I was just browsing my email featuring free Kindle books for the day, and one of the descriptions reminded me to blog about an article from The Atlantic that’s been in the blogging queue. First, let me explain why I’m reading The Atlantic. Once upon a time someone challenged me to subscribe to and read one new magazine a year, a magazine completely outside what I’d normally read. So, while my perennial favorite Better Homes and Gardens continues to roll in each month, I decided this year to get Relevant and The Atlantic. Both take me into pop culture frequently, an area where I’m a complete dunce, so it’s been an eye opening journey.
The free book I found shall remain nameless because I’m going to be snarky about it, and even if I’m not totally following the rule to not say anything if I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll at least not specifically call out the author. Here’s the plot summary.
A ghost is haunting an English teacher. The ghost realizes a boy in the English teacher’s class can see her. Said ghost develops an attraction for the boy, and the two overcome the awkward obstacle of him having a body and her not so much to become lovers.
Ok, here’s where I get snarky. That’s weird. And, alarming. Did I mention weird? I mean, I know English class can be uncomfortable sometimes, but let’s not get carried away.
Christopher Orr, in his fascinating essay “Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad?” aptly explains this nauseating trend of weird — vampires hooking up with humans and, well, I don’t know what else. I checked out recent NY Time best sellers fiction list to see what else is going on. Apparently shape shifters are rescuing packs of werewolves, and a woman is convinced that vampires do exist after all when she’s kidnapped by one who is psychopathic. Lovely, remind me to double check the front door lock tonight.
Orr explains that these unlikely matches occur because taboos in our culture that once had to be overcome in a good love story have either been diminished or eliminated. For example, he points out the Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’ desperate journey to meet one another in Sleepless in Seattle would’ve lost a considerable amount of plot tension if they’d had just Skyped each other. While I personally think the Orr might be looking through slightly rose-tinted glasses to say that race and socioeconomic taboos no longer pose an obstacle to love, I do concur that they don’t create blockbusters. And, so we move on to the taboos of humans marrying creatures from other worlds or yank in the stereotypes of slobbish men or free spirited women who must be wooed to normalcy by relationships.
Orr also conjectures, and I found this particularly interesting in light of where I was reading the article, that romantic comedies have lost their appeal because it’s not all that unusual for the first five minutes of the film to show us the couple having sex. It’s true right; I go to a movie today, and I’m never quite sure if the opening credits are going to be plastered across someone’s naked backside. He implores, “There was a time when carnal knowledge was the (implied) endpoint of the romantic comedy; today, it’s just as likely to be the opening premise….Where’s a film to go when the ‘happy ending’ takes place at the beginning?”
This wrangling of where sex plays out in a relationship certainly is an interesting feature of the culture. After all, those of us watching Rick Castle and Kate Beckett of Castle or Jim and Pam of The Office were willing to watch for seasons and seasons of relationship tension. We may have been shouting at the TV, “kiss her” or “tell her how you feel.” But, I doubt many of us would have enjoyed the shows nearly as much had the characters shacked up in the first season. As a matter of fact, both shows struggled a bit to regain their equilibrium once the characters did become sexually involved.
As I’ve mulled over Orr’s article, I’ve been reminded that many of us seemed to enjoy our movies more when the filmmakers embraced the truth that a well-told story is a beautiful story and when we realized that sometimes the most potent passion lies in the wait rather than impetuous exploits.