When Pop Culture Sells Dangerous Myths About Romance by J. Beck
(Link): When Pop Culture Sells Dangerous Myths About Romance by J. Beck
Entertainment glorifying or excusing predatory male behavior is everywhere—from songs about “blurred lines” to TV shows where rapists marry their victims.
Edward Cullen. Chuck Bass. Lloyd Dobler. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That guy from Love Actually with the sign. The lead singers of emo bands with their brooding lyrics.
Many of the romantic heroes that made me swoon in my youth followed a pattern and, like a Magic Eye picture, only with a little distance did the shape of it pop out to me. All of these characters in some way crossed, or at least blurred, the lines of consent, aggressively pursuing women with little or no regard for their desires.
But these characters’ actions, and those of countless other leading men across the pop-culture landscape, were more likely to be portrayed as charming than scary.
…I grew up watching movies in which women found it flattering when their pursuers showed up uninvited to hold a boombox under their window, or broke into their bedrooms to watch them sleep, or confessed their feelings via posterboard while their love interest’s husband sat in the next room. So I found it flattering, too.
… Allegations of sexual harassment have been pouring out of the entertainment industry, among others, in recent months. But while predatory male behavior has been condoned and covered up behind the scenes, it’s also been glorified on screen and on the page and on the radio.
As my colleague Lenika Cruz put it to me: “Rape culture, actually, is all around.” The narratives of a culture help to set its norms. Research has already found that romantic comedies can normalize stalking behavior. It’s not difficult, then, to imagine that toxic love stories can also normalize coercion. That they can make people—women, especially—question when and whether their boundaries have really been violated, when they should be flattered and when they should be afraid.
..It’s worth beginning with the more shocking examples of how pop culture condones and redeems violating behavior: In a number of cases, sexual assault is treated as the start of a love story.
On General Hospital, the longest-running soap opera in production, the tale of the “supercouple” Luke and Laura started in an October 1979 episode—when Luke raped Laura at the disco where they both worked. Eventually the show began recalling the incident as a “seduction” rather than a rape, and the two fell for each other.
They later married in a record-making 1981 episode watched by 30 million people. The rape was “romanticized to my great regret,” Anthony Geary, the actor who played Luke, has said.
…The serial nature of television in particular means many shows suffer from a kind of assault amnesia when it’s no longer convenient for a character who once raped or attempted rape to be seen as a villain. On Gossip Girl, a show that permeated the culture for late-’00s teens like few others, predatory behavior functions as a black mark on a character’s past that’s simply erased when the series wants to change his arc.
…Though rape is frequently used as a device to add drama, shows often don’t deal with the fallout for a relationship realistically, or at all.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, another fan-favorite character, the vampire Spike, tries to rape Buffy in an attempt to force her to admit she loves him. “I’m going to make you feel it,” he says. As the series continues, Spike’s character remains beloved: He earns a soul (literally—as a vampire he didn’t have one before) and resumes an emotionally intimate, if not clearly sexual, relationship with Buffy.
Even more pervasive than the redeemed rapist is the romantic hero whose efforts at seduction look more like harassment.
In the Twilight series, the brooding vampire Edward Cullen not only breaks into his love interest Bella’s house in the first book to watch her sleep, but later on, in the third book, he also disassembles her car engine to keep her from leaving her house. But readers are supposed to see it as a protective gesture: He did it because he loves her, because he wants her to be safe.
… These scenes all add up to give the impression that romance requires a man’s desire, but not necessarily a woman’s. For her, the romance is mined from the fact that she is desired.
This is by the same author, but it was published in 2016: