Last week we dived into the world of problematic fiction. Let’s dive in a little deeper before we come back out for air with a solution to all the problems we, or should I say I, have created.
It is no secret that men in romcoms are fictional junk food. Rom-com creators are fully aware that the demographic for this kind of content is women or at least people attracted to men, and they use that to the very last drop, which creates a very distorted portray of men in movies. It gives the audience very unrealistic expectations. First of all, it is no secret that the leading man in a rom-com must be arm candy. Have you ever seen a rom-com without a gorgeous leading man? Yeah, me neither. Instantly, you thirst over the guy so much you forgive everything he does. Remember, we talked about this in part I? (https://b0ld.ca/2020/01/27/fictional-junk-food-part-one-how-fiction-can-be-bad-for-you/) There are a few ways the next bit can go because there are maybe three or four different moulds for the male character. The characters in rom-com are very two dimensional and very stereotypical. There is the “can’t commit” guy, that will eventually be changed by the girl and suddenly, change his ways totally and be a perfect, faithful boyfriend. This might be the most popular. There’s also the “shy and clumsy” one (hello, Hugh Grant, I’m looking at you), or the “popular guy that doesn’t realize until the end of the movie that he’s in love with the girl”…I’m sure you can think of a few male characters that fit these tropes instantly. Men in rom coms are designed to create a simple and instinctive reaction in our brains. That and the fact that their smiles and cute eyes make us forget we have legs? We are goners. We will accept anything they do and our image of what men are and should be like are ruined if we are not careful.
If men are two dimensional, women aren’t that better. If you look at romcoms made between 2000 and 2010 or so, you will find a lot of harming ways of picturing a woman. The ugly and nerdy girl turned pretty and suddenly everything falls into place for her, the independent and strong businesswoman tamed in order to be a good wife, the female character always a little clumsy but always adorably so, never too much so she’s never annoying…the list could go on and on. It has taught us, from a young age, to view women and men in a certain way and to put people in boxes, under labels. Don’t even get me started on princess movies…
I don’t mean to be a kill-joy. You all know by now that I love fiction with my whole soul. I love rom coms, I love movies and stories. My goal here is not to ban fiction, it’s to both create it better and make you better consumers. So that you can take the pleasure of good fiction and still have a healthy relationship with it. What we must remember is that fiction is a representation of reality, not reality. It is an idealized portion of life and it should not be taken as a model in its entirety. That is why we have to be mindful and critical about what we watch.
Plus, there are always pieces of fiction that are great counter-examples. They are aware of their flaws and laugh upon them or they try and change the game. Look for them. Last week we talked about Before We Go, or You, there’s also Not Another Teen Movie… Is there one you can think of? I’d like to know!
Fiction functions exactly like food. Overall, fiction is beneficial. To a certain extent, we need it just like we need food in order to survive. Some people need it more than others, some consume in bigger quantities, some can last longer, but it is part of everyone’s life. Fiction can be the equivalent of your grandma’s spaghetti sauce recipe or a healthy salad, or just a good old lasagna. It can take any form, starting from comfort food to the one that elevates your soul and mind. Then, there’s junk food. Not everything is totally bad for you. Junk food is bad for your health, but once in a while, it brings you a bit of comfort and joy to eat a burger and salty fries. You see where I’m going with this, and I’m sure you do if I made you hungry. Fictional junk food exists and it’s the fiction that makes you feel warm and fuzzy at the moment but will most likely have a negative effect on the long run. Two weeks ago, we analyzed what “fictional junk food” was. We came to the conclusion that it was the movies that sent and taught a bad moral, a twisted lesson and affected our personality or the way we view relationships negatively. This week, I am coming to you with a solution. I am not – never in a hundred years – telling you to stop watching tv or going to the cinema or stop reading books. That would be both unrealistic and the saddest piece of advice I would have ever given you. I couldn’t even follow it myself.
