Stalking in Popular Culture

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1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed (NISVS 2010 Summary Report, CDC).In honor of Stalking Awareness Month, I’d like to explore how stalking and other forms of sexual harassment are depicted and discussed through the media we consume. Countless media portrayals regularly misrepresent stalking and other forms of violence, leading to victim-blaming, minimization, and disbelief from society at large.

These misrepresentations can often wildly skew our understanding of offender typology; this is especially true of films such as Fatal Attraction, Misery, and Swimfan – in which the main offenders are women, distracting audiences from the fact that men make up nearly 90% of stalking perpetrators. Beyond even misinformation, the media’s biggest blunder when it comes to stalking is its tendency to minimize and even romanticize stalking behaviors. While this problem spans a wide variety of popular media, I’d like to focus on music.

More so than movies and television, music has constantly attempted to explore the themes of sex, relationships, and love. And as we all know, where there’s love, there’s also the misapplication of it.  While there are literally countless examples of romanticized violence in music, I’m going to focus on only two recent songs and their respective music videos: Maroon 5’s “Animals” (2014) and Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” (2008). I’ve chosen these two due to the extreme disparity in their styles, just to highlight the spectrum of these misinterpretations.

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Downton Abbey’s Epic Fail, and What We Can Learn From It

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** Spoiler alert/Trigger warning: If you’re a Downton Abbey fan who has not yet seen the most recent episode, which aired this past Sunday, January 12, in the US, spoilers are ahead in this blog post. Also, there is no explicit trigger warning for sexual violence on the episode, but there should be.

If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey, you’re already well-aware of the show’s appeal factors, but for the rest of you, I’ll give you a brief rundown: It’s a British period drama about English aristocrats and the servants who work for them in the years leading up to, during, and after WWI. Pretty much everyone is white, and among all those white folks, there’s a lot of tea drinking, lavish costumes, light humor, and no small amount of snark. And, of course, there’s drama.

But the appeal of Downton, at least until Sunday’s episode, has always been the incredible restraint with which that drama has been handled. Much of it is entirely inconsequential to anyone who’s not a member of the early 20th century landed gentry — missing cufflinks, dinner served from the wrong side, etc. — and even when there is a genuinely catastrophic event, such as the death of one of the show’s main characters, it is handled with a subtlety and gentility that hits the appropriate emotional notes without leaving the viewer feeling their concern for beloved characters has been taken advantage of and used against them. Or such was the case before Sunday’s episode.

You can read an in-depth recap of Sunday’s episode here, but suffice it to say that all but the last 8 minutes were traditional Downton fare, with potential suitors, dinner guest drama, and a jar of jam breaking in the kitchen (no, for real, that was a whole thing). So when, in the final few minutes, we see Anna, arguably the most morally upright character on the show, downing Alka Seltzer alone in the empty kitchen while the rest of the household are upstairs listening to a performance from a visiting opera singer, my first thought was, “Oh dear, another health crisis storyline.” It wasn’t until Anna turned around to find herself face-to-face with a visiting valet whose previously open, charming face is suddenly glowering with menace (subtle!) that I realized the direction the scene was headed. Even so, this is Downton Abbey, not Law & Order: SVU. Surely someone would burst in at the last minute and stop him, right? Right?! Wrong.

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One Line: Consent

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Despite what Robin Thicke has to say, we know that there’s only one line: consent.

Consent is the voluntary, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement exchanged amongst individuals. The only way to know if another individual has given consent is if they explicitly say so. Consent cannot be given if coercion, manipulation, threats, intimidation, pressure, or alcohol or drugs have been involved. Asking for and obtaining consent shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner.

Speaking of consent, come out to Local 506 on Saturday, November 22, for ONE LINE: Consent Dance Party. We’ll celebrate consent at a fun dance party with Lady DJs Fifi Hi-Hi, Playplay, and Queen Plz.

And in other consent-themed news, check out this awesome campaign from UNC students, Sex Equality Consent. They asked students what consent means and why it matters. Here are a few answers! Check out their Facebook page for more.

Consent, Liz

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There Is Only One Line: Consent

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After spending some time abroad, I returned home to find that Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines was a widespread phenomenon, gracing the radio waves of top 40 stations across the nation. With a catchy tune, nice beat, and memorable lines, more than once I caught myself singing along without quite considering the words I was saying – until law students from Auckland University remade the song into a feminist anthem (warning: adult content).

Adelaide Dunn, Olivia Lubbock, and Zoe Ellwood tag-team to unveil the damage inflicted by the overtly misogynistic lines normalizing sexual advances despite “blurred lines” of consent, with self-assured men chanting, “I know you want it, but you’re a good girl.”

You Know You Want It

As reported in the New Zealand Herald article “Law Students Blur the Lines in Online Hit,” Thicke has responded to allegations of misogyny by noting “the song was about breaking taboos.” Yet Dunn, Lubbock, and Ellwood retorted that the “attitude of the whole thing came across as being quite arrogant, especially with the issue of consent.”

Project Unbreakable (from whom we’ve re-printed pictures in this blog post) is an organization founded to help sexual assault survivors in their healing process by photographing themselves with quotes taken from their abusers in order to break the silence and shame surrounding their victimization. Some of these photographs were recently published in conjunction with the University of Minnesota’s The Society Pages in an article titled “From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.” The parallels to Thicke’s lyrics are unmistakable. Echoing the lyrics, survivors were pictured with phrases such as, “I know you want it,” “Good Girl,” “We both know you don’t really mean it when you say no,” and “Thank you for making me feel like a Man.”

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Living in a Rape Culture: A Primer

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Being introduced to the concept of rape culture changed everything. It changed my understanding of television, music, jokes, laws, and even language. When asked to write a primer for rape culture, I assumed it would be a simple task. Surely, I had been using the term for years, since taking a Women’s Studies 101 course at UNC. It took the better part of a week, however, to even start this overwhelming blog post.

It feels difficult to define something as pervasive as rape culture, but essentially it is a set of attitudes and practices that normalize, tolerate, and even condone sexual violence. We hear messages supporting rape culture everywhere, from television and music to casual comments and jokes from friends. These everyday messages have a deep-rooted impact on society.

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