This Video Looks at the Dangerous Trope of “Stalking For Love” in Movies and TV

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In this latest video from Pop Culture Detective, Jonathan McIntosh looks at the trope of “stalking for love” in movies and TV shows. “Movies often present stalker-like behavior as a harmless or endearing part of romantic courtship,” McIntosh explains. “…In these narratives, a man’s obsessive, coercive, or stalker-like behavior is framed as an expression of his love devotion. And even if the woman in question is initially upset or annoyed by his obsessive attention, his actions are inevitably framed as a compliment.”

As McIntosh demonstrates, this trope is incredibly pervasive, and not only in romantic comedies. He includes clips from Groundhog Day, You’ve Got Mail, High Fidelity10 Things I Hate About You, There’s Something About Mary, The Notebook, Big Fish, Wedding Crashers, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink, Dead Poets Society, This Means War, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Twilight, and Stranger Things 2. (McIntosh is hardly the first person to notice this trope. For instance, Monica Hesse over at Stuff recently wrote a great article about how the trope even appears on The West Wing.)

While McIntosh also looks at media portrayals of female stalkers, who are typically portrayed as “manic or unbalanced, instead of endearing,” he spends most of the video on portrayals of men stalking women, because the men in those roles are often shown in a troublingly positive light. “These male characters all refuse to respect women’s boundaries, women’s personal space, or women’s privacy,” McIntosh explains. “They don’t listen to women’s words, and they ignore all signals of disinterest or rejection. In short, they refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer.”

However, this behavior is depicted as a positive sign of devotion, rather than a troubling pattern of entitlement. “Stalking for love isn’t framed as something worthy of genuine concern,” McIntosh says. “It’s depicted as just a temporary lapse in judgment, fueled by passionate feelings. In some instances, the romantic stalker might confess or apologize once he’s caught, but rarely are there any lasting negative impacts of meaningful forms of atonement.”

“The message is clear: anything can be overlooked, as long as it’s done in the name of love,” McIntosh continues. “A man’s deception, his lies, his trickery, his manipulation: none of that disqualifies him from a romantic relationship. And even if the two don’t get together in the end, he’s still shown to be ‘a nice guy’ … In reality, of course, the willingness to flagrantly violate someone else’s space, and someone else’s privacy, is a major red flag. It’s behavior connected to deep-seated issues of control and extreme levels of entitlement.”

“Movies like those we’ve been discussing in this video serve to reinforce a variety of harmful myths about romance. These include the idea that women don’t really know what they want, that stalking-like behaviors are justified when love is on the line, and that stalking victims are just playing hard-to-get.”

My favorite part of the video? McIntosh’s example of a “mutual and reciprocal” romantic relationship, where “all parties involved treat each other with respect,” is Morticia and Gomez Addams. And they are, indeed, the once and future relationship goal.

(Featured image: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP / Summit Entertainment)

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