Stalking for Love
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Stalking for Love

[light piano music] The 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, has always been a favorite of mine. If you’d asked a younger version of me what the movie was about, I would have said Groundhog Day is a movie about a cynical, selfish, man who must relive the same day over and over again [Ned laughing] until he learns to care for the people around him, and in so doing, becomes a better person. “It’s hard down there at the bottom.” [plates clinking on counter] Today I think I’d describe the plot somewhat differently. [clock clicks, light music plays] I’d say, Groundhog Day is a movie about a cynical, selfish, man who must relive the same day over and over again, Until he’s able to learn everything there is to know about his coworker and, despite her repeated rejections, use that information to eventually make her fall in love with him. While both plot summaries are technically accurate, what I missed as a younger man was an understanding of how movies often present stalker-like behavior as a harmless or endearing part of romantic courtship. [Rita:] “How did you do that?
[Phil:] “I know your face so well, I could’a done it with my eyes closed.” [Rita laughing] [light, jazzy music playing] One popular romance trope in particular provides the foundation for the plot of Groundhog Day. I call that trope Stalking For Love. “I would really appreciate it if you would just go away.”
[knocking on the door]
[woman screams] If you’ve spent any time at all going to the movies, or watching television, then you’re probably already familiar with this romance formula, and how it works. [Patrick:] “Excuse me, have you seen The Feminine Mystique? I’ve lost my copy.” [Kat, angrily:] “What’re you doing here?” [Patrick:] “I heard there was a poetry reading.” [Kat:] “You’re so -”
[Patrick:] “Charming.” [Patrick:] “Wholesome.” [Kat:] “Unwelcome?” Our hero is typically a nice guy who doesn’t quite fit the Hollywood ideal of manhood. And who, for a variety of reasons, hasn’t found love. One day he happens upon a very special woman, and instantly becomes infatuated with her. Time slows down, the music swells, and the camera zooms in. These audio-visual cues are designed to communicate to us, the audience, that this is true love. But wait, there’s just one small problem. [Mike:] “I was wondering if I could, uh, snag yer cellphone number or yer email before you left.” [Sue:] “I don’t think so Mike.” She doesn’t return his feelings. Maybe she’s dating someone else. Maybe she’s already rejected him. Maybe she doesn’t even know he exists, or maybe she’s just not interested. What’s a nice guy to do when faced with such a dilemma? Well, he’s certainly not going to give up! No, he’ll do whatever it takes. This is true love, after all, or it will be once he convinces this woman to love him back. And so, to that end, our hero proceeds to spy on her, pester her, and otherwise manipulate her, until he finally manages to wear down her defenses, and she agrees to go out with him. [Lauren:] “If I say yes will you leave? This is my job.” [FDR:] “8 pm tomorrow.”
[Lauren:] “Fine.” [FDR:] “Fine.”
[Lauren, angrily:] “Fine.” As a media convention, stalking for love can be traced all the way back to classic Hollywood. [Jerry:] “Peekaboo.”
[Dale:] “Stop this cab at once.” And it’s a mainstay of both Bollywood and European cinema. Even though stalking for love is most commonly associated with romantic comedies, what’s often overlooked is the trope’s prominence in other genres. [Gwen:] “Have you been following me?” Especially superhero stories. [Gwen:] “I knew it. How often?” [Peter:] “Just once a day. Sometimes.” [Peter::] “Sometimes more.” In these narratives, a man’s obsessive, coercive, or stalker-like behavior is framed as an expression of his love and devotion. [slurred speech] “If I really have it solid for a girl, I’ll ride by her house on my bike. I’ll do it like, like a hundred times in a day. It’s really – it’s intense.” And even if the woman in question is initially upset or annoyed by his obsessive attention, His actions are inevitably framed as a compliment. [Dale:] “I don’t really know you that well but you seem like a fine person. And I want you to know that I’m flattered by all this.” The trend in more recent media is to lampshade romantic stalking. Lamp shading is when writers directly acknowledge a media trope or cliche in the dialogue itself. “[clears throat] Um, hi, Max, I’m Dustin. And- you’re- this is-” “Lucas” [Max:] “Yeah I know. The stalkers.” But remember that acknowledgement alone isn’t the same thing as criticism or subversion. So for example, in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things, Max calls out Lucas’s stalker-like behavior. [Max:] “What is this shit, stalker?” [Lucas:] “Sorry, I just needed a safe place.”
[Max:] “A safe place to what? Be creepy?” But in the end, Lucas still gets the girl, even after he stalks her, tricks her and traps her alone in a room with him. Now on one level, the popularity of this trope is understandable. Most people want to feel like we’re special, like we’re worthy of romantic attention, from someone we like. And most people really want to believe in the idea of love at first sight. But while it may be nice to imagine sweeping your crush off their feet, The truth is that much of the behavior we see in these movies could very easily land you in jail. [Bella:] “How did you get in here?”
[Edward:] “I like watching you sleep. It’s um, it’s kind of fascinating to me.” In the real world, stalking isn’t romantic. In fact, it’s a crime. And beyond the legal implications, stalking can also have a serious emotional effect on the victims, [dramatic music, banging on door] leading to anxiety, paranoia, depression, or even PTSD. Stalking encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including: following someone; repeated unwelcome communication; showing up at a person’s workplace, residence, or school uninvited… “Are you sure about this, sir? We might have some constitutional issues here.” [FDR:] “Patriot Act.” as well as spying on, tracking, or monitoring an individual, either online or offline. This is the type of conduct that we expect from the villain in a horror movie. But pop culture media consistently frames each and every one of these behaviors as something romantic. [Dale:] “Kirby! How are you?” [Kirby:] “I’m obsessed, thank you very much.” Now I should say that occasionally the roles are reversed, and we see a woman stalking a man. And we’ll talk about that in the minute, but since men are most often the ones who perpetrate this kind of behavior, I want to focus on what this trope communicates about men, masculinity, and love. The specific circumstances and severity of the stalking behavior will vary from story to story. [Adaline:] “What are you doing here?” [Ellis:] “Well I tried to call, but-”
