I’ve had unconventional fictional character crushes for about as long as I can remember. I remember being about 9 years old, snuggled into bed, forehead to forehead, with my friend Julie at a sleepover, while we talked about who we liked. She was all about Arnold Schwarzenegger, his “Kindergarten Cop” and “Terminator.” I, however, was in love with a man in tights. Not Cary Elwes of “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” — that would have made sense. Or even Kevin Costner’s weirdly robotic and bare-assed one. I was about 50 years late to the Errol Flynn (of “in like Flynn”) love fest. In the 1938 version of “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” I loved his cocky grin, the glittering tights, the silver-screen accent, and the sword-fighting. I remember trying to explain this all to Julie (who had no idea whom I was talking about) until she rolled over in disgust at my lack of coolness.
Now, I’m in love with another character on the upright side of the law, and I’m not sure if I’m any cooler, but it does feel way more complicated.First, let me say that I’m unabashedly in love with Detective Elliot Stabler from “Law & Order: SVU.” I don’t care that Chris Meloni’s hairline is sort-of receding, or that he’s far too old for me, or that he’s a fictional character. I’m in total and complete luuuuurve. And it is weird. My adoration for this character is not an entirely comfortable one.
His show is formulaic, and the “ripped from the headlines” stories sometimes feel exploitative and sensationalistic. It’s a show about sexual violence, which I’m obviously uncomfortable with — will watching this many serial rapists start to mess with my head? The violence is pretty equal opportunity; it occurs against children, men, women, and people from all backgrounds and socioeconomic conditions, and while that diversity of victims does prevent me from feeling like it lives in the world of increasingly awful torture-porn violence against women, it still makes me uncomfortable. Does a TV show repeatedly showing violence glamorize it even as it “prosecutes” it? When we watch shows like this, are we rewiring our brains to care less about the real victims because we’re desensitized? I don’t know.
And that’s just the show. Stabler is everything I wouldn’t really want in a real life man. He’s a cop (I’ve never dated one of those) with a dangerous job that gets inside his head. He’s angry, so often seeming as though he’s just simmering up to the point of violent explosion himself, like when he goes under review for revealing to the police department psychiatrists that he’s fantasized about killing the perps, or when he’s pounding someone’s face into the ground with a little extra pizazz and throwing suspect after suspect against the wall in the interrogation room. He’s a devout Catholic, and I’m Jewish. He’s always having marriage troubles and is barely faithful to his wife. But, he’s so sexy.
Sexy in his muted dress shirts, blazers, and well-fitted blue jeans. Sexy in the oh-so-many scenes written in for him to take off his shirt, whether at the gym, before going to sleep, or just while being angry … Sexy while he’s bashing in those faces. What is going on with my brain? I think this crush allows me to lust after all these things that the rational me doesn’t want but the out-of-the-primordial-ooze me does. All that angry-avenging violence is really horrifically bad in real life. I’ve seen the tapes of cops beating down suspects as they’re being arrested, and it turns my stomach. I’m rational in real life — I know that the person with the bloody, broken face might be a criminal, but that they still deserve their right to due process. That they receive their rights is what keeps our system balanced and civil. I need that rationality.
But somewhere inside is the part of me that wants a man who is strapped with muscle and unafraid. Someone who is angry and who can seek vengeance against evil and make everything good again. That’s the thing. TV is so much simpler than real life, and even while the show portrays life-changing and -ending violence every week, it almost always sets it right again through Elliot Stabler. He makes the world new again. I don’t care if he takes it too far because I want him to take it too far. It’s make-believe for my brain, and, besides, I never go for men in tights anymore.