Critics were largely appalled by Kevin Williamson’s “Stalker” when they got their first look last July, and the intervening months have not softened their distaste. The series, whose pilot opens with a scene of a woman being doused in gasoline and set ablaze, premiered to decent ratings — thanks, America — but critics like Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz have grown tied of CBS’ law enforcement procedurals and their habit of stoking fears of violence, especially as inflicted upon women and children. “It’s what the local news does every single night, and cable news on a culturewide level. It makes you feel as if no place is safe. There could be a murderer hiding under your bed right now, or in a closet, or in a crawlspace over your head. They’re everywhere!” Even Judd Apatow thinks it’s gotten “out of hand.”
But no critique is as powerful as the one registered by the Stalker Resource Center, a victim-advocacy organization devoted to raising the kind of awareness Williamson disingenuously claims is his goal. (Thanks to Sonia Saraiya for bringing it to my attention.) In a scathing open letter to CBS’ Les Moonves, they ask, “Would CBS air a show called ‘Rapist’ and justify it as a way to raise awareness about sexual violence?”
We have strong objections to the use of gratuitous violence especially because we know that only 25-35% of stalking cases involve any violence and only 2% of cases involve serious violence, including homicide. Promoting that viewers will be “blown away” by the premiere and then opening the series with a woman burned to death in an explosion at the hands of her stalker was insensitive and told us all we need to know about CBS’s intentions. Stalker is a horror show, not a realistic depiction of a behavior or a foray to raise awareness by leading a national dialogue about a very real issue. Which by the way, in light of recent high profile cases of violence against women, we think CBS missed a tremendous opportunity to maximize its influence.
Beyond the statistics cited, there is very little the show gets right about stalking. As the nation’s leading resource on stalking, the Stalking Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, works day in and out providing resources, training, and information to law enforcement, prosecutors, victim service providers, and others to help them more effectively recognize and respond to stalking. 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.
If CBS or Kevin Williamson were capable of being shamed into taking “Stalker” off the air, it would have happened already. But if word gets out just how much harm the show can do, it will hopefully eat into the show’s audience, and then nature will take its course.