Various journalists and scholars have pointed out over the years that movies and TV shows often portray as romantic behavior that is fairly indistinguishable from stalking. A good example of this is There’s Something about Mary, in which three men engage in some really sketchy behavior–in one case literally spying on her with binoculars. And while we’re supposed to find them crazy and obsessed, this doesn’t preclude her from getting together with one of them. This type of thing shows up often–one character (usually a guy, though not always) follows another character (who has rejected previous advances) around or sleeps on her lawn or declares he’s in love at first sight or does something else that is supposed to be evidence of deep and abiding love.
But of course, there’s a more disturbing way to interpret that behavior. I once had to contact security and have a man removed from campus when one of my female students anxiously told me that a man she had a restraining order against for stalking (and who wasn’t a student) was outside the classroom. She thought she had escaped him when she moved to college and was very scared that he’d shown up, hours away from their hometown. She didn’t find the behavior romantic or cute; it didn’t make her eventually think she should give him a chance in return for his persistence. It made her feel truly frightened.
Anyway, that’s an overly-long introduction to a video (found here) sent in by Matt W. The creator, Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixels, edited together scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer with scenes of Edward Cullen from the movie Twilight to show how behavior that is depicted as protective and romantic in the film (and book) could also be seen as disturbing:
Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways. Ultimately this remix is about more than a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire. It also doubles as a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.
I think it’s a great conversation starter (and I’m always happy for an excuse to talk about Buffy).
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
Ali — July 7, 2009
wow, I thought there was nothing that could make me less inclined to see Twilight already.
It's a good mash-up video, but it doesn't really get the point across that stalking is often a lot more innocuos than that (at least at first).
There was a guy in a few of my classes in college (small department) that I got a wierd vibe off of but played it off to me being paranoid because he never really did anything. I just made sure that I was never alone with him and I tried to talk about my boyfriend at the time whenever creepy guy was around. It wasn't until his wife called me and accused me of sleeping with him that I realized my bad feeling about him was more than justified. From there it got worse before it got better (he stole a friend's phone to get my new number when I changed phones) but luckily it never got to restraining order territory.
anon — July 7, 2009
wow, I thought there was nothing that could make me less inclined to see Twilight already.
It’s a good mash-up video, but it doesn’t really get the point across that stalking is often a lot more innocuos than that (at least at first).
Yeah, but in Twilight it was never innocuous, which is part of what makes that book/movie so frigging creepy.
Dmitriy — July 7, 2009
yeah, creepy/romantic angle works both way. For example:
Heidi — July 7, 2009
Has there been women writers who craft some of these stories, or are they written by men, who think "persistence" pays off, and that women just don't know what they want until they tell us?
I know there are women who think various disturbing behaviors (i.e., abuse) are the norm, but aren't 99% of women annoyed and disturbed by the media constantly making stalking a romcom plot device? I know I am.
I think the "no means no" battlecry should ramp it up to "piss off means piss off!"
Ali — July 7, 2009
Heidi, I don't know about the rest of them, but Twilight was written by a woman.
Heidi — July 7, 2009
Also, Buffy isn't exactly the greatest role model for anti-stalking; didn't both Angel and Spike pull that with her and she ended up sleeping with/"falling in love with" both of them?
And if you're comparing those two to SparklyPoo, doesn't it just say that if you're more masculine, totally butch and scary, and less whiny emo about stalking someone, that you'll get the girl?
Gwen Sharp, PhD — July 7, 2009
I totally agree that Buffy isn't without its problems (Spike in particular was fairly stalk-y). I'm not saying here that Buffy is perfect, only that this particular video is good for putting a different spin on Edward's comments and behavior. He could have been spliced in with scenes from something else to make the point just as well, it just happens to be Buffy.
Angela — July 7, 2009
"Heidi, I don’t know about the rest of them, but Twilight was written by a woman."
Twilight seems to me like it was written as an early teen romantic fantasy - Stephanie Meyer likely intended to be that way - and millions of fans have gotten on the wagon. The fact that Edward acts like that and still appeals to tons of young girls says something larger about how society veiws relationships. The book is proably inspired as something she would have liked to have read. The greater question is why
kate — July 7, 2009
I read the first three Twilight books (the fourth was a disaster beyond hope). What I enjoyed about them was the Gothic atmosphere of the town, and the totally "I know this is self destructive but I'm gunna do it anyways" attitude of Bella. She wasn't stupid, she was just willing to prioritize having Edward above continuing to live. Like many junkies, her values became skewed in favor of her addiction over her own life. I knew this while reading the books, but it was strangely appealing to read such an unapologetic perspective - He's going to kill me and I don't care. It definitely invoked my memories of being a teenager. In no way did I want to have a relationship like the one I was reading about. Of course, I am in my 30's, and not in my teens.
