Is You’s Joe Goldberg Based on a Real Serial Killer?

Netflix’s ‘You’ is the story of a man whose search for love leads him down a very dangerous path. Joe Goldberg is the protagonist of the story. All he wants is to find the perfect woman for himself and settle down to live a peaceful life. Every time he finds one, he does everything in his power to make them happy, removing obstacles and the people he deems nefarious in their lives. However, by the end of the story, he turns out to be the one most lethal to them. In every season, we find Joe trying to find his happiness, but ending up destroying the lives of the women he falls for as well as of the people around them. The show presents his story in such a realistic manner that one is forced to reconsider the definition of “the good guy” and wonder if someone like this could exist in real life. Here’s what you need to know.

Is Joe Goldberg Based on a Real Person?

No, Joe Goldberg is not based on a real serial killer. He is a fictional character who was originally written by Caroline Kepnes for her book ‘You’, which serves as the source material for the show. While Joe has become one of the most notorious fictional serial killers on television, Kepnes initially didn’t conceive as such. She made him in the image of a guy who “feels like he has really bad luck” and has a “holier than thou” attitude which makes him think that all the blood on his hands is justified. It wasn’t until much later that it was brought to her notice that Joe checked off all the boxes that one needs to qualify for being a serial killer.

The idea to create Joe came to Kepnes from the rom-com movies she devoured while going through a rough patch in her life. After watching a bunch of them, she realized that there was a pattern to them which included, but was not limited to, the guy relentlessly pursuing the girl which would be considered stalking in real life. “Essentially what she’s [Kepnes] done is taken the classic romantic hero and just peeled back the gloss and sheen and John Cusack with the boom box and she followed it to its logical conclusion. I mean, if you turn off the sappy music and turn on a David Fincher score, romantic comedies are stalker movies,” said Sera Gamble, who co-developed the series.

Kepnes wanted Joe to be a likable character on the surface, one that would appear appealing to women. For this trait, she turned to other literary serial killers and narcissists for inspiration. She revealed that Bret Easton Ellis’ ‘American Psycho’ influenced her work the most as much like what happens in ‘You’, the audience gets to see the entire story play out from the perspective of Patrick Bateman. The monologue is the common ground between them. Kepnes also mentioned Hannibal Lecter from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and Arnold Friend from Joyce Carol Oates’ ‘Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?’ as the characters who helped her develop some elements of Joe’s personality.

With Joe living in contemporary times, Kepnes also made the point of the role that social media plays in making it easy for stalkers to follow their prey. Apart from that, she also wanted to make people question the image of this seemingly good guy who has violent thoughts brewing in his head and how this facade can also be used to gaslight the victims, as Joe often does to the women he kills.

“That was my whole drive for doing this. How did these men get through the day? How does it work in their head? I feel like our culture overall is very hard on women who love the wrong men, but strangely not as hard on the men for being wrong. I think it’s because the assumption is that he’s a monster and you should have gotten away,” Kepnes revealed. With all this in mind, it is clear that while the author might not have based Joe Goldberg on any real-life serial killers, she used him and the story to reflect some very real dangers lurking in today’s society and how easy it can be for people like Joe to get away with bad things.

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