As much as we all want to say we recognize and shun abusive behavior—we all take part in romanticizing it to dangerous levels.
Time and again Hollywood presents us with a conundrum: A sympathetic, and sometimes entirely likable, character who is obsessive, who stalks the woman he likes, who is psychologically abusive. And we've proven time and again that we can't get enough.
This is true, again, in Netflix original series "You" which recently released their second season. And the world is riveted.
In a twisted and convoluted way we're taught to confuse obsession, possession and abuse, with love, devotion and desire.
These men, the silver screen characters and their real life counterparts, are possessive and call it "being protective," they cause panic and anxiety and call it "butterflies."
I'll admit, I got sucked into the show, too.
It wasn't long before the uneasy, queasy feeling set in. Why is this psychopath so charming?
Claremore's Safenet Services summarized my feelings about the show, and the deeper problem it represents, quite well:
"One of pop culture's newest and clearest examples of stalking is the Netflix series "You." This is a thriller about a guy named Joe who uses social media, the internet, and every tool at his disposal to become close to his crush, even going so far as to remove any obstacles--including people--that stands in his way of getting to her.
Romantic films often include protagonists who are guys like Joe, ones who stop at nothing to get the girl. Usually, there is no negative consequence for their actions. In fact, the stalking is successful and they persuade their reluctant romantic interest that they should be together. They are rewarded despite requests to stop and ignoring her rejections. This "romantic pursuit" usually ends with guys like Joe winning over their love interests--the stalker wears them down until they 'come around' and 'see the truth.' These characters are often presented as awkward, funny, sweet and/or passionate rather than scary and problematic."
A recent Vice article headlined "Netflix's 'You' Makes Stalking Seem Pretty Charming' hits some of the same points.
"The show has very little to do with love—and everything to do with controlling, obsessive, psychopathic behavior…I think Netflix should have drilled home that point harder. Stalking is a serious issue that deserves more mainstream attention," the article says. "But unfortunately You makes several irresponsible missteps in it's portrayal of this story. It manages to romanticize stalking, while simultaneously creating empathy for the perpetrator and frustration with the victim."
And that's how it works in real life, right?
One Netflix trailer describes the show as a love story. The IMDB bio summarizes the show saying: "A clever bookstore manager relies on his savvy Internet know-how to make the woman of his dreams fall in love with him."
Rotten Tomatoes says the show is about "a tech-savvy young man who utilizes modern-day resources to lure a woman into falling in love with him."
This is why there is real life confusion and misunderstanding about stalking and dating violence in general. This isn't a love story. Using one's "savvy Internet know-how" isn't an admirable trait when it really means monitoring and manipulating those around you. Lastly, is it love if someone has to be lured or made to do it?
The same Vice article describes Joe's troubling behavior, and some risky moves Netflix made in their portrayal before concluding that: "Stalking is criminal behavior that often has deadly consequences. One UK study found that stalking was identified in 94 percent of homicides researchers reviewed but it's often dismissed by the victim's family, friends, and even police, as romantic….You had a great opportunity to tear down that stereotype, but instead managed to perpetuate it."
There's nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure TV show—so long as we can discern the difference. In this case, on this issue, that's not the case.
Discernment and education are the key.
Appropriately, January is National Stalking Awareness Month and the month carries the mantra "Stalking. Know it. Name it. Stop it."
In Hollywood portrayals, consequences of stalking seem to be few and far between. But in real life the effects are far reaching for both the perpetrator and the victim. Stalking is a criminal offense.
"Approaching the victim or showing up in places when the victim didn't want them to be there; making unwanted telephone calls; leaving the victim unwanted messages (text or voice); and watching or following the victim from a distance, or spying on the victim with a listening device, camera, or global positioning system were the most commonly reported stalker tactics by both female and male victims of stalking," according to the National Center for Victims of Crimes.
The NCVC also shares what this does to the victims:
•46 percent of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next.
•29 percent of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop.
•The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population.
In response to the show, in recognition of this month of awareness—let’s stop romanticizing it. Let’s face it as what it is.
It’s not love. It’s abuse.
Cydney Baron is the editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.
For more information about stalking contact Safenet Services at
918-341-1424 or safenetservices.org