If you want to read some more scary stuff, try the Harlequin romances written in the 70's and 80's - lots of coercion of the heroine, lots of darn near rape (if not actual rape), and the females were totally limp. Stalking would be a step up from what a lot of the "heroes" did to the "heroines". I read the books quite uncritically as a teen, but as an adult I find them repugnant. Romance as a genre has come a long long way from the hyper Alpha male paired with the wilting, helpless female format.
Ali — July 7, 2009
Can anyone who's a big movie buff answer this question for me? Is there ever a romantic comedy plot where it is the woman who is the stalker/agressor? The only things I can think of are horror or thriller films were they treat the stalking as stalking, or one episode characters in sitcoms that are just written in for laughs but have no real chance of getting with the main guy (except maybe Topanga in Boy Meets World, but that was too long ago for me to accurately remember). It might be just selective memory on my part but I can't really think of a gender-switched version of there's something about mary.
Su — July 7, 2009
Ali - the only one that comes to mind is that other Cameron Diaz vehicle, "The Sweetest Thing". It's a raunchy/road-trip/buddy flick, but the main characters are women, chasing after a random man they met at a bar. Quite interesting for the role reversal, but really, one of those movies where you shouldn't think too hard about what's happening on screen.
Su — July 7, 2009
Ah, and yet another Cameron Diaz movie, My Bestfriend's Wedding.
Trabb's Boy — July 7, 2009
Some of the stalker stuff in rom coms may just be a way to visually show the innocent nervous obsessing a guy may feel in trying to decide whether to ask a girl out. Even now, society expects that to be the guy's job, and it is a socially tricky situation.
Then there's just the way that it has been such a standard in literature. The guy has to actively woo the girl, not just ask her out. He has to recite poetry under her window and send her flowers and leave little love notes where she least expects them.
Then there's the pressure on women not to give into their feelings, which has resulted in the romance novel/porn staple of having one's scruples overcome by an unbearable passion brought on by the wooing ("no" means "let me preserve my morals by pretending I don't want to").
Then there's the giant male ego that assumes women are just slow to appreciate a quirky guy's charm.
Mostly, though, I thinks it's a way to string out the plot line. "Boy meets Girl, Boy asks Girl out, Girl says okay and they gradually get to know one another better" is not going to draw much of a crowd. And there are a limited number of ways to decide to get back together after Boy loses Girl. Other than "wacky misunderstanding cleared up" you don't have much other than to show concerted effort.
Grizzly — July 7, 2009
From what I remember about "There's Something About Mary," Mary was not aware of the stalking, so it wasn't a case where she was impressed by the pursurer's persistance. It's been a long time since I saw the movie though, so I may be mis-remembering; and I do agree it is a fairly common plot device.
Meg Ryan's character in "Sleepless in Seattle" would fall into the "woman stalking man" scenario. She did hire a private investigator to look in to him, and flew across the country to find what was a complete stranger. However, again, Tom Hanks was unaware of the stalking when he fell for her.
Anne — July 7, 2009
That is one clever remix.
kitty — July 7, 2009
@Ali: Have you seen "He Loves Me/He Loves Me Not?" It's interesting - starts out seeming like a romantic comedy told from the perspective of Audrey Tatou's character Angélique, but turns out to be something quite different. I'm not sure of spoiler etiquette, so I'll leave it there.
Ali — July 7, 2009
@Su and Kitty, thanks for the suggestions of role reversals (and no Kitty, I hadn't seen that but it does look interesting).
The reason that I asked was because it seems that the vast majority of movies with women as the agressor treat stalking as actual stalking, but the vast majority of movies with men as the agressor treat stalking as wooing.
Brady — July 7, 2009
I haven't seen it, but I think "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" features Uma Thurman stalking Luke Wilson, and with superpowers to boot.
Dmitriy — July 7, 2009
Felicity is another stalkish tv show.
Joanne — July 7, 2009
What a great video! Thank you for posting it. There is no excuse for our culture accepting a story - and making it so popular - of a man stalking a young woman. There is nothing romantic about it.
While Buffy had its problems, it also had tremendous ability to empower young women. The entire last season is about that, particularly the last episode.
Story has power. We have to recognize that and address it, especially when we continue to create and popularize stories that show either gender as stalkers. It is especially dangerous in a society that views women as victims and as sex objects on a daily (hourly, minute-by-minute) basis.
Catrina — July 7, 2009
This was greatl! Made my day! :) Sociologists learn more and more the importance of not judging books by their covers (yes that's my reason) - well - I read Twilight and was amused at how Bella (female) completely submitted herself to Edward (vampire, potentially dangerous creature). If Edward was less attractive/appealing looks wise, would she be as equally smitten?
Buffy, however never disappoints!
