Do you have a favorite piece of fiction? Can you think of a book, a movie, a play, a song, an opera that creates both sparkles and bubbles simultaneously inside you? I’m sure there is somewhere, in the back of your mind, carefully stored in your heart, a piece of fiction you always go back to. Whether it’s something from your youth that you used to watch every day, or it’s a new story you’ve discovered in the past years, there is usually something that sticks with you for a long time. And whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, it shapes you. Remember a few months ago, I wrote about how the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron had shaped my taste in characters? We had concluded that fiction can fill holes and soothe wounds. In this case, we could say that fiction had a pretty positive effect on me. But today, as much as it may hurt my dreamer heart, I want to discuss with you the fact that fiction can be problematic. It can teach you ideas, values, concepts, attitudes that are hurtful to you and to your people.
First of all, let’s discuss why we love fiction so much. I think it’s safe to say that the most popular medium for fiction is television or movies. It is most likely you watch more movies than you read books, so I decided to use examples from films you may know. Also, another little note before we dig deeper: I will talk about romantic comedies a lot. Maybe you’ve heard that they are the equivalent for women of porn for men, because they create unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. Let’s not focus on the gender, but on how they can be problematic for our real lives. Some of us are aware that they are wrong and unrealistic, yet we watch them with big heart eyes and a drum-like beating heart.
Why do we love movies and series this much? Without going into too much depth on this subject, because we could say a lot more about this than just a line or two, I think part of it is that it creates a thought in our head that goes : “I want that.” In a lot of situations, part of why we love a movie is that we wish we could live the events. The problem with this kind of idea is the aftermath. It’s okay to look at a movie and be a bit envious of the characters, but it becomes a problem when, consciously or not, we start to emulate what we see in movies. I remember, not so long ago, telling myself: “When will someone love me like in the movies?” Let’s be real here, it’s better off if nobody loves me like in the movies. Because, sweethearts, love in the movies is designed to make you feel good in the moment, but it is completely unhealthy most of the time. Every movie has a message, whether it’s said loud and clear or not. Not every movie sends bad and twisted messages, but a lot of them do, and we accommodate these messages into our life without realizing it, because that kind of fiction has been in our life for a long time. Do you remember learning words when you were a toddler? Chances are, you don’t. You don’t remember when or how you learned them. Same goes for fiction and its codes. You don’t remember when or even how the codes made their way into your brain, you just understand them without thinking about them. And when you understand the codes, the messages follows right behind.
You have watched at least one or two rom-coms, I’m sure you can think about a few tropes that are unhealthy. There are a few obvious ones, but many have integrated our brains in a sneaky mode. I am sure if we examined our favorite rom-coms, we would easily find tropes and behaviours that would repel us. The easiest way to do it is going back to an old movie you loved. When it’s been a while and you’ve acquired maturity, it’s easier to see where the plot failed you and taught you wrong. We’re not always that clever the first time we watch a movie. I watched The Little Mermaid for the first time when I was 16. Let me tell you how horrified I was at every-single-thing. The songs were catchy and the prince was handsome, but the lessons it taught young girls were atrocious. “Give up your voice, and at the same time your way of expressing yourself, your thoughts (because she had never learned to do it in any other way), change completely who you are just for a handsome stranger to fall for you.” In other words: “Shut up and be pretty.” You see how movies we watched when we were younger influenced us? Yes, we were watching these movies to be entertained and to sing along, but the ideas still sneakily made their way in us and shaped the way we still think.
There are many, many wrong tropes that are taught about love and identity through romantic comedies. They shape how we interact and how we perceive relationships, romance or not. I’m sure if you go back and analyze rom-coms from an objective point of view, without falling for the man’s cute smile, you would see how unhealthy the messages are, and how unacceptable they would be in real life. Let’s see a few examples of popular lessons thought through beloved feel-good movies.
Constantly pushing someone away is romance. The other person just has to try harder and harder until the resistance breaks and they can be together. In real life, sometimes we push away not to be pushed back, just because we are really not interested. Pushing away does not mean “try harder”.
