English 313---Popular Culture
8 December 2010
Radical Romance Challenges Traditional Romance
The movie “Knocked Up” has been declared a radical romance with a traditional ending. Moreover, many of today’s popular romantic comedy movies are depicted as radical. Radical is breaking tradition, not the norm, and analytical. That is to say (Wexler), are romantic comedies really that much radical, or do they serve another purpose? Knocked Up has been dissected, and it was determined that it belongs to many categories. Some of these categories include identity, gender, tradition, culture, love, and language. These issues will be discussed throughout the essay as these topics are found in many romantic comedy movies. Knocked Up features two couples who are at the heart of the movie. The traditional couple or “the example”, stars Leslie Mann (Debbie), Paul Rudd (Pete), who are married with two daughters. By tradition, Debbie and Pete argue about family issues and spend less debating about their own freedoms. Instead, Pete gives Debbie matriarchal power by agreeing rather than arguing. Debbie asserts this power through control and making the final decisions. On contrast, Debbie’s sister and companion, Katherine Heigl( Allison) has a one night stand with Seth Rogen (Ben). Allison and Ben break tradition by allowing a few drinks impair their decisions. Language became private when both had a misunderstanding of protection. Language then became universal when friends and family heard of a new baby arriving soon. To go into further detail, two other movies will be used to highlight the radical love that turns traditional. Romantic comedies have blurred the lines between a radical meaning and traditional love.
Radical romance has many different meanings to writers who have followed this genre of film. Because of its various meanings, only one will serve the purpose for now. Writer Tamar Jeffers McDonald, goes by “formula” for romantic comedies. Throughout Jeffers text, references have been made and the ending result is “Boy meets girl, loses girl, regains girl”. It’s a steady pattern in romantic comedies. Men are judgmental with romantic comedies. Gender has allowed them to put romantic movies in the “chick flick” category. By definition, “…radical romantic comedy is often willing to abandon the emphasis on making sure the couple ends up together, regardless of likelihood, and instead striving to interrogate the ideology of romance” (McDonald 59). Gender and identity play have a major influence through radical romance comedy films. Let’s start with a historical background. The 1970’s was a period where romantic comedies were of the essence. The seventies was a time for free sex, peace, and no war. McDonald writes about the significance of the 1970’s, “…evolution of the feminist, black and gay rights movements, but a number of other events of great social and political consequence” (60). Other movies that have become a study for romantic comedies are Annie Hall; Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Annie Hall is radical in the sense that both Annie and Alvy have an attraction for each other, but think something else when speaking. One scene shows Alvy and Annie forming their true identities. Chris Barker explains the roles of male and female, “Women are more verbal, co-operative and organized then men; men show greater spatial, mathematical and motor skills than women” (286). The language shown on screen clearly depicted sex as the bigger issue among the two.
Gender and identity play important roles in romance comedies. There is a belief that this type of genre follows a heterosexual love. Today, romantic comedies still follow this “rule”. I argue that this genre has not been too accepting of showing homosexuals losing someone and getting them back. The popular television show, Will and Grace, has shared the spotlight with series such as LOGO, The L Word, and Queer as Folk. Professor of English at West Virginia University Dennis Allen claims, “Yet, if we concede that a gay romantic ideology might exist in which it was understood that a relationship need not be exclusive or last forever to e considered meaningful, if nonetheless has to be acknowledged that a uniquely gay romantic narrative has yet to emerge in any clear form” (75). Allen supports this by adding that “productions companies find romantic gay films risky, so they would rather led the gay content towards a more heterosexual insight” (75). Gender is an issue when it deals with radical romance comedies. Gender is the difference, the hierarchy of power, and the label. Being labeled anything matters. However, homosexuals love just like heterosexual couples. Its society and the media that control what other people want to see. Digital media has a profound effect on this. Radical romance is found among these couples because of the formula that defines what is radical. On the other hand, some of the popular shows mentioned above have followed the formula and there is a happy ending. It’s controversial because of people looking through a conservative point of view. Liberals have deemed homosexual love as just love. Love becomes radical because it blurs lines of tradition. Judith Butler argues that, “Drag is not the putting on of any gender that belongs properly to some other group i.e. an act of expropriation or approbation that assumes that gender is the rightful property of sex that “masculine” belongs to male and “feminine” belongs to female” (722). Gender relates to radical romance definition of self-reflexivity. Self- reflexivity is how a person sees themselves in comparison to the world. Displaying homosexual radical romance has been an issue as many argue that love is defined by the couple, not culture.
When referring to movies that have been linked to the radical romance genre, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail seem to be popular amongst the genre. Both of these movies star Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan communicate through use of human interacting and the internet. While digital meaning is shown in You’ve Got Mail, Ryan and Hanks do not solely rely on technology for romance. In Sleepless in Seattle, Tom is a widower who’s a single parent. Meg works for a magazine, and already has a relationship. However, this movie becomes radial because Meg chases Tom. So now, the roles have reversed. Meg role takes on the masculine form, and Tom becomes “the good wife”, who nurtures and is home-centered” (Diana Meechan, 307). Trying to find a common connection, they go their separate ways. The radical part turns traditional when Meg, Tom, and his son all become a family. In You’ve Got Mail, Meg and Tom meet on the internet. Constantly engaging over the internet, the two find common grounds. On the contrast, the two develop self- reflexivity and cannot stand the presence of each other. Michael R. Meadows describes how fake identities brought two enemies together, “…she falls in love with his cyber alterego” (NY152). Joe (Tom) is NY152 and Kathleen (Meg) is Shopgirl. Meadow’s has called You.ve Got Mail, “Battle of the Sexes”. This movie also deals with the use of language and hierarchy of power. Language is important because it radically becomes privatized when the two are not aware they are falling for each other. Kathleen and Joe becomes a couple despite their differences. Meadow’s describes how they became a couple, “For Kathleen, the obstacles she must overcome involve giving up her store and forgiving Joe and Fox Books for putting her out of business” (206). In addition, Meadow’s discusses his reasoning the importance if digital media, “Avoiding the negative commentary that often accompanies films in which people date via non-traditional means, You’ve Got Mail views on-line romances as a legitimate means to find someone special” (210).