Pauline — July 7, 2009
@Ali, while I can't really think of many 'woman stalks man and gets the guy' examples (or at least, not compared to the male counterpart) I can think of many 'woman rapes man and everyone accepts it' situations.
Even in the recent Transformers movie a woman forces herself on a man (actually, she stalks him a bit, too, but it *is* considered stalking behaviour..) and the man is considered to blame...
Is it just because to some men the idea of a woman forcing herself on him is attractive? There are some women who would find being raped a nice fantasy as well (although I don't think anyone would actually want it to happen..)
Basically, I'm wondering why men are expected to laugh off their rape cases, or take the blame for it. Why do movies and tv shows make such light of this? Is the joke actually on the woman, in that it's funny because it could never happen? (women being the 'weaker' sex and all... [end sarcasm])
Dusk_Blue — July 7, 2009
I used to be an obsessive Boy Meets World fan. I don't remember Topanga being a stalker. There was one episode where she forced Cory to kiss her while he was handcuffed to the wall as part of a demonstration, though.
The children's cartoon Hey, Arnold had a series-long running joke about female bully Helga stalking the protagonist Arnold. She collects all his trash and uses it to build a shrine in her closet shaped like Arnold's head. There was a movie released in theaters in which she confesses her love and it's implied that they would eventually get together. As they are kids, it's not quite the same thing, but it comes to mind.
Kristen — July 7, 2009
I've often thought the same thing about movies and TV, even in such mild films as Say Anything. Yes, the infamous scene with Cusack and the boom box could be sweet, but I know people IRL who replicated that with girls they barely knew. That, to me, was weird. I wouldn't want someone I barely know hanging out in my front yard.
Thank you for sharing this. It is food for thought.
abby — July 7, 2009
I think there are a few reasons why people take lightly the idea of a woman raping a man:
1) as you said, people scoff at the idea that a member of the "weaker sex" could force a man to do anything, and
2) the idea that a man could actually be forced to have sex seems incomprehensible in our patriarchal society (i.e. men constantly crave sex and could never turn down an offer).
I think the reason movies portray men as laughing off/taking blame for being raped (although I don't think they would ever use that word) is that not wanting sex in the first place would be seen as unmanly.
And since society doesn't take female-on-male rape seriously, it's an easy way to create conflict in a story without making the guy out to be an asshole. I think it's a rather harmful, and played-out, plot device.
Nataly — July 7, 2009
Twilight isn't quite the, "Guy stalks and gets rewarded for persistence" but "Guy stalks and that's the way it should be done, then he's controlling and abusive and that's the way it should be done." He disables her car engine so she can't visit a friend, and she's totally cool with that. Twilight means never having to say you're kidding.
Dating in Korea: Unrequited Love…or Stalking? « The Grand Narrative — July 8, 2009
[...] more, see the original post here. Not that I think that the humorous stalking in, say, There’s Something About Mary had a [...]
Tracy — July 8, 2009
The director at the Women's Center at my alma matter (RIT) uses John Cusack and Say Anything to show guys what might be considered sweet and endearing is actually really creepy and inappropriate.
Yael — July 8, 2009
Was about to post a reply to Ali, and as I was thinking of it, it actually became a bigger question.
The movie I had in mind is a silly little romantic comedy called 'Addicted to Love', in which the two protagonists (I think the girl is Meg Ryan? I can't remember now) spend most of the movie stalking their respective exes, who have hooked up. However, while the guy starts out as a genuinely Sweet Guy who just follows her because he's waiting for her to break up with the other man so he could have her (suuure, totally harmless...), the girl is depicted as mainly being interested in revenge on her ex - which eventually he helps her with.
They end up regretting that revenge, by the way. And falling in love with each other. Sorry if that was a spoiler, but come on, it's a romantic comedy, what did you expect? :)
Anyway, that whole thing made me kinda wonder about the general woman-stalker theme in films; how often is the stalking depicted as a positive thing (romantic persistence), and how often is it used to identify the woman as having 'crazy bitch' tendencies? How does that compare to the portrayal of men-stalkers? I have no idea what the answer is, but thought it interesting to bring it up.
Ryan — July 8, 2009
Buffy vs Edward remix creator talks about why he made the remix on Women in Media & News:
Carla — July 8, 2009
I'm not quite sure I "get it." You can take quotes out of context from any movie and make anything look creepy. A line like "I feel very protective of you" is only creepy in the context of a guy following a girl around who has clearly told him off. If you look at it in a familial or romatic context, it doesn't have that same creepy factor.
I'm not sure this remix demonstrates anything other than, when taken out of context, things look different.
