The Stalker in Me
a guest editorial by Paul Miller
illustration by Chris Pitzer
Stalking is an American pastime. Because we produce so many stars, we have to be a nation of fans. At the heart of every true fan is desperation, and desperate people do desperate things. We imitate, we admire, we are fascinated, we mimic, we are in love, and we stalk. In the music world, stalking has become practically de rigueur behavior for old and young superfans alike. When I Googled “stalking Fugazi” I found a page where you can enter information such as where you last saw them, what they were doing, etc. Imagine such a service for ex-girl or boyfriends and you start to realize how intensely crazy the situation really is—in no other area of life is stalking not only accepted, but actually admired, to an extent. Stalking has become so typical in the entertainment world that the normal question to ask anyone in NYC, after someone tells you about the famous person they just saw on the street, is “Did you follow them?”
For me, the answer was yes. Sitting in a coffee shop in Chelsea, my friend tapped me on the shoulder to tell me he’d just seen Parker Posey walk past. What do we do now? I asked. We smiled at each other. Follow her, of course! I was already tossing my coffee in the trash before the words were out. Seconds later we were jogging up the street looking for the movie star. I think she was wearing an intentionally ratty-looking red coat, but I could be wrong, it was a few years ago. Anyway, pretty soon we caught up with her, but by that point I was giggling—what next? “I dunno—let ’s see where she goes.” We didn’t want to talk to her or get her autograph, or at least I didn’t. Perhaps we did it so we’d have a story to tell friends. But the split second decision was to sacrifice our expensive beverages and follow this person we did not know, did not want to know, and who almost certainly did not want to know us.
The funny thing is, when I actually do see someone I greatly admire and want to chat with, following them is about the last thing I’m likely to do. Maybe it’s because I want them to like me, and I can’t think of anything more annoying than being followed around, but I’ve also just never thought an artist would have much to add to their work in person, talking, that would make me appreciate it more. Less, sure. Do we go to live shows to see people perform, or to meet the “real” person behind the makeup? And do we expect extra authenticity for our 17 dollars, or because we got our lazy asses up off the couch for one night?
A big part of me thinks it’s all their fault. They make us envious, they make us love them, and they deserve what they get. The truth is we stalk them because it’s the worst thing we can do to them. Because we can’t hurt them and because we don’t want to make them happy. Because we don’t really respect them. Because they never did anything for us, really. Because we can be that annoying. Because in stalking we can have some power over them, those who do not know us, those who do not want to know us or talk to us even. Those bastards who haven’t spent 1/1000th of the time watching us that we have watching them. Cy De Groat’s Yo-Yo Reporter piece, “Two Stuffed Cats… AH AH AH!” (p. 22), reminds me that there’s a lot more to pay attention to than the people on stage. Because for all of our adoration, we don’t really get anything in return.
Why do we stalk? We stalk because we want more attention and we stalk because we want to be left alone. We know that if we act like they hate us, we will make them hate us, and we know that by acting like we deserve to be ignored, we will be. We stalk for a million, trillion and one reasons and none of them make any sense. Why do we dream? Why do we stalk? The important questions rarely yield satisfactory answers.
At first glance, the stalker-cum-filmmaker in Stefanie Kalem’s Reverse Angle story on Kyle Keyser’s PJ Harvey documentary (“Polly Wane a Stalker?” p. 48) seems easy to confuse for a “would-be, delusional suitor.” These days, the line between traditional, “real” stalking (the last resort of desperate ex-lovers, psychotic fans, etc.) and modern, seemingly innocuous stalking (such as the time a friend and I followed Parker Posey for block after block in Chelsea, until she practically ran into a local building to get away) is blurred. The admiring fan carves up the soap opera star. The grieving ex-boyfriend commits suicide on the lawn of the one who rejected him. These are desperate acts. So, on a different scale, our fanatical impulses betray our desperation.
Paul Miller is a part-time writer who lives in New York City. He’s 31 years old and has reddish hair. He sat next to Carrie Brownstein at a party in Brooklyn last weekend but had absolutely no urge to follow her around later that night.