But, I could tell you to not take all fiction seriously. Maybe you watch movies once in a while and binge-watch a tv show or two when they come out on Netflix, or read a book or two for school, so you think you can take fiction lightly. You think you can dive in a story and snap out of it easily. I am here to tell you that you can’t. You might take fiction lightly but fiction will take you seriously and stay with you. Fiction is designed to use little tricks, such as camera angles, editing stratagems and plotlines choice to lurk you into thinking the same way they do. It will make its way into your brain, your heart, your art, your behaviour. It’s not because the message is seamless that it doesn’t exist. There is always something told through fiction and it will use psychological, logical or emotional arguments to convince you to accept that message. Together, as a society, fiction has always been a way to shape us, and it will do it collectively and individually. If I can’t tell you to stop absorbing fiction and I can’t tell you to take it lightly then… what should I tell you?
My advice is easy: consume mindfully.
First of all, as creators, we must ask ourselves if we should create from reality, represent what we see, hear and understand of reality or should we create towards an ideal we should aspire to? Can we mix and match? It’s a discussion I would like to have with you because honestly, sweethearts, I am not sure yet.
As consumers, we need to do it mindfully. In a YouTube video, Rowena Tsai, one YouTuber I adore, talks about how you can be a “potato” (meaning you can enjoy not doing anything productive) but still have an active, analytical brain.
In order to reach this state, there are a few steps that I came up with a friend.
First: Think about yourself and who you are. What are your values and beliefs, your limits, your sensitive points? By knowing yourself, you are least likely to be thrown against every wall and follow every trend. You will be stronger on your feet and you will be able to discern what the movie tries to feed you. You will be able to check in with your own thoughts, feelings and values to see if they match what you’re being fed.
Second: If you know yourself, you will be able to respect your boundaries. You will be able to say no to things, to stay away from stories that are problematic in your life, in your opinion, for your brain and your heart. You will be okay with the choices you make because they are healthy for you. Learn to be at peace with stepping out of something because it is wrong for you. You don’t have to eat everything that’s handed out to you.
Third: Reflect on your situation. Are you hiding from something? Are you using fiction to hide, to soothe yourself, to avoid the reality of your responsibilities? We get way more involved in binge-watching a series when we should be doing that paper due in a few days. It’s way easier to hide in fiction that makes you feel good rather than living in real life and accomplishing what needs to be done. Are you voluntarily putting your head in the sand and ignoring something that should be taken care of?
Last: Take the time to reflect and analyse. Before clicking on “watch next episode”, take a few minutes to think about the plotline, the values, the way the message is brought to you and check-in with yourself. What can you gain from the content you just watched? What should you let go? Even days after you’ve seen the show or the movie, think about it. What has stayed with you?
If you are a creator, how can you feed from this? What techniques, ideas, or plotlines can you get out from it and incorporate into your own work? How can this help your craft?
My mom spent years telling me to be careful with what I put before my eyes because it would affect my brain and my heart. Back then, I would pout and be annoyed at her comment, because I thought she didn’t understand me and my passion. What I realize with time is that she understood me very well, much better than I understood myself back then. She knew that I loved fiction more than anything and that I would let it rule my heart if I was not careful. She knew I would let anything in and since I wasn’t old enough to decipher what was bad, I could end up normalizing twisted attitudes and behaviours. With the years, I learned to understand my relationship with fiction and I was able to put stronger and more realistic boundaries. I promise with time and a bit of practice, this is a very fun and natural exercise to do. You begin to understand why you like certain shows, movies or books and why others leave you cold. You begin to understand how the world and communication work.
I want to get better at understanding myself, discerning what I’ve been taught through fiction and be better at reinforcing the good patterns and deconstructing the bad ones. I hope it’s a journey you’re willing to embark with me, sweethearts, because it will better your life. You will understand yourself better but it will better the way you react to the world and to people around you.
Don’t forget to leave a like, check our Facebook page and comment on fiction recommendations! I look forward to our next chat, it makes me feel all warm and tingly!
Links for the curious:
inspiration for problematic fictional tropes in rom-com that I mentioned over the past two articles
You can also watch this