when it comes to not being the absolute worst white man he could be.

The series harshly satirizes the worst qualities in everyday people to play up the likeability of its most deplorable characters, and it works flawlessly.

The privilege Joe has as an attractive white man is what allows the show to function at all—without his shiny white mediocracy to fall back on, we’d have no reason to root for Joe.

As lead actor Penn Badgley put it to The New York Times, “[i]n a more just society, we would all see Joe as problematic and not be interested in the show. But that’s not the society we live in.”

Joe and Love benefit from their progressive perspectives and white mediocracy. When they mock and criticize the shallow, self-optimizing culture of Madre Linda or call out the ignorance of a friend or neighbour, it makes me like them more, even though it shouldn’t.

If Joe is a portrait of straight, white, cis men’s privilege, then Love is his perfect partner.

Love emulates a lot of what is wrong with white women. Her actions—like murdering a neighbour with an axe and kidnapping her couple friends— may be extreme, but their extremity only hyperbolizes the entitlement and self-righteousness so many white women weaponize.

Love’s brutalizing of their neighbour Gil, an anti-vaxxer whose decision not to vaccinate his children leads little Henry to contract the measles, is justified by his social irresponsibility. Her violence is poised as sympathetic because of the familiar frustration viewers feel towards those who put others at risk by choosing to ignore science and refuse vaccines.

But her actions, aside from being obviously morally wrong, are ultimately self-serving and unproductive.

In Love’s eyes, she’s taken down a dangerous anti-vaxxer—and is maybe even the victim. But her violence makes it obvious to the audience that the action she’s taken is wrong, even if we can understand a piece of her underlying feelings.

Nevertheless, there’s a little part of me that wants to excuse Love’s behaviour not just because it’s fun to root for an anti-hero protagonist, but because she’s playing on that white woman sympathy that emboldens white women to profit off self-serving actions they claim are for the greater good.

White women can have no trouble centering themselves and their experiences to feel superior—and Love is no exception. Gil is an anti-vaxxer and put her son’s health at risk, so Love’s needs trump Gil’s life. Hitting him in the head with a rolling pin didn’t solve the root of the issue—Gil’s family remains unvaccinated—but Love’s personal interests have been served and she took down a social threat, so her work is done.

White viewers should take this season of You as an opportunity to really confront how and why we’re comfortable loving these characters so much. The violence and depravity are at their peak—and so are the hots for Joe and Love.

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