By Melissa Henson
Sophia Bush, star of the TV series Chicago P.D. recently shared her story of being stalked and harassed by someone on Twitter. Sharing more than 500 screen captures of harassing messages, Bush wrote:
“I’m sharing it here to make something very clear. This kind of behavior does. Not. Fly. You do not have permission to hide. Not anymore: This has gotten beyond out of hand…Obsessive. Violent. And legally punishable.
Almost everyone has heard horror stories of celebrities being stalked by obsessive fans, of having to take out restraining orders for their own safety and the safety of their families, of finding their stalkers in their homes, or even in the tragic case of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, star of the ‘80s sitcom “My Sister Sam,” killed by her stalker.
But it’s not just celebrities that are victims of stalking. In the United States, according to Bureau of Justice statistics, 3.4 million people report being stalked.
And yet in Hollywood – where you would think there would be heightened sensitivity to this issue, “stalking” has gained some cache as an excellent theme for television shows and music videos.
Maroon 5 just released a music video for their hit song “Animals” that is the stuff of nightmares. (Song lyrics, by the way, include lines like “Baby, I’m preying on you tonight, Hunt you down eat you alive, Just like animals, Animals… Maybe you think that you can hide, I can smell your scent from miles, Just like animals, Animals.”) Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine plays a butcher who sees a beautiful woman in his shop, then stalks her, photographs her while she’s sleeping, and eventually follows her to a bar, where he approaches her and is rebuffed. He stands outside her window and fantasizes about having sex with her while blood rains down on them. These scenes are interspersed with images of him shirtless in a meat locker, surrounded by sides of beef hanging from meat hooks and smearing blood on his torso.
Is this creepy, stalker behavior is somehow supposed to be romantic or sexy? There’s no hint or suggestion that what he’s doing is wrong or illegal. There’s no clip of her picking up the phone to report him to the police. No squad car pulling up next to him to take him into custody. No courtroom scene where she tells the judge that she’s terrified he will hurt her. Just the denouement of their naked bodies in a passionate embrace, drenched in blood.
All of this would be bad enough if it was an isolated incident, but it’s not. CBS debuted Stalker – which promises to be 22 weeks or more of similar imagery.
The series premiere opened like this:
A woman gets out of her car in the dark. She gets a phone call on her cell and a man’s voice says he sees that she got home. She asks him to please leave her alone and hangs up. A man in a hood and a mask is standing in front of her door. She screams and runs from him but he chases her and pours gasoline on her. She gets in her car but he has the keys and shows them to her while she is locked inside, covered in fuel, screaming and honking the horn. He then douses the rest of the car in gasoline and lights it on fire. She puts the car in reverse and rolls backward but the car is already on fire. It crashes into a light pole and burns with her inside it. Then the car explodes. The killer stands and watches.
Predictably, CBS rated this as appropriate for a 14-year-old.
Stalker has already been widely criticized by TV critics and the Parents Television Council for being akin to “torture porn,” and rightfully so.
The Parents Television Council has documented disturbing TV trends about violence against women, including: a) Violence against women and teenage girls is increasing on television at rates that far exceed the overall increases in violence on television (from 2004-2009), and b) Violence towards women or the graphic consequences of violence tends overwhelmingly to be depicted (92%) rather than implied (5%) or described (3%).
CBS should be ashamed for green lighting such an exploitative and misogynistic series, and any advertisers that knowingly help to underwrite it should be likewise ashamed.
Hollywood, it’s time to stop treating violence against women and the sexual exploitation of women and children as entertainment.
Melissa Henson is the director of grassroots education and advocacy for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.