When Ben Stiller hires a private detective to track down his high school sweetheart in There’s Something About Mary, we’re asked to forget about the fact that Stiller’s character is displaying the most basic stalkerish tendencies. After all, he’s doing it out of pure love for the gal, isn’t he?
Or what about some more classic romcom situations, like the dude throwing pebbles outside his love’s window, the guy questioning her friends about all of her likes and dislikes, or the ones where the guy shows up at the airport and begs her not to go and change her life?
Sure, over the years these classic tropes have been reversed and sometimes it’s been the girl doing the driving. But overall, if these things were to happen in real life, they’d be looked on as a little creepy, no?
Apparently not. At least not according to a new study from the University of Michigan, which looked at how classic romcoms like There’s Something About Mary, High Fidelity, Love Actually and more change the way women perceive stalker tendencies.
The study, appropriately titled “I Did it Because I Never Stopped Loving You,” was led by the school’s gender and sexuality expert Julia R Lippman and was pretty simple in concept. Basically, she wanted to find out if women’s responses to how they viewed aggressive male behaviour changed after they had watched a series of clips from such films.
Naturally, they did — both positively and negatively.
You see, if the participants saw clips from films that showcased negative pursuits (think Julia Roberts’ ex-husband in Sleeping With the Enemy) they would then be less likely to put up with stalker-like male behaviour when answering a subsequent questionnaire. But if they watched a romantic comedy featuring the same sort of clips (albeit ones with a lighter, comedic tone), they were more likely to be forgiving towards those tendencies on the questionnaire.
So why is this so dangerous? Well, according to Lippman, the dark side that isn’t often talked about is that these films can make women discount their instincts and minimize the seriousness of stalking in general. Not to mention that for some women, it can make them question their partner’s “passion” for them if they’re a regular old guy who hasn’t jumped through hoops to win her love.
Sorry John Cusack, but it looks like love doesn’t conquer all after all.