Rightwing Film Geek

Dour, unromantic Scots

I’ve been meaning to blog this item for a couple of weeks, so forgive the delay.

But leave it to scholars at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh to trash Romantic Comedies as bad for real-life romances, because they promote notions of romance that are unrealistic. Or as the BBC headline-writers put it — “Rom-coms ‘spoil your love life’.”

Rom-coms have been blamed by relationship experts at Heriot Watt University for promoting unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.
They found fans of films such as Runaway Bride and Notting Hill often fail to communicate with their partner.
Many held the view if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you telling them.

The university’s Dr Bjarne Holmes said: “Marriage counsellors often see couples who believe that sex should always be perfect, and if someone is meant to be with you then they will know what you want without you needing to communicate it.
“We now have some emerging evidence that suggests popular media play a role in perpetuating these ideas in people’s minds.”

While I’ve never had a marriage breakup over a Julia Roberts movie (though frankly no man should touch a woman who likes a movie called “Runaway Bride” — something about that title), the story put the finger on why I don’t like most happy-happy-joy-joy romantic comedies. They promote a view of life and love that is both false and fundamentally unhealthy, or at a minimum, one I absolutely cannot tap into or sympathize with. (It hasn’t failed to occur to me that I generally prefer dark, grim movies; tragedies or extremely astringent dramas.) I don’t mean to go all John Gray, Mars and Venus, but at least with respect to the expectations of the rom-com, I’d say this is typical of why guys don’t generally like “chick flicks” — that we’re too hard-headed to believe in romantic destiny. Here is one of the juxtapositions:

As part of the project, 100 student volunteers were asked to watch the 2001 romantic comedy Serendipity, while a further 100 watched a David Lynch drama.
Students watching the romantic film were later found to be more likely to believe in fate and destiny. A further study found that fans of romantic comedies had a stronger belief in predestined love.

I hold no brief for David Lynch, but the plot of SERENDIPITY is one of the stupidest in movie history (which might have been OK had there been any chemistry between John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale on their first date, but there wasn’t). Couple has the date of their lives and Beckinsale leaves her address and phone number in a book that she knows Cusack will find if they were meant to be together. Years later, they’re both set to be married, but Cusack is unsure and makes one last effort to retrace their steps, find the book and find his destined love (not his fiancee??). Re anybody who could find all that inspiring, four words: Stay. The. Hell. Away.

I’m aware that these movies are all played as fantasies, and that everyone realizes that at a certain level. But what this research confirms is that movies don’t mostly affect us at the level of conscious thought, where we sort movies into “real/unreal,” “moral/immoral,” “laudatory/condemnatory” and the rest of that. And even calling a movie a fantasy is still to set it up as some sort of ideal — “sure, it couldn’t be true, but wouldn’t it be good if it could” — which is just as bad in some ways. But more importantly, the mere fact of having seen Movie X automatically and necessarily makes Movie X part of your experience of life, and automatically and necessarily turns you into “a person who has seen Movie X.” Indeed, Pauline Kael wrote in “I Lost At the Movies” that one of the glories of movies was this very capacity — “new films are judged in terms of how they extend our experience and give us pleasure.” But every extension of experience affects your implicit worldview and range of understanding — what is, what can be, what should be (three different things; all equally relevant).

January 4, 2009 - Posted by | Viewership

1 Comment »

  1. I think it is somewhat inevitable that people adopt what they see on TV and movies as part of their understanding of the world they live in, its standards and possibilities. This has to affect expectations in relationships.

    Don’t know that it matters that a story is presented as fantasy, it still becomes part of the scenery. In your example of Serendipity, it isn’t as if young women didn’t already have some tendency toward secret tests of whether something was meant to be. Something like that book test is borderline insane but worse in a direction that seems a natural inclination anyway.

    Hell, guys have “tests” too, but for us it’s just simple shit, like does she reach over to unlock your door when you put her in the car.

    Comment by Ronsonic | January 9, 2009 | Reply

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