Why are antiheroes so attractive?


Recently, Netflix launched the second season of their hit-thriller series 'You'. Maybe you're binge-watching the season right now, or you have sat through all ten episodes already (like me). The show is about Joe Goldberg, who is a psychopath with an unhealthy obsession for his love interest. There are a lot of enthusiastic reviews written about the series, but there's also a lot of criticism about how the show portrays problematic behaviour like stalking and intimidation and how Joe’s character influences the viewers. Even though he goes around obsessively stalking girls and murdering people 'out of love', a lot of fans tend to be heavily attracted to him. But how does this work? Is it solely his looks, or are there more things that make him so likeable? If we do our research, there are actually lots of comparable cases: let’s dive in!

Joe Goldberg in 'You'

There are a lot of factors that come into play, but there are two main points we can look at. For the biggest part, it is about justifying actions in a way that makes them acceptable for viewers. When we're talking about Joe Goldberg, his actions are justified because he does it 'out of love' or for the love of his life. Besides that, he has a very likeable personality apart from the murdering and stalking. He helps his neighbour and cares deeply for other characters. You can also sympathize with him because of his traumatic past.  Another peculiar case, for example, is Rico's Vleugels (Rico's wings) by Dutch writer Rascha Peper. It's about an old man with dementia abusing a 14-year old. How terrifying or creepy his actions may be, in the book they are justified because he is old, lonely and sick. The reader can sympathize with him, because he is an old, sad man in the first place.

There is also a certain phenomenon called hybristophilia, where people are attracted to others committing heavy crimes. This is also known as the bonnie and clyde syndrome. There are a few identified causes: Some people believe that they can change the cruel people into ‘normal’ people, or that they can have a positive influence on them so they will better their life. Close to this cause is when people see the little boy or girl that the cruel person once was and they want to care for that ‘inner personality’. Apparently, it’s often the case that these people with hybristophilia see a different personality behind the psychopath or villain or they want to believe they have a softer personality somewhere inside of them. This syndrome also works for real life cases. Ted Bundy, for example, had a lot of admirers who would even send him nude pictures or beg him to murder them (which is, of course, an extreme case). Or think of Charles Manson, serial killer and cult leader of the Manson family. Even though he heavily abused and murdered people, heh ad tons of fans, followers and groupies. In these cases, it's also common that the 'fans' personlly justify the actions for themselves. They are often attracted to these man because their personalities, or at least the ways in which they present themselves, are not like typical serial killers. In these cases they're charismatic, intelligent men with a good education; which, for their followers at least, weighs up against their actions.

Charles Manson and his 'Manson girls'

So: A villain, psychopath, serial killer, murderous person or any other crazy personality can become attractive if his or her actions are justified in any way possible, that makes them acceptable to others. This justification can be anything from love, to a need to survive or personal problems or suffering. And next to that, but especially for extreme cases and real life cases the bonnie and clyde syndrome comes into play

Another important thing to note when it comes to fiction is that it is not real. Of course you wouldn’t normally be attracted to a serial killer or murderous villain. But because the character is not real, you can allow yourself to fantasize a little. Not everyone thinks the same about these characters, because some are more sensitive to these situations than others. But don't be ashamed of yourself if you're attracted to a Joe Goldberg or an Edward Cullen, because these movies or films are made to be like this and there are lots of others thinking the same way.

Ted Bundy and his admirers in court