continued * * *
Is stalking a phenomenon of the cyberwired, star-worshipping age we live in, where artificial media bring a few cult figures into pseudo-intimate contact with millions?
"I'm not sure whether stalking has increased, or if we're just paying more attention to it. It certainly is a hot subject for research now," says Meloy. The worrying thing, he believes, is that in some ways, society actually gives it its blessing.
"Our popular culture sanctions obsessional pursuit. All you have to do is look at some of the movie titles, the songs, the advertisements in our society: you have Calvin Klein's perfume Obsession. The TV ad shows this little waif of a woman dressed in eight square inches of clothing. She comes on the screen and she's standing virtually nude on a beach and says, 'Between romance and madness lies obsession.' You think of Sting's song 'Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I'll be watching you.' That's a song of obsession."
Meloy expands on the thought. "The American popular culture," he writes in his book, The Psychology of Stalking, "...movies, television, music, and advertising...tacitly sanctions obsessional pursuits. Lurid and dramatic portrayals of stalking -- Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction are two cinematic examples -- intermittently appear in the popular culture. [In movie plots] obsessional pursuits, or stalking, end with a positive outcome or reinforcement for the behavior: [In Bizet's Carmen], we sympathize with Carmen's murderer; we laugh at Charlie Brown's little sister, Sally, for tenaciously pursuing Linus.... Stalking is the dark heart of romantic pursuit."
Even characters in Shakespeare, it seems, were stalkers. Meloy quotes Othello at the front of his book.
"She must die, else she'll betray more men....
This sorrow's heavenly;
It strikes where it doth love."
-- Othello, Act V, Scene II.
Meloy's co-contributor, psychologist Glen Skoler, segues this quote straight to O.J. Simpson, talking to Esquire magazine last February: "Let's say I committed this crime.... Even if I did this, it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?"
Or John Hinckley: "I seem to have a need to hurt those people that I love the most. This is true in relation to my family and to Jodie Foster. I love them so much, but I have this compulsion to destroy them.... My assassination attempt was an act of love. I'm sorry love has to be so painful."
Skoler writes, "One of the most disturbing archetypes and psychodynamics in love obsession is the fantasy of both union with and possession of the beloved in death."
"The force of fantasy," adds Meloy, "...is the first step in understanding the psychology of stalking."
Meloy cites Princess Diana's death and the tidal wave of emotion it elicited, especially from the normally taciturn British. Part of it was guilt: people suddenly recognized that, through the paparazzi, they and the whole world were "stalking" her, seeking some "narcissistic link" with her.
"It is also a problem in Britain," says Meloy. "It's a big problem in Australia. And in Canada. It appears to be an Anglo phenomenon. Although nobody's researched the Latin countries."
His three-point advice for anyone who thinks they're being stalked: recognize when it begins, contact the police, and document each event.
Bottom line, says Meloy in his 1992 book Violent Attachments, is that American culture "knows too much about violence and too little about attachment."
Back in Oakland County court in Pontiac, Michigan, Meloy's testimony could not save Gerald Atkins: last week the jury convicted him on 25 counts, including first-degree murder.