Why it’s a problem: Unsurprisingly, a popular series on Netflix, Baby Reindeer, is perpetuating harmful tropes about sexual violence.

According to the author of this Business Insider article, Eve Crosbie, the series is being “praised” for its “compassionate portrayal” of the stalker, who is “shown to be suffering from untreated mental health issues.”

The casual way that Crosbie, and people in society generally, repeat this harmful fallacy of the “mentally ill abuser” is indicative of the power and utility of such narratives that we as a society employ to avoid facing the harsh truths about the “ordinary” people who actually cause so much harm.

Despite that the series’ creator, Richard Gadd, has claimed that the show is exploring the “realities of abuse,” the fact is that it presents an overly simplistic and sensationalist narrative about mental health. We are told that the stalker’s “life was already in tatters” and that she was recently “fired from her job as a lawyer.” But while experiencing distress can certainly contribute to poor mental health, it is a less reasonable explanation for why someone would stalk another person than the more mundane and plausible reason that the person had poor judgment and didn’t respect other’s boundaries. The statistics on who commit harassment and sexual violence in society tell a very different story from these types of popular narratives that serve only to stigmatize and further marginalize the powerless.

There is also something to be said of the choice of actor, Jessica Gunning, a fat woman, who was cast to play the part of the stalker, which feeds right into stereotypes of criminality and deviance associated with people who are fat or physically nonconforming. That Gadd has the character furthermore “threaten to start stabbing people if he doesn’t pay attention to her” tells me everything I need to know about this popular trash passing as “high art.” Given that Gadd has even stated that “he had employed artistic license in crafting his characters,” the decision to have a fat actress play the stalker is especially revealing about who audiences readily accept as villains in popular storytelling.

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