[Adaline:] “How did you get my address?” [Ellis:] “Um… the library.” But the bottom line here is that these male characters all refuse to respect women’s boundaries, women’s personal space, [camera clicking] or women’s privacy. [Lucy:] “I have a boyfriend, so… I’m sorry.” [Henry:] “Awwww… Making up a boyfriend so you can get rid of me.” [Lucy:] “No, I’m not.”
[Henry:] “What’s his name then?” They don’t listen to women’s words, [Joe:] “I brought you flowers.” and they ignore all signals of disinterest or rejection. [Joe:] “Why don’t I just put these in, ah, some water?” In short, they refuse to take no for an answer. Stalking for love usually culminates in some sort of grand romantic gesture. These are public spectacles that are designed to demonstrate the depth and intensity of our hero’s feelings for the woman of his dreams. Now of course, romantic gestures are not always troubling. If two people are already in a relationship, or if their feelings have been openly communicated, then it can be really sweet. “I thought this was a good idea, and it feels kind of- it feels a little stupid.” And depending on the context, it might be okay to humbly and privately ask for a second chance. As we saw in the recent rom-com The Big Sick. [quietly] “Will you take me back?” But that’s not how it typically happens in Hollywood. In most movies, grand romantic gestures are designed to be elaborate ambushes – ambushes that put women on the spot, in a very public way. ♪ You’re just too good to be true ♪
♪ Can’t take my eyes off of you ♪ There’s an undercurrent of coercion running through these schemes, because they set up situations where the woman in question will appear callous or heartless if she rejects the guy again, after he’s gone through all the trouble of pulling off his elaborate stunt. Since these are movies we’re talking about, filmmakers usually give us a window into the hidden feelings of each character. This means that we, as the audience, have access to information that the male suitor doesn’t – information that makes us more willing to overlook his intrusive behavior. So for instance, in the classic 1989 teen romance Say Anything, we know that Diane broke up with Lloyd because of pressure from her father. But we also know that she secretly wants him back. That piece of insider information makes this iconic scene seem like a touching gesture. The problem is that Lloyd doesn’t know how she’s feeling. At this point he only knows two things: first, that she explicitly told him she didn’t want to see or talk to him, and second, that she’s ignored his many phone calls after the breakup. Given these two pieces of information, Lloyd decides it’s a good idea to show up at her father’s house and blast Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ through her bedroom window. A song that has significance because it was what they listened to when they were having sex for the first time. Imagine an ex lover pulling a stunt like that after you’ve broken up with them and told them to stay away from you. Nothing about it would be romantic – it would be creepy in the extreme and probably cause for calling the cops. [Juliet:] “Oh, hi!”
[Peter, from inside the house:] “Who is it?” The now-infamous Sign Guy from Love Actually [Juliet:] “It’s carol singers.” professes his love for the woman he’s been obsessively videotaping, and who also happens to be the new wife of his best friend. Inexplicably, Sign Guy is rewarded for his creepy and deeply inappropriate behavior with a kiss. Romantic stalking, at its core, isn’t really about love at all. It’s extremely selfish behavior, because it’s all about the stalkers own personal feelings. Any potential discomfort, fear, or embarrassment on the part of the stalker’s target is rarely ever considered. “Behold! Jessica Riley, you are my soulmate,” [laughter from crowd]
“the love of my life. I have marked my self with a scarlet J. For you, Jessica.” [Jessica:] “Robin, get down from there.” “Robby Weaver, I am your babysitter, get down. Oh, my god.” The Notebook offers an added layer of emotional manipulation to the romantic gesture. [Noah:] “Will you go out with me?”
[Allie:] “What? No!” [Noah:] “Alright, well you leave me no other choice then.” [screaming] Ryan Gosling’s character not only refuses to take no for an answer, [Noah:] “Imma ask you one more time.” he threatens to kill himself if his love interest doesn’t agree to a date. [Noah:] “Goddamn, my hand’s slipping.”
[Allie:] “Ok, ok, fine, I’ll go out with you!” [Woman’s date:] “What?”
[Noah:] “No, don’t do me any favors.” [Allie:] “No no I want to!”
[Date:] “You want to?”
[Allie, screaming:] “Yes!” In the critically acclaimed Dead Poets Society, Knox’s over-streets decision to persistently pursue a young woman from a different school who he doesn’t know and who already has a boyfriend, is framed by the film as his ‘carpe diem’ moment. When he kisses her while she’s passed out at a party, it’s not depicted as assault – instead his actions are represented as overcoming his self-doubt and learning to live life to the fullest. Knox’s character arc is part of a pattern in Hollywood coming-of-age stories. A pattern where confidence building for boys often comes at the expense of women’s boundaries and women’s personal autonomy. Movies have taught us that never giving up is one of the most admirable traits of all, especially for men. [John:] “I know how I can get to her.”
[Jeremy:] “What?” [John:] “I know how I can get to Claire.”
