A recent study shows romantic comedies could have an even more insidious effect on society than continuing to give Katherine Heigl work. The Guardian—citing a study published last year in Communication Research—reports rom-coms portraying obsessive behavior as romantic can make women more likely to tolerate stalkerish behavior in their real lives. Examples of "romantic" stalking in films can be found in everything from Love Actually to Beauty and the Beast to High Fidelity. "Stalking often seems to be trivialized in our culture," the study's author, Julia Lippmann, tells Global News. "It can encourage women to discount their instincts." And she says those same Instincts "serve as powerful cues to help keep us safe."
For her study, Lippmann asked women questions about "aggressive romantic behavior"—as the Guardian puts it—after having them watch various movies. Women who watched Ben Stiller hire a private detective to track down Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary were more likely to accept "stalking myths" than women who watched March of the Penguins or Enough, in which Jennifer Lopez is terrorized by an obsessive ex. “Stalking myths are false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimize its seriousness," Lippmann explains to the Guardian. The study found this kind of normalization could have legal ramifications for actual stalking victims. For example, a security guard in Australia successfully used his love of Bollywood romances to defend himself against harassment charges. (Here's why When Harry Met Sally is so wrong about men and women.)