Wednesday, January 17, 1996

Stalk

STICKS and stones may break my bones, but only word, "stalker" seems guaranteed to have an equally forceful effect. There was always something odd and unnatural about "stalking" even when the word meant to walk warily, on the tips of the toes, as though the legs themselves had been lengthened into stalk like structures. Initially this type of walking was associated as much with hauteur as with hunting, but lately things have changed, and the word has come to represent a peculiarly nasty brand of fin-de-siecle self abasement.

The sinister qualities of the word were greatly enhanced by both the John Stalker affair, and by Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 film, Stalker. It was, however, in December 1980, when stalker superstar Mark Chapman shot his idol John Lennon, that the term first became defined in the public imagination in its modern sense, as one closely associated with violence and social alienation. When the word again featured in coverage a few months later, of the attempted assassination of Ronald Regan, "stalker" had finally stepped out of the shadows.

Reagan's stalker, John Hinckley, also helped highlight a crucial audio visual document for all prospective stalkers Martin Scorsese's 1976, Taxi Driver. When Hinckley shot at the President he did 50, he has suggested, in emulation of the film's hero, citing a desire to communicate with Jodie Foster, who played a young prostitute in the film. Ever since, the Paul Schrader scripted film has been a touchstone for screen wackos right up to Kassovitz's Vinz in La Haine.

At times it seems that the real popularity of the word is related to the type of images it helps create in films. Night in the trailer park. The police close in on their target, force a flimsy door and roll into the dingy Formica hutch that somebody calls home. A torch passes over a wall, straying across a movie star pin up and an empty Big Mac carton. Someone throws the light switch and a million taped up images of one face and one body fill the screen. If the police are having a good day, some of the photos will be scrawled over with quotations from the Kabbala in candy pink lipstick.

While garish lipstick may be a form of communication much favoured by movie stalkers, their real life counterparts have, predictably, adopted more modern methods. It is now possible to stalk by telephone, removing any necessity to move on tiptoes, and even through the Internet, removing any obligation to contact the "victim".

In 1990, California passed the United States' first law making stalking a felony all other states have since followed suit. On this side of the Atlantic, the word remains the property of the media. But even without the sanction of law, it is enjoying a full and active life. Neither the man who followed Princess Anne, nor the one who waited for Princess Diana with out a camera, was charged with stalking, but nobody writing about either event was in any doubt these men were stalkers.

British men's magazine Loaded, cautious as ever when it comes to the sensitive stuff, features a rubric in which readers are encouraged to get their arms around a star while a friend takes a picture. The resulting photos of bodybuilders, porn stars and chat show hosts are printed under the title "Now You're Stalking" tactlessly converting the most solitary of contemporary pastimes into a team sport.

LOAD-DATE: January 17, 1996

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