Penn Badgley: Our culture revels in identifying villains so the system can remain evil


When we heard about comic Chris D’Elia’s predatory behavior with underage fans I was surprised because that was his character’s storyline on You’s second season. He played a comic who preyed on underage girls. Did someone write that part for him without realizing it was true or was it a nod to the rumors? There’s a whole team of writers and I wonder how they came up with that. Penn Badgley stars in that show and while his character is of course terrible, he’s consistently been a thoughtful and smart ally in life. I’ve been surprised by how well he describes complicated issues, and how much work he’s done to educate himself. Penn did an interview with the LA Times TV podcast, Can’t Stop Watching. They have quotes from him about D’Elia which I wanted to talk about.

Have the allegations against Chris caused you to think more about those themes of toxic masculinity — in the show or even in your character, who is a predator in his own right? I know these are things that you have struggled with openly before and I just wonder how recent days have made you think about it even more deeply?

Systemically, it needs to be addressed. Individually, it needs to be addressed. Am I the person to address all of those things? You know — it did affect me deeply. I was very troubled by it. I am very troubled by it. I don’t know Chris. I know that, if there’s anything we need to do in this age, it’s to believe women.

I also know there’s a lot that I cannot speak to, obviously. And I think the one thing that I can speak to that is maybe relevant for listeners now is that individuals of course need to be brought to justice as much as that is possible. Right? One thing that our culture tends to do quite systematically and methodically is to revel in identifying villains so that the system can remain evil. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say “evil.” Well, you know, I don’t know — if it’s not evil, I don’t know what is. So that the system can remain intact and unchanged, we point to individuals in power who, yes, are upholding and perpetuating these terrible norms, which are often abusive if not downright lethal. So those individuals ideally would be brought to justice. Ideally there would be less of those individuals.

But what is really important is to recognize that the policies that underwrite every given system — the practices, the regulations, the laws that underwrite every one of these systems which act as a haven for the individuals that take advantage, namely white men. And women — but, you know, white people, and white men. And white men of a particular breed, who are successful and charismatic. I think that we need to remember that that is the level of change we’re looking for.

So what I think about, then, in my position? Certainly, I think of my own conduct, and I am thankful that I have tried to uphold a certain level of conduct throughout my life. I also am thinking about how to somehow not — the idea that a show like ours would indirectly, unwittingly be a haven for people who are abusive is disturbing. It’s very disturbing. What does it take to change that? Because it’s not just vetting individuals. There needs to be a change in culture and attitude so that that kind of behavior is so clearly reprehensible, it’s so clearly, like, anti-human.

[From The LA Times]

The quote I put in the title, about how our culture tries to find the bad guys so the system doesn’t have to change, is so true. The whole concept of “bad apples” shows this. I think it was Nicole Byer who said in a recent interview that if there are bad apples in a bowl the rest of the apples taste bad and you have to throw them all out. So far they’ve only fired one of the cops responsible for murdering Breonna Taylor at her home and they haven’t charged him, or the other police who were there, with anything. The cops who killed Elijah McCain aren’t going to be prosecuted because the Aurora, Colorado DA refused to bring charges against them. They haven’t even been fired! These are some of the names and stories we know about and are talking about now, there are so many others. While we do need to focus on the villains we also have to dismantle the system where they grow like mold, and rewrite the laws. These cops who are murdering people are the same ones who are dismissing and discouraging rape victims and shielding white perpetrators. The courts that put Black people in prison at a rate five times that of white people regularly give light or no sentences to white criminals, rapists and abusers. Penn described it well. Chris D’Elia is one of the villains in this story, and he benefits from this rotten system of white supremacy.



Photos credit: Netflix

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18 Responses to “Penn Badgley: Our culture revels in identifying villains so the system can remain evil”

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  1. Darla says:

    I don’t believe it was a coincidence. It’s too striking. I think the writers or producers, or someone knew. Probably the writers. And you know what? I think they thought it was HILARIOUS. What an in-joke!

    • Becklu says:

      How is that funny?! If people knew and did nothing to stop it but put him on a tv show (which gives him more power) that’s evil. Children were abused, this isn’t something you don’t report if you know it. Even if it’s just a rumor call it in and say what you know.

      You don’t use it as an inside joke/ comment on the person. I’m so horrified this was public knowledge and no one said anything. I just watch athlete A and those girls reported what happened they told adults and adults did nothing for money! That’s the same thing You did!

