Romantic Comedies and Stalking Have an Unexpected Connection
John Cusack carrying a boom box over his head while blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” outside his crush’s bedroom window in Say Anything—it’s an iconic scene in romantic comedy history. But a new study suggests that movies in which men use aggressive tactics to win over their love interest are more creepy than charming—and the depictions could make women more accepting of stalker-like actions from real-life potential suitors.
In a report called I Did It Because I Never Stopped Loving You, University of Michigan visiting scholar Julia R. Lippman surveyed female participants after asking them to watch an excerpt from one of six films. Lippman found that those who watched clips from movies where patterns of stalking were portrayed in a comedic way were more likely to interpret the behavior as normal than those who watched movies that depicted men’s pursuit of women as scary.
One group was asked to watch comedic scenes from either the 1998 blockbuster There’s Something About Mary, in which Ben Stiller’s character hires a private investigator to track down his high school crush, played by Cameron Diaz, or the 2008 flick Management, in which a motel employee, played by Steve Zahn, becomes obsessed with a weekend guest, played by Jennifer Aniston.
A second group of survey participants was exposed to much darker fare: the 1991 thriller Sleeping With the Enemy, in which Julia Roberts’ character fakes her own death in an attempt to flee her controlling husband, or the 2002 drama Enough, in which Jennifer Lopez’s character tries to murder her abusive spouse. The nature documentaries March of the Penguins and Winged Migration were shown to a third group as a control for the study.
Lippman told Canada’s Global News that she decided to undertake the research after noticing that stalking seemed to be trivialized in popular culture, including the prevalence of jokes about “Facebook stalking” a love interest, for example. “At the core, all these films are trading on the ‘love conquers all’ myth. Even though, of course, it doesn’t,” she said. “Love is great, but so is respect for other people.”