Feb 172009
Authors: Ryan Nowell

I’ve been taking the Geraldo route for getting your attention lately. How’s it working?

A while back, I wrote an article on the “Twilight” series and its less than appreciated presence at the top of the bestseller list. For being an unmitigated wad of snark, the article drew quite a bit of thoughtful, even-handed commentary. Good for you, kind readers, for taking the high road while your intrepid editorialist chummed the waters.

I mention said incident because this week I’m going to be deriding yet another hallowed bastion of unbridled sentiment: the romantic comedy. You may be thinking “What’s the deal? Why all the criticism for media with a female demographic?”

Before you call misogynistic shenanigans or start theorizing on any Freudian inadequacy issues being exorcised here, let me state that I’m trying to fill an article.

Phallocentric media, being much more overtly messed up, could probably deforest most of South America with the reams of sociological studies and gender critiques generated from one Yin Yang Twins music video. Porn and video games say a whole lot of not-entirely-flattering things about society and seeing as how we’re already a quarter of the way done here, I just don’t have that kind of time.

So, in an upcoming study to be published in “Communication Quarterly,” researchers found that most Hollywood romantic comedies have certain behavioral patterns encoded in those stale plots and unthreateningly-kooky characters which may be causing avid chick-flick viewers to have unrealistic expectations of relationships and marriage, as well as exhibit dysfunctional behaviors based on those fictional standards.

Now if this isn’t exactly rocking your world, I implore you to thumb through a psychology journal some time.

You’ll find that every random, asinine observation you can think of has at some point been the topic of an extensive study, the results of which are all laid out for you in an ornately phrased train wreck of academic jargon, like “Communication Quarterly’s” recent barnburner “Effects of Visual Spatial Structure on Textual Conversational Multitasking” (coincidently, also the name of the Yin Yang Twins’ new single).

As ridiculous as it all may seem, it helps highlight the main thrust of most cultural criticism: Nothing is innocuous. Even something as willfully benign as romantic comedies.

Critic A.O. Scott recently bemoaned the blandification of the genre, which over the last 50 years has slid from a critically beloved showcase of witty banter and idiosyncratic acting to the modern manufactured product of airbrushed mannequins doing their damndest to be inoffensive so we can get the brain-dead warm fuzzies we paid for.

Which isn’t to say that older movies didn’t have plenty of encoded cultural messages of their own. It’s just that the hyper-idyllic couples portrayed in contemporary films, honed like a smart bomb to hit an audience right in the ventral tegmentals, has by degrees made us less happy.

The study found that fans of the genre are less likely to communicate their feelings to their significant other, saying that their partners should know instinctively when something is bothering them. A perfectly reasonable thing to expect that won’t collapse into passive-aggressive sniping at all. No way.

Further, fans are more likely to believe in predestined love, which paradoxically has been shown to make people more ambivalent and unhappy about their relationships.

While believing that the universe has singled you out for 50 years of moony looks and blissful copulation with your very own custom-built mate-for-life has its adolescent charms, surrendering your agency to the fates has the unfortunate side effect of psychologically neutering your decisions. You’re not really in charge of what you do anyway, so why does it matter?

The biggest trouble I see with this is that glorifying the hopeless romantic establishes na’veté as the highest expression of love, casting common sense and good judgment as acts of arch-cynicism.

If you really loved him/her, you’d overlook this, or tolerate that. You just want them to be happy. It was meant to be. The band’s going to make it. Etc.

These notions lead lots of people into staying in unhealthy or even dangerous situations for far longer than they otherwise would. These ideas don’t create abuse, but they create a mindset that excuses it.

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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