Big moves are how one shows love. Like holding up cue cards or a boom box in front of someone’s door, or planning a huge flash mob in the biggest metro station of New York City. Have you ever seen someone do that in real life? Rarely. Yet in our brains, we are wired at a young age to wait for this big moment to come up, that it means that the person must really love us. So we wait our entire life for a big move when it might never happen. And it doesn’t have to happen either. We wait forever to found but we never realize that maybe we are found, just not in the codes we were expecting.
In real life, we consider creeps people who follow someone, who check up every detail of our social media accounts, who try to have control over our life. In movies though, if the guy is handsome, kind or rich, not only do we forgive it but we worship and encourage this kind of behaviour. Look at Fifty Shades of Grey or the Netflix series You. A hot, kind or rich person can do no wrong. We see their behaviour as romantic, yet in real life, we would be totally creeped out by this. In movies and because of how they are constructed, we are willing to accept a lot of things. I encourage you to go watch what the actor of You, Penn Badgley, says about his character. He is very aware of the effect this show has on its audience and how twisted it is. In his own words: “It’s says something about how much we are willing to be patient and forgive someone who inhabits a body that looks like mine…” It’s also a very entertaining show to watch, but much more interesting to analyse. We end up wanting this deranged, twisted, psychopath of a man to win the girl and be happy. The blame is not totally on the viewer, the show is manufactured a certain way that it is almost impossible for you to resist their proposition. It is subtle, but if you look at it objectively, they make you love the character you should want to run away from. We are completely blinded by the superficial aspects and at mercy of the cinematography that we forgive and to an extent, encourage, every other wrong thing.
Another very, very frustrating trope for me is how cheating is portrayed in movies. In the past years, it has become normalized to the point that almost every tv show has a cheating character. And it is designed so that we hate the character that was cheated on, and we condone the adultery and want the cheating couple to be together. In a movie like Something Borrowed, we want the best friend to end up with her bff’s fiancé. Because that last girl is such a brat, because she is annoying, she deserves to be treated this way by her own fiancé and her best friend. It makes you look at something that breaks up couples, that hurts people to the core, as a normal and even encouraged action. One movie that is certainly not perfect but that does the opposite on this specific subject is called Before We Go. The plot is that a married woman meets a guy and they spend a night together walking around New York City and living adventures together. The chemistry is there, and they even kiss a few times. But at the end, *spoiler alert* they don’t end up together. They go on their own way. It seems disappointing, because we were rooting for them to be together. But there is a very important dialogue that is very different than what we usually hear in movies
It’s possible, isn’t it? It’s possible that you could meet somebody who’s perfect for you, even though you’re committed to somebody else.
No. No. See, I think if you’re committed to somebody, you don’t allow yourself to find perfection in someone else.
We rarely see this kind of idea in movies: resisting urges. Usually, the encouraged message is to go with your heart and follow it, no matter how unstable that heart can be. Movies and series teach a message that it’s okay to cheat, to break off your relationship to leave with just about anyone new, to give in to your lust. It happens sometimes, and we can acknowledge it, but it doesn’t mean we should act on it, like the movies teach us. It is so present in fiction nowadays that it is becoming a normalized behaviour, yet, in real life, it destroys lives.
Ouf! Is it a heavy topic for you too, sweethearts? It’s weird because I am currently learning about similar topics in my cinema class, which means I have a lot to say on the matter. I am still learning every day, but with what I know now, I decided to split this subject into a series. Maybe two or three articles, that’ll be a little surprise…for both you and me! Maybe you have trouble seeing where I’m going with this to help you better your life. But I promise, I will work very hard on this, because I think it’s an important topic that we don’t hear enough about, and I want to bring you alongside on this journey. I know this can seem a bit depressing to think about how our favorite feel-good movies are in fact quite crappy, but do not worry your pretty minds. I have a conclusion, a solution and an encouragement for it all. It’s not wrong to watch these movies, trust me. You just have to do it in a certain way, and I will tell you all about it very soon, my sweethearts. Stay tuned and in the meantime, go read my fellow writers’ articles!
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Here are a few links:
My b0ld article on how fiction fixes reality through your favorite characters: https://b0ld.ca/2019/10/21/fixing-reality-analogy/
The song that made me rethink what “being found” meant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSfH2AuhXfw
Penn Badgley’s interview about the show You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRQ5ntxnFaI
The movie Before We Go on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1e6OPMcCUo (Specific scene is at 1:11:40)