America, we have a problem when it comes to our media — and it isn’t just the spread of fake news. In 2017 and throughout modern history, American pop culture has used abusive behavior as a shortcut for romance. The prevalence of this type of relationship dynamic is as startling as it is damaging.
A new hit movie, Passengers, is just the latest in a long line of movies, books and television shows that glamorize unhealthy, abusive relationships. In the movie, the male lead (played by Chris Pratt) traps the female lead (Jennifer Lawrence) aboard a spaceship with him after researching her and deciding that she was the one for him. Although this is billed as a love story, it is anything but — it’s a movie that is based on stalking. Fifty Shades of Gray is another popular book and movie that isn’t based on a healthy, consensual relationship dynamic, but on abuse, control and violence.
Of course, using domestic or sexual violence as a form of romance is nothing new. Bodice-rippers — a genre of romance novels that have been around for decades — usually involve a male protagonist who sexually assaults the female protagonist, whereupon she decides that she loves him and wants to be with him. The popular Twilight series involves an older man stalking a teenage girl, showing up in her room at night to watch her, as romantic rather than creepy. Is it any wonder that both men and women in our society have problems understanding consent, healthy relationships and respect when this is the sort of media that we are consuming in our teens and beyond?
When it comes to the television shows we watch, the books we read and the movies we see, it’s important to remember that subconscious messages can have a significant impact on our psyche and our belief systems. A young man who grows up believing that not taking no for an answer is the way to get a girl (as movies have taught him to do) may be the man who rapes a woman. A young woman who read books that portray controlling behavior as a symbol of how much a man loves a woman may find herself normalizing that type of abusive behavior in her own relationships.
We can change this by demanding better. We don't need stalking, abuse or control to believe in a love story or a romantic relationship. Let’s refuse to watch shows, read books or pay for movies where these elements are present. By becoming conscious consumers of media, we can make a difference in what type of content is produced. So keep calling out those bad movies, TV shows and books — and don’t spend your money on any media that glamorizes abuse.