What I've learnt from rom-coms
Boy meets girl. Boy dumps girl. Girl wallows in unhappiness. This isn't how it goes on the silver screen.
The day before Valentine's Day, the man I was madly in love with broke my heart. The irony was cold comfort to me as I sat in bed, a sniffling, snotty mess. You see, I was in the midst of researching my doctoral thesis on romantic comedies.
I chose rom-coms because I believe that popular culture plays a powerful role in shaping how we think about the world around us. And I believe that when women buy more than half of all movie tickets, and when the romantic comedy is the only movie genre made specifically for women, we need to take a closer look at it.
From watching a lot of these movies, I knew that if I wanted my happy ending, there were a few things I would have to do. So, here's some wisdom, gleaned from watching many a rom-com, for a woman who wants to recover from heartbreak and find true love.
BE SKINNY, PRETTY AND RICH
Romantic comedies are aspirational and they're escapist. So naturally, rom-com heroines are usually financially set and live in unrealistically large, well-decorated apartments. They're all slender (and when they're not, they're Bridget Jones, "fat" at size 12). They're almost always white, and they're always straight. Better hope you're not average-looking, poor, a racial minority or a lesbian; no one is ever going to fall in love with you.
ACQUIRE A SASSY SIDEKICK
They can be gay or black (or both!), and should be walking stereotypes. Under no circumstances should they have their own love lives or problems. They are simply here to give you support and advice, which is void unless accompanied by fabulousness and/or finger snappin'.
BE A CORPORATE BITCH … OR A CUPCAKE-BAKING BABE
There are two kinds of jobs women can have in romantic comedies. There are your high-powered corporate roles, which require suits, Louboutins, and making life hell for your colleagues. These jobs indicate that the heroine is about to be taken down a peg by a commanding man whom she will soon come to love. Then there are your nice-girl jobs – caterer, party-planner, teacher – which indicate that a woman is a hopeless romantic about to melt the cold exterior of a loveless man. Either way, women in romantic comedies spend very little time thinking about, let alone doing, work. You might see them at the office or even baking cupcakes, but chances are they're talking to their co-workers about men while they're doing it.
BE LESS FEMINIST
In the past few years, Hollywood has given us a dozen movies about highly strung career women struggling to have it all. Feminism has only made them miserable, and it'll do the same for you, so don't worry your pretty little head about it. Just ...
FIND A JERK, FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM
If romantic comedies have taught me anything, it's that you're destined to fall in love with someone you hate. The dude at work who is a complete misogynist? Secretly the man of your dreams. That guy whose big chain shop is threatening to put you out of business? Secretly the man of your dreams. Your assistant, whom you despise and who loathes you right back? Secretly ... you get the point. It worked for Katherine Heigl in The Ugly Truth, Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail, and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal (and Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, Katharina in The Taming of the Shrew, and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice). This one is age-old wisdom: sure, he's a dickhead, but that's just because he's never been loved by the right woman – you!
If life were a romantic comedy, following this advice would have healed my heartbreak. Before I knew it, I'd have fallen in love with my jerky neighbour or stumbled over some bumbling Hugh Grant type at the library.
I didn't do any of these things. I did not acquire a stereotypical sidekick. I did not find some hateful man and wait until the power of my love melted his hardened heart. And I sure as hell did not become less feminist. But in the aftermath of the breakup, I couldn't help wishing that some charmingly awkward Englishman would materialise in the reference section. After all, I had been through the rom-com breakup – didn't I deserve the rom-com redemption, too?
It wasn't until I found myself thinking that very thought that I realised just how thoroughly I had learnt the lessons of the romantic comedy, and without even noticing it. Like I said, pop culture is a powerful thing.
Rom-coms tap into our most basic human desires to love and be loved. Unfortunately, in its current incarnation, the genre also taps into other elements of our culture, like sexism, heteronormativity and casual racism. And it perpetuates some rather harmful ideas. Feminism will make you miserable! A man who treats you badly will start treating you well if you just love him hard enough!
As children, we learn these lessons – about crucial things like love and sex – from fairy tales. As we grow up, the rom-com replaces the fairy tale and reinforces those lessons.
It's time to look a little more critically at the romantic comedy. It's time to unlearn.
post/discuss your favorite romcoms, ONTD. any recommendations?
I watched "Sundays At Tiffany's" last week. omg so cute <3