A Problematic Portrayal: CBS' Stalker and Maroon 5's Animal

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To consumers of pop culture, mainstream entertainment offers endless opportunities for complimentary and critical engagement. From plain, old poor quality to irresponsible social implications, the list of complaints is nearly endless. A recent troubling trend seen in television and music video—namely CBS’ new crime drama Stalker, and the video for Maroon 5’s latest single, “Animals”—is the reckless glorification of stalking.

While Stalker has drawn heavy criticism since its October 1 premiere, it has actually been the source of controversy since this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, where series creator Kevin Williamson defended the show against accusations that it glamorizes stalking. To the contrary, Williamson claims it helps raise awareness about the crime. It’s telling, however, that within hours of air time, the country’s foremost resource and advocacy organization, the National Center for Victims of Crime, released a blistering statement on the show wherein they claim that by “glorifying and normalizing a serious crime,” Stalker “demonstrates extremely poor judgment disrespecting the 7.5 million individuals who are victims of stalking each year in the U.S.”

To wit, Michelle Garcia, the director of the organization’s Stalking Resource Center, wrote CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves to express her disapproval and concern over the show. In her letter, she wrote, “One of our greatest challenges in keeping victims safe and holding offenders accountable is the minimization and normalization of stalking behaviors. This show only makes our work more difficult by framing stalking as entertainment. Would CBS air a show called Rapist and justify it as a way to raise awareness about sexual violence?”

By most accounts, it would be easier to swallow Williamson’s defense of Stalker without actually watching it. Replete with gratuitous violence against women and victim-blaming banter from a key character himself (detective Jack Larsen, played by Dylan McDermott), the pilot is undoubtedly problematic. It opens with a screaming woman being doused with gasoline and set on fire as she tries to escape, while her stalker—a masked figure in a hoody—looks on.

Led by Lieutenant Beth Davis (played by Maggie Q), the series depicts various stalking crimes each episode, and follows the detectives in the LAPD Threat Assessment Unit as they investigate them. From their first meeting, Davis has an automatically contentious relationship with the aforementioned Larsen (who it seems has a bit of a stalking problem himself, involving his estranged wife and child), a new transfer from New York City’s homicide department. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when Larsen concedes that he stared at Davis’ breasts upon their initial meeting, and does not improve when he later asks her directly why she dresses in a sexy fashion if she doesn’t want to provoke male attention.

As problematic as Stalker may be, however, it shares troubling similarities with Maroon 5’s latest video. The band has recently come under attack for the violent imagery in the music video for their current single, “Animals.” The video stars frontman Adam Levine as a butcher who, in addition to hanging out in an apparent meat locker full of dangling carcasses, snaps and examines surreptitious pictures of a particular female customer (played by his real-life wife, Behati Prinsloo). After watching her through her window from the street, he ultimately follows her home, where he then breaks in, and the two have sex under a streaming torrent of blood.

In addition to fans’ negative feedback on social media, the most vocal critic has been RAINN, the country’s largest anti-sexual assault group. In a statement to Billboard, RAINN said “Maroon 5’s video for “Animals.” is a dangerous depiction of a stalker’s fantasy—and no one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance. The trivialization of these serious crimes, like stalking, should have no place in the entertainment industry.”

Maroon 5 has yet to respond to these comments.

These criticisms are particularly salient given the ever-present problem of violence against women. While no one reasonably thinks media portrayals such as these cause stalking and violence, they undoubtedly help comprise the contextual space where people, overwhelmingly women, regularly suffer from both. Just last week, for instance, a woman in Queens ignored a man’s unsolicited attempts to talk to her. He then slashed her throat, leaving her in critical condition. Another woman, Mary “Unique” Spears of Detroit, was shot dead after being harassed by a man.

Although some argue that creating media such as this is socially irresponsible, there are others that feel censorship has no place in the entertainment industry. All things considered, perhaps the most careless move of all is creating such pieces, without also issuing an explanation, disclaimer, or warning alongside violent imagery. Doing so would provide vital food for thought on the creator’s artistic vision and what viewers will encounter, leaving the audience with a more thoughtful, nuanced understanding of the media they’ve just consumed.