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You and Clickbait on Netflix prove the pull of online stalking and cyber crime

In an age where online human behaviour often overlaps with stalking, shows like You and Clickbait find a steadfast audience.

Archita Kashyap
Nov 16, 2021
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The online stalker is a common scare today. While stalking, often for the sake of love, has been a common and criticised trope in Hindi films and television, it has always manifested as wrong or evil in Hollywood films, television and international cinema. But this has changed with the influx of streaming content. Stories about online stalking, cyber crime, identity theft, and behaviour that merges in similar grey areas in present times, have begun to get huge audiences. You and Clickbait (on Netflix) prove this argument clearly.

Starring Pen Badgley as Joe Goldberg and Victoria Pedretti as Love Quinn, the third season of You is the most watched Netflix original in history, foregrounding its worldwide popularity. It opened to lukewarm reviews in the United States and the UK but that didn’t seem to affect its numbers with viewers. You topped Netflix viewership for nearly a month in the US. It has featured among ‘trending’ shows in India for longer than that. For a series that builds its entire premise on creepy behaviour and the inner monologue of an online stalker with violent tendencies, its success proves the universal appeal of stories that tackle the form human behaviour takes online. Perhaps it is this connect with real experiences of millennial and Gen-Z viewers that works for You, as dates, meetups and relationships begin and flourish online for the youth today.

The show uses unreliable narrators to develop its plot. Joe Goldberg, the lead character of You, observes, reacts and contemplates every little detail about the women that he obsessively falls for; he finds out about their daily movements, friends, social life, personal details through their social media and online footprint. Season 1 plays out in literary and academic circles of upstate New York, offering ample room for his monologue to elicit sympathy and shared responses to the overt behaviour of people who walk in and out of his life. 

In season 2, this conversation — with those that prefer ‘normal’ lives to uber sustainability driven, hyper organic and wildly expensive bubble gum existences of the affluent in Los Angeles — evokes a similar sense of sympathy. He might be a cold-blooded murderer, but he speaks the truth and spells out the most obvious details about annoyingly self-involved, myopic millennials. In Season 3, they move to superficial suburban bliss, dominated by hyper-conscious neighbours and the boredom of a static life. A murderer and online stalker that can blend in a crowd with ease, Joe Goldberg doesn’t always come across as ‘dangerous’ and cold-blooded. Instead, this series’ big victory is in its ability to make the audience relate to Joe and his perverse needs for online voyeurism.

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Clickbait, also on Netflix, follows a similar concept. Like You, the series was panned by critics. However, according to a Neilsen report, it is amongst the most watched series on Netflix across the US and global markets. In this series, the wife and sister of a man discover secrets about him after he gets kidnapped and becomes ‘clickbait’ for a murder online. It culminates as a cautionary tale to everyone about being careless with devices, social media passwords and personal data. 

Both these shows resonated with a large section of viewers, despite the lack of star actors (with the exception of Adrian Grenier) or showrunners. Clickbait builds its story through a multiple-person narrative in the beginning and climaxes to an uncomfortable reveal. While the climax makes you wonder if human beings can actually create sustained damage on another’s life with some cyber ‘fiddling’, the extent of harm it can cause is evident from the bevy of news around passionate cyber crimes and identity theft.

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The success that both these shows have found has precedence in similar content.

Searching, by Aneesh Chengati, is a popular indie film (Netflix in India). The story is about a daughter who goes missing which prompts a desperate search by her father. While tracking her movements, he discovers many details about her online persona.

The film smartly brings to focus the ease with which one can fool one’s own family by tweaking details that can build an alternate personality online.

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Historically, western cinema has shown stalkers as purely negative people. Films like Taxi Driver (1976), Enough (2002), Girl on the Train (2016) show how bad stalking can get- both for the stalker and for those that they gets obsessed by. With social media keeping a record of every detail of our lives, behaviour that can be demarcated as cyber stalking, or ‘following’ can overlap. Interest in stories that explore a range of social behaviour today is also growing. You and Clickbait highlight this side of cyber stalking in a dramatic, thrilling story format. They also open avenues for future stories to be told in this space.


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