ALL WRITTEN AND ARTWORK ARE THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF PSG LOPES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2019.
When I was in college, Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where are you going, where have you been?” haunted me but not in the way you’d imagine. As an undergraduate freshman, I was not a very strong student. I always struggled in all of my classes and even though I enjoyed the art of writing, I was never good with analytical depictions of stories. I was a casual reader, never really delving much into meaning or imagery of a writer’s work. I was reading for entertainment at the time and found analyzing text to be one of the most dreadful experiences of college that I can remember to date.
I realize now as an adult nearing forty, that it was not necessarily that I lacked the skillset to be analytical. What I realized was that I lacked life experience. How can one step in the shoes of an author if that individual has not suffered or experienced anything close to what the author is writing about? I feel that in order for someone to forge an attachment to an author, there has to be a kinship, a shared connection. That’s why we have favorite authors. Sometimes you click with a writer’s work and sometimes you do not. I realize that now and I have since revisited Joyce Carol Oates’ work and have a completely different perspective. Not only can I directly relate to this piece, I saw such similarities to the new Netflix series, “You.”
How? Allow me to explain.
Upon watching “You,” I found the lead character, Joe, to be one of the most fascinating creatures I have ever witnessed since Showtimes’ Dexter. Joe’s complexity and the way he grapples with his consciousness and how he justifies each act of violence is captivating and immensely intriguing. Joe was the true anti-hero. Falsely claiming his acts were those of love and to protect someone from themselves, watching what Penn Badgley’s wonderfully acted character did next was simply enthralling and beyond suspenseful.
When we watch or read something for entertainment, we, the viewer, are trained to view certain individuals as villainous or unsavory. What made “You” so conflicting was that you weren’t exactly sure who to defend or empathize with in this story. Do I empathize with Joe? With Beck? Paco? Ron? Peach? Benji? Mr. Mooney? Dr. Nicky?
I feel that as human beings we will all get to experience what it is like to be slighted in some way. Whether we get fired from our jobs, endure a horrific heartbreak, or experience some other tragic hardship in our lives, internally we cope with these tragedies in our own way. We find healthy coping mechanisms to help us overcome these low points and we eventually move on rising above whatever adversities we are handling at any given point in our lives.
With “You;” however, the anti-hero forces us to think further than this. While watching, we come to terms with our inner darkness—that little piece of us hidden away so far within our psyches, we refuse to allow ourselves to believe it exists. With all of the hardships revealing themselves throughout our lives, we realize that internally, our subconscious minds want resolution. Once resolutions are sought, we wipe our hands clean of that darkness and commence being that holier than thou person we were before the hardship. We continue acting like we are better than everyone else—denying there was any darkness within us at all. We push back that part of ourselves and return it to where it belongs. That dark part is pushed so deep inside—we completely tuck it away neatly in some dusty, cobwebbed compartment in our minds—once resurfaced, and we realize what was done, it becomes too horrific to admit that we’re capable of such evil—but we are capable of it. Every single one of us.
Evil spreads—it’s there latent, waiting for us to call its name and unleash its unholy fury but you must have the stomach for it if you are to survive this darkness. Death is merely symbolic to the vengeance our minds sometimes seek to help justify the pain, the grief, the loss, the injustices our hearts endure in our everyday life.
We are trained to acknowledge that Joe is the true villain of this story. But what about Candace, Beck, Paco, Ron, Peach, Benji, “The Captain,” Mr. Mooney, Blythe, Dr. Nicky, or the rest of the individuals in the story? All of these people are sinners. They are all flawed, and all served as triggers to Joe’s neurotic perception to “clean house” and make the world inhabitable once more.
I found Paco to be the disciple to Joe’s anti-hero persona, a true believer to Joe’s cause. Paco was a blind participant and felt justified to the extremeness of Joe’s actions believing that such actions would quell the chaos, but we realize it is merely the beginning, an opening for all of Pandora’s troubles. Joe’s presence was Christ-like in that he took on the job of judge, jury, and executioner. Candace served as his conscience—appearing as visions to remind him of what he had done in the past. Joe had a destructive pattern and no matter how he justified his actions, there was no way to quell the beast. There was always going to be some event that arose in his life to somehow justify his actions. He would always bear the burden and possess that insatiable need to serve as the sacrifice, the savior that he believed the women in his life needed to make them their best possible selves.
Alternatively, with Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where are you going, where have you been?” you have a young girl, Connie, struggling with who she is and harboring secret resentment over her older sister and overbearing mother. Connie’s mother is always comparing her to her perfect sister and Connie finds it so stifling and suffocating that she often wishes for her own demise or her mother’s just to end the conflict and inner turmoil. She appears to be looking for salvation of some sort as well. The figure in the car telling her, “Gonna get you, baby,” conveys the impression that he may be just the savior she is looking for. Arnold Friend arrives at her doorstep, when her family went without her to a barbecue on a Sunday afternoon, taunting her and repeatedly coaxing her to get in the car with him.
That bitter realization that Arnold Friend was going to get what he wanted and the last fleeting thought she had in her mind before succumbing to his demands to go with him was that she was never going to see her mother again or sleep in her bed ever again. Despite every desperate thought to get rid of this menace, she knew she had no other choice but to go with this mysterious depraved figure. The moment where she finally concedes, the all-too eerie last words Arnold Friend delivers before Connie pushes past that screen door regarding a little girl with blue eyes, even though she had brown eyes, is all the more chilling. It would have been different had this been a traditional victorious story where the hero and heroine walked away into the sunset, but Connie walking into this chilling figure’s arms is unsettling and distressing. The entire scene gave new meaning to the saying, “Be careful what you wish for…” Connie appeared to have made a pact with the devil when she had wished to separate herself from her mother and sister and came face to face with Satan himself when encountering Arnold Friend.
Connie’s case was that of buyer’s remorse and I felt that so much in Beck’s character in Netflix’s “You.” Beck had issues with her father, whereas Connie had issues with her mother and sister. Beck’s lack of fulfillment as a writer stemmed from her lack of acceptance of her father’s abandonment and him starting a new life without her. That abandonment leeched into her social life and she was unable to forge healthy, enduring relationships with them because she was constantly choosing men who were no good for her. Beck was chastised for dating the pauper bookstore clerk. Beck, being an aspiring writer, wanted to believe that she was accepting of all types and forced herself to believe she had a connection with Joe. Beck followed him blindly and allowed herself to be vulnerable and denied the advice of her equally troubled friend, Peach. Upon realization of who Joe really was, Beck knew it was much too late and there was no amount of quick thinking to absolve her of her foolishness in order to save her life.
The same happened with Connie. She wished for separation, for an identity not to be compared to of that of her sister June or her disapproving mother. The alternative; however, was so damning, so salacious, and perverse for someone so young and so unprepared. As soon as she became aware of it, Connie knew of no further solution but to follow Arnold Friend to what would ultimately become her demise.
I have a deep appreciation for these two very distinct pieces of work. “You” captivated my attention from the very beginning and I found an instant connection to Oates’ work.
Has anyone else watched “You” yet on Netflix? I’d love to hear about your own thoughts and theories on the show.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I look forward to hearing from you all!