[Jeremy:] “John, you gotta drop this thing. I can’t do this anymore with you, okay. It’s been several months, and you haven’t heard anything from her. She hasn’t returned your phone calls, she’s never responded to one of your letters, she didn’t respond to the candygram-” [John:] “Right?” [Jeremy:] “*sighs* I think it’s very obvious, at this juncture, that she just flat-out does not want to see you.” [John:] “I disagree.” While it’s certainly true that determination can be a very positive thing, that’s only the case when it doesn’t ignore the desires of other people or end up violating someone else’s privacy. Sometimes writers attempt to justify stalking behavior by framing it as necessary to keep women safe from the dangers posed by other men. In these kind of stories, protecting women from attacks by strangers is depicted as a selfless gesture, a gesture that proves a man’s love, as well as his manhood. [Bella:] “Did you… follow me?” [Edward, quietly:] “I… I feel… very protective of you.” Stalking for protection story lines are troubling for a whole host of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that regardless of the intentions behind it, stalking does not make women feel safer. “You know, being stalked isn’t really a big turn-on for girls.” Counter to what television has led us to believe, women are far more likely to be assaulted by men they already know, than by strangers in dark alleys. Stalking for love isn’t framed as something worthy of genuine concern. It’s depicted as just a temporary lapse in judgment fueled by passionate feelings. [Mary:] “How could you do that, Ted? How could you have some guy you don’t even know spy on me?” In some instances, the romantic stalker might confess or apologize, once he’s caught, but rarely are there any lasting negative impacts, or meaningful forms of atonement. [Ted:] “I did it because I never stopped thinking about you.” [Chris, laughing:] “You are so infuriating.” If he comes clean, his transgressions are quickly forgiven. And in most cases, his manipulative ploys to spend time with her under false pretenses have already worked their magic, and proven that he’s Mr. Right. The message is clear: anything can be overlooked, as long as it’s done in the name of love. 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. And he’s often given a consolation prize. Maybe it’s a kiss, maybe it’s naked photos, or maybe it’s a different woman. 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. When the gender roles are reversed, and we see a female character stalking a man, her actions are typically portrayed as manic or unbalanced, instead of endearing. [Rebecca:] “I did not move here because of Josh because that would be crazy, and I am not crazy.” This is basically the premise for the TV show crazy ex-girlfriend. I mean, it’s right there in the title. [Rebecca:] “No, I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy.” [overlapping talking] [Paula:] “You’re not crazy; you’re in love.” Stories in which women stalk men are part of a double standard in Hollywood. [Knives:] “*knocking on door* Is Scott here?”
[Wallace:] “Uh, you know what?” *glass shatters*
[Wallace:] “He just left.” Because straight male characters almost never find unwanted affections charming or romantic. I’m in no way suggesting that stalking behavior is okay when it’s done by a woman – it’s absolutely not, but I do think it’s important to note that the social and cultural implications are different when media shows women stalking men. Statistics show that women are more likely to be the victims of stalking, and men are more likely to be the perpetrators. That, coupled with the fact that women are also far more likely to be the targets of sexual violence or domestic abuse, means that women have good reason to be fearful of men who intrude on their lives. Media employing the stalking for love trope has been shown to have negative effects on people’s attitudes and expectations when it comes to courtship, romance, and love in the real world. [Ellis:] “Wait!”
[Adaline:] “Oh! There you go again, putting your hand in places it doesn’t belong.” Movies like those we’ve been discussing in this video serve to reinforce a variety of harmful myths about romance. “You want to get back together? Is that it?” These include: the idea that women don’t really know what they want; ghat stalking-like behaviors are justified when love is on the line; and that stalking victims are just playing hard-to-get. Studies have also found that watching media where stalkers are depicted as dangerous or terrifying has the opposite effect, and can decrease people’s belief in myths about romantic stalking. Contrary to what movies tell us, attraction is not the same thing as love. “You don’t know me, but my name is Edward Bloom. An’ I love you.” Neither is the infatuation or obsession, both of which Hollywood consistently confuses for true love. Romantic love is mutual and reciprocal. It’s an exchange between people, and unless your partner develops a form of dementia, Romantic love is not something that only one person can feel towards another. There’s no reason why Hollywood can’t tell love stories where all parties involved treat each other with respect. Even within the realm of mutual respect, there are countless possibilities for quirky or humorous scenarios. The obstacles to romance can come in any number of forms; things like family disapproval, or illness, or geographic location, just to name a few. There’s no reason why the central conflict in a romance story needs to involve stalking behavior. And honestly, making people feel unsafe is a terrible, terrible way to show you care about them. If you ask someone out, and they’re interested, great! But if they say they’re not interested, it’s not your job to test them on it or to try to figure out if maybe they’re just playing hard-to-get. And rejection is not an invitation to try to coerce them into changing their minds. “Will you take me back?” Sure, rejection doesn’t feel good, “It just feels totally different now. And I can’t do that again.” but the respectful thing to do is to gracefully accept no for an answer. [Emily:] “Do you understand?” [Kumail:] “Okay.”
[Emily:] “Okay.”
[Kumail:] “Okay.” Thanks for watching, these videos take an enormous amount of time to produce, especially for just one person, so if you’d like to see more, please consider going over to patreon and helping to fund the project there. There’s also a link to PayPal in the description below. Over the next several months we’ll be talking more about masculinity, love, and the media, including a disturbingly popular action movie trope called ‘abduction for love.’ [piano music] Subtitles by the community

