On Tuesday night, I was settled into the couch to watch Happy! starring The Great Christopher Meloni when my husband innocently asked, “Where do I know him from?” I screeched: “He’s Detective Stabler! From Law & Order: SVU!” My husband looked at me blankly, so I added, “You don’t know DE-TEC-TIVE STAB-LER?” Then he made an extremely poor choice by asking, “And what’s... the deal... with Detective Stabler?” I silently navigated over to YouTube. Soon we were watching fan compilation videos of Stabler, sleeves rolled up, grilling perps and banging his fist on tables as the head-banging melody of Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life filled our living room.
Meanwhile, I explained that Stabler was one of the stars of Law & Order: SVU, a procedural cop drama about the NYPD’s “sex crimes” unit. “He’s this tortured former Marine with explosive anger issues,” I explained. “A wounded tough guy fighting the good fight.”
It had been, oh perhaps, a dozen or so years since I’d gone looking for Detective Stabler fan compilation videos on YouTube. But here some of the same ones were, preserved a decade-plus for this important teaching moment, alongside years and years and YEARS of newer compilations. Despite Meloni having left SVU nearly a decade ago in 2011, and after two-hundred-and-seventy-two episodes, there are fan edits published as recently as a couple of weeks ago. He eternally lives on in obsessive videos that recall themed highlights from the show against saccharine musical soundtracks and even render alternate fan-fic storylines. Which is how last night I found myself exclaiming something I rarely ever do anymore: “I love the internet!”
Many a fan video is dedicated to the sexual tension played up throughout the series between Stabler and his partner, Olivia Benson (they even have a fictional celebrity couple name: #Bensler). A more recent video, published after his departure from the show, revisited key moments from their partnership (i.e. his cradling her closely after she’s shot), all set to Mariah Carey’s “I Still Believe.”
The rest is pretty much: Stabler shirtless, kissing his wife, or doing tough-guy stuff. (In one case, it’s a critique of producers’ handling of his sex scene with on-screen text reading, “KEEP THE LIGHT ON FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Yeesh!”) One edit—by a user named ElliotStablerLova and titled “The many moods of Elliot Stabler”—is set to stirring classical music and unveils a series of illustrative moments from the show with Stabler’s “mood” labeled in a stock 2007-era video editing font. “Horny!” and “Sexy!!!” and “shirtless!” are “moods,” FYI.
Here is where I admit that there was a period in my life where my cellphone ring was the chung-chung from SVU’s opening theme. These compilation videos instantly revived that long-ago fandom, as well as my discomfort with lusting after a fictional character who is pretty much a poster child for toxic masculinity. He’s a cop—a cop!—who channels his rage into, um, abuses of institutional power? As I watched these YouTube videos, though, it felt like getting on the couch. Yes, here was a very angry man, but he was channeling that anger at bad men—specifically, domestic abusers, sexual harassers, rapists, and child abusers. He punched them, kicked their chairs out from under them, threw them across the room, and called them little bitches. Then I realized: DETECTIVE STABLER IS MY UNCONSCIOUS.
And he’s hot. My unconscious is a hot cop.