      Pen has no say in casting and I like what he said but I hope to god no one on that staff thought this would be a funny nod to what Chris does

    • Alyse says:

      It was based on a book though (tbf haven’t read the series, so maybe a new/original character).

      I wouldn’t blame the writers. If there was an ‘in-joke’ it’d be the Casting.

      • Lolo says:

        The character is in the book but there is no hint of him being a sexual predator. That was new for the show.

  2. Wow2 says:

    All I can think is: finally someone asked a Male costar what they thought of another males shit behavior. And Penns answers were thoughtful.

  3. Alissa says:

    this was a really thoughtful, intelligent answer from him. it sounds like he’s getting a bit conflicted about the show though.

    • Neners says:

      I wouldn’t blame him if he is. A lot of people who watch are totally missing tbe point of the show IMO.

    • Sitka says:

      I think he has always been conflicted on it; when the first season came out and people were ‘fangirling’ over him he made a point of coming out and saying no one should be obsessed with Joe Goldberg, he’s a bad person.

  4. Brooke says:

    I think it’s easier to say he’s a “bad apple” and just move on. We make bad people villains so we can separate ourselves from them. If we make them out to be monsters then they’re no longer human and we start to have less and less in common with them. When the truth is, everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from have a little bit of monster in them. Maybe (I hope) not to the extreme that we are seeing right now but it’s still there. Instead of moving on, we all need to look at ourselves as individuals and a society as a whole and figure out what we need to fix. We all need to start taking responsibility for where we are.

    • Kate says:

      100%. That’s what I’ve been realizing lately when thinking about racism and my own part in it. I distinctly remember learning about racism as a kid and it being framed as “hatred” or “thinking one race is better” and being “bad” – so naturally as a kid I didn’t want to be bad and I didn’t hate black people or think white people were better so I kind of mentally checked off those boxes to assure myself I’m “good” and not racist. But it’s soooo much more nuanced than that and I’m grateful for the larger discussion now about microaggressions and society being white-focused. I wonder if that’s how well-intentioned men think about sexism too. Like, no I don’t think men are BETTER than women – but also for some reason I don’t like women who are loud or assertive and also I feel entitled to manipulate a girl or woman or leverage a power imbalance to meet my sexual desires.

      I think it’s important to be able to identify racist, sexist or any other problematic thoughts as we have them and work on being better rather than just asserting ourselves as good people with good intentions who are incapable of hurting other people. That’s how people become the victim in their own story and why we see so many non-apologies where people basically assert their good intentions and how upset or hurt they are at people being angry with them.

  5. LouBear says:

    This is a really smart, thoughtful answer and he’s articulated the systemic issue here really well

  6. Bananas says:

    I think they chose D’Elia because he ‘looked like that kind of guy’. And D’Elia accepted it because many perpetrators like to hide in plain sight… there’s a whole history of it. It is in itself a continuation of their manipulation.

  7. osito says:

    I never watched “Gossip Girl,” because even with my penchant for trash entertainment, it seemed too vapid and ridiculous and exclusionary for me to handle. So I remember being unimpressed when he was with Zoe Kravitz — she’s so glam and gorgeous and seemingly smart, I just didn’t get what she saw in him. I see it now. That was a very thoughtful consideration of how systems* protect and foster antisocial ideas and actions, tossing out scapegoats as need be while never choosing to resolve these kinds of issues at their roots.

  8. Lyli says:

    Oh that’s a very interesting take, and it makes so much sense.

  9. Renee says:

    I have had a crush on Penn since his Gossip Girls days. His portrayal of Joe in YOU is great.
    I like him because he seems insightful yet not blind to his own privilege’s. He seems well educated on the issues (I’ve watched his live IG’s regarding BLM) and he seems to be a real ally to women.

    We need more men like Penn.

  10. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I couldn’t watch that show, and I can watch some heinous material. I don’t know though, I recently gave Gangs of London a try and by the end of the first episode, my heart was skipping beats. Am I aging into a delicate flower?!? It’s not possible!

  11. SM says:

    I like Penn. He seems like a decent and a thinking being. He plays Joe so well and yet I do love that he makes a point continuously that there are no redeeming qualities to that creepy character and cracked me up more than once in the episode where they take LSD. He needs to do a comedy next. As far as I know he was hesitant to take the role fearing that it would glamourise stalkers and killers.