I was with my girlfriends on a night out recently and the conversation went to relationships and how hard they have become right now. Well, alcohol boosts this kind of conversations anyway. To cut a long story short, because let’s be honest, in a big company of girls this issue can hardly be exhausted, we confirmed that what women are looking for in a guy or relationship is highly influenced by long-established representations that circulate around the media. To put it simply, we concluded that what the teen or the girl of an even younger age watches repeatedly on TV shows or movies shapes most of her ideas about what her future boyfriend, his approach and his treatment of her, and the course of their relationships should be or look like. Without noticing it. This tends to follow her into her adulthood til the moment she’s mature enough to realize and harness it. If she eventually does.
Then, channeling my inner Carry Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: what have The Notebook, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bridget Jones or many others done to me and so many other girls? Don’t get me started on Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill (Team Nathan!) or Crazy Stupid Love. I guess the correct answer is false expectations. I’m sure all of us, willingly or not (hey boys I’m talking to you!), have seen a romantic movie in our lifetime. Maybe even two. Or some of us haven’t seen all of them just because they have slipped through our fingers. Yet. More questions flooded my brain. Are these types of shows and movies so powerful indeed as to shape the expectations of women? Are we so weak as to let this imagery affect us so deep and form the way we see the opposite sex? And is this romanticizing and glorifying of particular male models capable enough of contributing to the difficult relationships between the two sexes today? Many far-reaching issues… I know. And the list goes on: Are they partly responsible for the disillusionment and alienation among people? Or is this all just utter bullshit? And what about the role of men in this story? How does it influence their behavior, their expectations? But I’ll try to keep it brief.
I understand that this whole matter is no news and has been undertaken before by many people. So I’ll definitely not reinvent the wheel here. I also know that examining the female expectations based on the impact of Hollywood stories as a reason why people’s relationships today are a challenging endeavor, is one side of the coin. Maybe even not that. Maybe it is a dot in the side of the coin. I believe, however, that it is worth giving it a go considering my perspective as a young woman living the situation from within.
After considerable contemplation, I reminded myself of two German guys that were a bit of a pain in the ass back in the uni days. Adorno and Horkheimer published a collective work called The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception in 1947. In this work, somewhat cynically and severely, the duo take on the Hollywood industry by highlighting the way they actively label and patronize their consumers. In simple terms, they argue that the purpose of the Hollywood industry, driven by capitalism and profit, is to provide cheap products with mass appeal to the audiences. In order to have an important impact, they have to invite any type of person, especially those belonging to the middle-class, and they achieve this by depicting real life situations and everyday people in their movies. It is easier, thus, for the audience to identify with the characters, digest the plot and messages of the movie and in this way become casually entertained. The result, according to these guys, is first, ‘cheap’ art, second, the extensive use of stereotypes that are reproduced over and over again, such as the beauty ideals, and third, the spreading of the idea that all your wishes and dreams can be fulfilled.That anything can happen. Just take a look at your central hero!
Rom-coms follow these rules religiously. Μany times the protagonist is the girl next door, sometimes a shy and introverted girl who is somehow not the sexy-and-I-know-it type, but in reality is so neglectfully beautiful! Or other times the side-kick or the unpopular girl that gets noticed and conquered by the super-hot celebrity/lawyer/banker/school heartthrob! How many times do these girls nοt have a happy ending? Never. (Oh, well! Except for Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding who gets turned down by said best friend guy and finds solace in her gay best friend. -Cameron Diaz over Julia. Really?) Tell me one case where the male protagonist in these movies is an actual douche. Like the real douchebags that you can encounter out there. Mostly, he is either a misunderstood hero, mistakenly taken as a snob -sometimes even a guy with a troubled past that justifies his shitty behavior towards the female protagonist- or he is an extremely kind, charming and handsome person, i.e. a one-dimensional character whom you never get to know because we are all focused on the protagonist’s fate or his incredible looks (see Colin Firth in Bridget Jones Diary or Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love).
That’s how romantic comedies work, really. Generalizations and stereotypes. Assuming that all people are classified in specific and very limited categories. Like their personalities have finite nuances. The more those nuances engage the majority of the intended audience, the more the female audience is going to not only identify with the heroines but also feel that they can experience a similar fateful love story as them. But it is exactly these generalizations that make it hard to accept the other person’s humanness and the diversity of their personality traits in the real world, which can lead to disappointment.
Let’s be realistic. How many times have those movies left you with a melancholy or a feeling of missing out, just because you know that such a thing can’t easily happen in real life with all the perfection that is promoted through the movie? For me, it’s most of them. Despite that, we keep returning to these movies as a short of comfort or as a shelter from the reality that might not be going according to plan. Don’t forget that we have been inundated with stories of this sort from before we could understand how relationships work. Think fairy tales. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. The brainwash about our own ‘Prince Charming’has been taking place since such an early age that it is impossible for it not to hold an immense power over the way a woman shapes her personality. The bar has been set unrealistically and unbelievably high.
To wrap this up, what I’m suggesting of course is not to stop being romantic or stop hoping that the compatible match for us is out there somewhere. Not at all. What I’m saying is that we should take extra caution over the stimuli that shape what we think we are looking for in someone. Or realize that people are people and not carefully written movie parts with meticulously programmed reactions. This realization is accomplished once we get to know and work on ourselves first. I’m gonna stop now.
P.S. All gifs and pictures are taken from tumblr.