My wife and I have been watching the television show, YOU, for the past few weeks, creeping out on the storyline. Besides shouting at the television for all the narrative holes in the plot (there are many) and for characters not seeing the obvious, it’s been sort of fascinating to watch how social media is baked into the fabric of the show of obsession.
This isn’t the first television show to necessarily do this — use social media and technology as a key storytelling device — (see Black Mirror for other examples) but YOU utilizes it so well for telling the story over an entire season — for the obsessive surveillance of one character over another (usually Joe watching Beck but sometimes Beck watching Joe); for a character who is a social media influencer, as her job; for creating fake accounts to create a false reality; for ghosting people and people worried about being ghosted; for tracking people down through bits of information; and more.
As You is situated in modern day New York City, it explores the dangers of social media culture with an emphasis on a lack of digital privacy.
Mobile phones for these young adults living in New York City are never far away from any character in the show, and when one character – Beck, a writer, of all things, who’s at the heart of Joe’s obsession — has her devices and apps and router all shut off by a colleague so she can actually write, the cold-turkey-syndrome of being so bored we see her pacing her apartment, doing all sorts of things (other than writing, alas) before finally giving in and booting up her router.
This might be you. Or me.
Television has long been a window on culture, if often slightly warped by narrative design. YOU is one of those shows, reflecting our desire to be connected to the stories of others and to project our own version of stories for others to read. YOU also shows us the surveillance state we have allowed ourselves to be part of, where tracking the histories and present of another is often as simple as following accounts, where we openly and freely share lots of information.
YOU uses this digital connection to creep us out with how the digital world feeds and nurtures obsessions. Maybe we should pay attention a bit more to what it is telling us about our world out here, beyond the screen, too.
Peace (go dark),