Tracking and stalking normalised in progressive queer Christmas movie
Okay. I don’t usually dig Christmas rom coms (bar of course, Love Actually). They are cringe, very rarely do the couples have any chemistry and Christmas has never been a particularly romantic or joyful time of year for me. But, I obviously had to go and see the long awaited queer christmas movie of the year. A story of two lesbians, with one (Mackenzie Davis) who has been ‘in the closet’ until her late twenties, finally coming out to the family after pretending her girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) is her orphan roommate. In keeping with the tradition of Christmas rom coms, these characters also have no chemistry. BUT this is not a review of the movie (although for those interested I found it boring, formulaic and extremley white and middle-class). What I want to talk about here is the casual way that the characters in the movie track and stalk each other through mobile apps.
At the moment I am working as a Research Assistant on a project on technology-facilitated abuse. So tracking a tool of abuse is an issue that is at the top of my mind. It starts off with the gay best friend of Kristen Stewart, played by Daniel Levy, tracking last nights hookup to make sure he leaves his apartment. This scene firstly troubled me as it perpetuates the stereotype of gay men having a throw-away sexual culture, where they move from hookup to hookup with no regard for the people they are sleeping with. Perhaps even disdain for their existence after they get what they want. But then, to show the character tracking the hookup, presumably through some sort of stalking software, with the other characters just shrugging this off was puzzling to me. What was the point of that scene? And why normalise tracking people without their consent?
But that was not the end of it, it seems that using tracking software was to serve as a narrative device throughout. Later on in the movie, Daniel Levy’s character uses the tracking software to ‘save’ Kristen Stewart from her girlfriends family Christmas. He then reveals he has been tracking her for ages, you know, to ‘make sure she is safe’. Without her knowledge. Without her consent. Of course, she shrugs this off too. Sorry, but if one of my friends was tracking me I would not feel safe, I would feel extremely violated and creeped out. But that was not the end of it either. When the lesbian couple reunites dramatically at the end, how did Mackenzie Davis’ character find Kristen Stewart after she ran away? Well, tracking her of course! Which she apparently learnt from Daniel Levy’s character.
This was supposed to be a romantic gesture, a hilarious narrative device. Well actually, it is really not.
Tracking and stalking people via spyware is contributing to the huge problem of domestic and family violence. New technology is released everyday that can facilitate this behaviour. A study found that 98% of those experiencing domestic violence had experienced some form of technology-facilitated violence, with tracking via GPS and spyware being one of the primarily abuse tactics used. It makes it extremely difficult for victim-survivors to leave relationships and to escape the abuse. It contributes to victim-survivors never feeling safe, knowing they are being watched at all times. We know that leaving the relationship is the most unsafe time for victim-survivors, and tracking spyware can quite literally lead to the death of those being abused in this delicate time. It is hostile, controlling and abusive behaviour.
Needless to say, I was really disappointed to see what was supposed to be the ‘progressive’ queer Christmas movie of the year making light of tracking and stalking. Using it as a ‘harmless’ way to drive forward a narrative. Using it as something that is even romantic and a nice thing to do in friendships, rather than something creepy and abusive.