36 thoughts on “Stalking for Love

  1. I’d love to hear your opinion of the new Netflix series You and how they portray his stalking behavior.

  2. My mother was stalked when she was a teenager, and a guy would follow her home and wrote her notes in blood and threatened to kill himself if she rejected him. She did, and he ended up hospitalized from a suicide attempt. This romanticization of stalkers in media has only led to more women experiencing what my mom did. Thanks for shedding light on this topic.

  3. I honestly have no idea how this trope came to be seen as romantic. Being stalked is completely terrifying and is something no woman wants or likes.

  4. Now that you've ruined quite a lot of movies, I was hoping if you'd give more movie suggestions that shows a meaning courtship or are actually fighting against the stalking behavior, if they exist. (How did we screw up so bad?)

  5. Thank you for ruining every movie for me dad. I always feel ignorant when I didn't notice things you point out.
    Subscribed and bell in !

  6. you should've mentioned the Netflix series "YOU" which features an extreme case of stalking which is glorified

  7. One of the creepiest things to me is something that Hollywood actresses have been doing for a LONG TIME…. and there’s an example of it in the video (Andie MacDowell in St. Elmo’s Fire)!! It’s when the male lead suddenly and unexpectedly kisses the female co-star, so she does the “ball my hands in a fist to fight you off, but wait, I actually like this, so I’m gonna put my arms around your neck instead.” It perfectly exemplifies this whole trope in one gesture. If a man kissed me, and my FIRST REACTION was to ball my hands up into fists because I’m about to punch him, my mind wouldn’t be changed by his soft lips or kissing ability. Because that’s fucking insane.

