Romantic comedies are supposed to be escapist—a jaunt into a better, more colorful world where journalists can afford giant New York apartments and no obstacle to love is too great to overcome.
Except that when you think about it, some of the behavior portrayed as romantic in these movies is, objectively, creepy. The Love Actually sign guy was totally out of line, and honestly, Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything was pushing it with his famous jukebox. Even the supposedly “pure” love of cute baby-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt as Cameron in 10 Things I Hate About You involves teaching himself just enough French that he can pose as a tutor and hang out with his beloved. Oh, and hiring a guy to go out with her sister.
The Onion, as always, sums it up well: “Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested.”
Reasonable people know that rom-coms aren’t what love is really like, just as reasonable people know that porn is not what sex is really like. But these movies still create an image of romance that leaks into the atmosphere and may subtly shape people’s perceptions and expectations of love.
One troubling way they may do that is by making stalking behaviors seem like a normal part of romance, according to a new study by Julia Lippman, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of communication studies at the University of Michigan. She had a group of 426 women each watch one of six movies that had been edited down to a half an hour: a romantic comedy where a man pursues a woman and it’s depicted positively (There’s Something About Mary or Management), a movie where a man pursues a woman romantically and it’s depicted as scary (Sleeping with the Enemy or Enough), or a nature documentary (March of the Penguins or Winged Migration) as the control.