By Chloe Angyal..
There’s a long list of reasons to love romantic comedies. The triumph of true love. The frantic run through the airport. The getting-dressed-for-a-big-date montage. There are lots of reasons to hate the genre, too. It’s so white, so heteronormative, so predictable, and so hellbent on convincing us that genetically gifted, gorgeous women are actually homely hags in need of a makeover. And now there’s another reason to be wary: A new study suggests watching romantic comedies makes women more likely to tolerate stalking in real life.
The study, published this month in Communications Research, found that participants who watched movies in which men’s “persistent pursuit” of women was depicted as romantic — as it so often is in rom coms — were more likely to subscribe to stalking myths.
Stalking myths are the misconceptions that underpin our conventional wisdom about the crime. They include ideas like “many alleged stalking victims are actually people who played hard to get and changed their minds afterwards,” “stalking has no serious, lasting impact on the victim,” and the notion that lots of stalking “could be avoided if the alleged victim would have just told his/her stalker clearly that s/he was definitely not interested in a romantic relationship.”
And then, there’s the myth that is central to so many romantic comedies: “An individual who goes to the extremes of stalking must really feel passionately for his/her love interest.” He stalked you because he just loves you so much. It’s romantic.
Take the scene in “Love, Actually” in which Keira Knightley’s character discovers that her new husband’s best friend has been secretly filming her while simultaneously treating her like garbage — the former because he claims to love her, the latter as “a self-preservation thing.” She’s shocked, but the movie directs us to overlook the total creepiness of the close-up camcorder shots he’s taken and hoarded in his apartment, and to instead empathize with his tortured, unrequited love. Later, when he shows up at Knightley’s character’s house and wordlessly professes his love while her husband, his best friend, sits unknowingly upstairs, it’s supposed to be the romantic climax of their storyline, and it remains one of the most beloved moments of this modern classic.
Julia Lippman, the University of Michigan professor who conducted the study, found that, when participants watched films in which “persistent pursuit” was depicted as frightening, they became less likely to agree with stalking myths. But, when they watched a romantic comedy — Lippman used “There’s Something About Mary” — and they perceived it as realistic, they became more likely to agree with them. Watching romanticized, seemingly realistic portrayals of stalking behavior, in other words, made women more likely to accept stalking behavior as desirable.
Lippman’s participants were all women, which is fitting, given that women comprise a sizable majority of the audience for romantic comedies. It’s also important, because it has implications for the prosecution of stalkers who target women.
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