  8. As a guy this always confused me, it never made sense when I saw such scenarios in movies and when other people told me that its what you have to do. Thank you.

  9. I have had several stalkers, one said he would kill himself on my front lawn if I didn’t call him back..barely knew him. Kept the voicemail on my phone for two years just in case he ever tried anything.

  10. Just to note that 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' is a very good show that completely addresses the actions of the two women seen in the clip. It is a very clever, feminist show that I would recommend to anybody who wants to watch a comedy show about a women finding herself that subverts common tropes. Also, they (the female writers of the show) titled the show 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' as a comment on the idea of crazy, and to make men question how they've used the the title in the past. Please watch it, all 4 seasons are on Netflix and the show feels like a hug to all women.

  11. Gomez and Morticia will always be my measure level of love. That is a whole video for praising that amazing relationship.
    Good job dude 👍

  12. Idk why I’m watching this now but I totally agree with “attraction is not the same as love” just like “love at first sight” it’s so overrated in movies

  13. This video makes me love Love, Simon (Simon vs the Homosapiens Agenda) even more than I already did. If you haven't watched it, you really should because it's amazing, beautiful, and accurately shows that romantic gestures are fine, as long as they're done correctly.


    Okay, so there are two romantic gestures in the film, as well as the book. In the first one, the guy makes a huge spectacle and puts pressure on the girl he's interested in to say yes, making her exceedingly uncomfortable, which she reinforces by saying "That was awful" after the ordeal is over.
    The second romantic gesture is by our protagonist, Simon. Simon's romantic gesture, unlike the previous one, puts no pressure on the other party (in this case, Blue) to comply or even show up. Instead, he uses the gesture to give him an opportunity to if he wants, and if not, Simon would be ridiculed by his classmates, not Blue.
    The movie portrays two types of romantic gestures, one that's okay, and one that's not. Simon's romantic gesture is okay, while the one with the other guy is not. If you want to do a romantic gesture, do it like Simon's. Take the pressure off the person you're trying to woo, and maybe only have a close friend or two knows who you're actually waiting for. And of course, inform the person of the gesture and tell them that they shouldn't come if they don't want to, aren't ready, or don't like you back.

    In conclusion, Love, Simon is amazing and is one of the best romantic movies ever, in my opinion, and the opinions of many others.

  14. John Cusak specializes in characters that stalk. The Sure Thing was all about this.
    This might be a reflection of movie writers’ insecurities.

  15. Yeah, if I imagine my boyfriend doing ANY of these things to me when we first met, we would not be dating right now.

  16. Please make a list of films and tv shows that you recommend! It gets harder and harder to find films and tv shows that are "watchable" thanks to you (and your amazing videos), meaning I've completely changed my perception of mainstream media, which is a blessing and a curse.

  17. I would really really love if you watch all of crazy ex girlfriend and make a video/s about it. It doesn't just lampshade but really addresses a lot of things, and has INCREDIBLE representation of mental illness. Bagels After Midnight makes some fantastic video essays on the show.

  18. As someone who has been stalked, I agree with this video 100%
    He told me he was being romantic and LOVED me to justify his actions.
    I had to involve the police, I had to move, and get a concealed carry. This guy stalked me from one city to another for 20 years!!!! He had a ROOM dedicated to me!
    Stalking is dangerous! He came to my home, my work, my school. I was 16 when he started stalking me, but I still knew I DIDN'T WANT HIM!

  19. Sadly enough, this trope exists because it works in real life as well. I know more than one couple that is solely together because he "never gave up".

  20. And Asian cinema. I don't know how many dramas Chinese and Korean dramas I've watched where a guy stalks a girl or sometimes the girl stalks the guy until he notices her. Sometimes the guy stalks the girl, makes her fall for him, just as a play to break her heart

  21. my dad gave my brothers advice when they were young to "never take no for an answer", and "always be persistent" when it came to dating. luckily, they were sensible enough to know that respecting women is better than harassing them : )

  22. I love when you pointed out the love actually scene because my teenage brother and I have been trying to explain to our parents how creepy that scene is. they keep calling it romance and I'm glad we're not the only ones who find it weird

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