Ali — July 8, 2009
Carla, I'm not so sure McIntosh took anything out of context to make this video. From the article Ryan linked to (thanks Ryan!):
“I feel very protective of you” « astrocat — July 8, 2009
[...] Eu ia só colocar um link na barra aí ao lado, mas esse vídeo merece um comentário. Eu vi no Sociological Images, é uma montagem com cenas do filme Lua Nova – Twilight com cenas do seriado Buffy – A [...]
ymp — July 8, 2009
I agree that McIntosh didn't take things out of context (recognized all of the Buffy clips, read Twilight). McIntosh did highlight why I didn't like Twilight the book and refuse to see the movie. As other people have mentioned Meyer wrote a teen angsty romance, one of the worst reflections of how our society portrays romance and I couldn't like it. While the series is currently popular, I doubt it's popularity will last in the long run. I think (and hope) that when its fans go back to reread it in a few years (when they are a little older) they will see the problems I see.
thebewilderness — July 8, 2009
In films where women stalk men, the women usually end up dead. They are not presented as madly, romantically, in love, but rather as insane obsessive monsters. Fatal Attraction is perhaps the classic example of how women stalkers are presented.
orlando — July 8, 2009
An American in Paris is a movie that puts the double standard right out there. (Not stalking, in this case, but persistance.) The pursuing man is rewarded with the girl, the pursuing woman is punished, or at least very publicly taken down a notch.
Louisa — July 8, 2009
Felicity (WB show) stalked a guy she liked from high school to college.
At any rate, Twilight won Nickelodeon’s Kid’s Choice Award for best book. I find that pretty sad. Edward Cullen is painted a romantic hero among young girls, when he's really this creepy abusive stalker boyfriend. People also forget how old he is because he has a young appearance. He's over 100 years old and Bella is an insecure teenager. Just imagine how much creepier it would be if he looked his age. It's mentioned that she has low self esteem and that she thinks she's unworthy and all that. She is also new in town without any friends, and he pretty much exploits that.
Mary — July 9, 2009
As a librarian, I am against banning books. But I would almost be willing to make an exception for the Twilight series.
Meep — July 10, 2009
Carla, the clips were creepy and stalkerish in the original context, too. Edward's a(n abusive) creepster, there's really no getting around that. The fact that Bella enjoys her abuse only makes the entire series that much more of a trainwreck.
Arroz Con Beans | Don Omar- Romantic Or Scary — July 12, 2009
[...] This made me think about my conflicted feelings about Don Omar. [...]
Me Over at Sociological Images! « Missives from Marx — July 12, 2009
[...] on over and check them out—they have much better stuff there than the claptrap I write! Like this, this, or [...]
Reality check « Кутията за всичко — July 16, 2009
[...] Специални благодарности на “Контекст”. [...]
Gemma — July 31, 2009
In British drama 'Skins', a female character nicknamed 'Sketch' aggressively stalks a gay male character called Maxxie. She follows him obsessively, almost crushes him with a stage light in fit of jealousy when he kisses another girl for the rehearsal of a school play and even breaks into his house to lie on his bed and smell his clothes.
It's the most vivid example of female > male stalking I've seen on TV.
Buffy vs. Edward Cullen « Nekiams Blogg — August 2, 2009
[...] søndag, 2. august, 2009 av Nekiam Denne fant jeg borte på Sociological Images. [...]
Violence or Bondage in a Lingerie Store Display? » Sociological Images — January 23, 2010
[...] for Dead Girl, Barney’s window display showing splattered blood and mannequins under attack, is stalking romantic?, trailer for Observe and Report, Rene Russo photo shoot, ha ha! She wasn’t being beaten!, [...]
Sociological Images Update (Feb. 2010) » Sociological Images — March 1, 2010
[...] as “just a Bella, waiting for my Edward.” We added it to our earlier post where we discuss whether Edward’s behavior in the Twilight series is romantic or creepy [...]
It was Romance, or prosecution? | Anonymous Dating — August 4, 2010
[...] reading here: This is a Romance, or prosecution? :a-long-long, alpha, format, from-the-hyper, genre-has, read-the, read-the-books, the-hyper, [...]
It was Romance, or prosecution? | EliteMate — August 4, 2010
[...] more: It was Romance, or prosecution? :a-long-long, a-male-paired, books, genre-has, hyper-, long-long, male-paired, read-the, [...]
Kate — October 21, 2010
Sondra Bullock in "While you were sleeping" I would say is a Stalker or worse. She watches the same man every day while he is waiting for the train. The day he is injured she tells his family she is his girlfriend and then later his fiance. This leads her to be welcomed into his home, his family's home, their holiday celebrations etc.
She was also just in a bomb of a movie that just did horrible at the box office, so I don't know the name. But she goes on ONE blind date with Bradley Cooper's character, he says we should do this again and she takes him literally. She follows him across country and stalks him to his work place, then becomes the one everyone loves and makes him the bad guy.
So there are female stalkers in movies
Buffy versus Edward? « From Rednecklandia to the Emerald City — November 10, 2010
[...] via Sociological Images [...]