In the next set of paragraphs, three movies will be dissected as they relate to radical comedies that turn traditional. These movies include The Time Traveler’s Wife, Just Like Heaven, and Wedding Crashers.
The Time Traveler’s Wife stars Eric Bana (Henry, the traveler) and Rachel McAdams (Claire). The two meet in a very untraditional. Henry has been able to time travel since he was a little boy. This was also at a time when his mom would become a distant memory due to a car accident. Claire was also a little girl Henry met that would soon become his wife. Their romance continues as Henry and Claire both deal with Henry’s uncontrollable time travels. When she does meet him years later, she’s in college and his memory doesn’t know a Claire. Instead of Claire using digital technology to communicate, she wrote in a diary. A real love did exist. When others thought Claire was crazy, she knew Henry existed. Masculine and feminine roles were present throughout the movie. The images of women portrayed were desexualized because the main focus was love. However, Claire does portray the good wife (Barker). It’s radically defined throughout the film, because Claire and Henry’s love is interrupted when he time travels. But, this film is traditional because it allows the audience to nurture long lasting love. The way they met each other was not traditional but, traditionally there was a marriage and their daughter was born. Sadly, the movie ends, when Henry time travels sends him to be the mistaken identity of a deer being hunted. The ending doesn’t end as Claire and their daughter wait for Henry’s return.
Both Claire and Henry displayed traditional female and masculine roles.
The next film to be discussed is Just Like Heaven. This film stars Reese Witherspoon (Elizabeth) and Mark Ruffalo (David). David’s character can be identified with Tom Hank’s character in Sleepless in Seattle. David lost his wife due to a medical problem. Sadly, he falls into depression and finds it hard to move forward. He also stops his career as being a landscaper. Elizabeth is a workaholic at a hospital. She supports short term life support and she is fighting to be the lead doctor. Abby, Elizabeth’s sister sets her up on a blind date. But, Elizabeth gets into an accident, which forces her into a coma. The guy she was supposed to meet was David. Instead, the film doesn’t let the audience know that until the end. David rents an apartment which happens to be Elizabeth. Elizabeth spirit is caught between the living and the dead. So, the story unfolds, as David believes he is seeing things. They develop a common interest. This film follows the boy meets girl, loses girl, regains girl. Stuart Voytilla and Scott Petri suggest space makes the heart grow fonder, “Distance in romantic comedies can be seen from different levels and perspectives” (98). Physically, they could not touch each other, so using other senses replaced a touch. In contrast, to Knocked Up, Allison and Ben worked for the most part. When they did spend time apart, both had to put their differences aside for a baby. Just Like Heaven ended in the traditional way that Elizabeth and David became an official couple in love. Films that suggest a radical plot and ending have been seen as creating traditional themes. And although Elizabeth forgets David’s identity, her self- reflexivity reminds her of the past.
The last film that will be discussed is Wedding Crashers. Wedding Crashers demeans women, and supports the double standard notion. Barker quotes Hall when revealing how women are viewed in the media, “Stereotyping reduces, essentializes, naturalizes and fixes “difference” (Hall, 1997c:258). There are a few stereotypes of women that are included in this film. However, the focus of Owen Wilson (John) and Vince Vaughn (Jeremy) crashing weddings to sleep with women is viewed as humor. Although, this movie is a combination of a sex comedy and radical romance, there are still traditions. The movie starts off with two best friends who have imaginary identities and real identities. They have real jobs, but in their spare time, the joy of lying to women in exchange for sex is more enjoyable. The movie continues to unfold as we notice there’s a slight chance in plans. The one wedding they crash will be the last they share. It’s the US Secretary of Treasury William Clearly (Christopher Walken) eldest daughter wedding. The movie also stars Rachel McAdams (Claire) and Isla Fisher (Gloria). Later on in the film, John finds an interest in Claire, William Cleary’s other daughter. But, Claire is almost hitched to Zack (Bradley Cooper). Claire breaks off her traditional engagement and chases the bad boy (John). On the contrary, Jeremy’s plan of having sex with Gloria and leaving her didn’t go as planned. Instead, she became the “siren” (Barker 308). She tells guys she is a virgin when she’s not. Claire is seen as the “decoy” (Barker 307). Wedding Crashers ends when John, Jeremy, Claire, and Gloria all fall for each other. Jeremy and Gloria get married despite the bet him and John made. Claire left Zack, and fell in love with John.
Women roles were seen as being subordinated to men. This deals with gender because most romantic comedies end with the man getting the girl, losing her, and getting her back. More depth shows that filmmakers do not do a good job at positioning a woman to be in a matriarchal position. Instead, romantic comedies keep tradition by making the women superior to men. This raises the question of whether, radical romance films are made through the lenses by way of patriarchal society. Would the effect be the same, if the roles switched? After all, it was Judith Butler that suggests, “Being feminine or being masculine has no clear definition”. It is culture that suggests this way of thinking and keeps this tradition vibrant in future movies. According to Simone de Beauvoir, she suggests, “And even today woman is heavily handicapped, though her situation is beginning to change. Almost everywhere is her legal status the same as men’s and frequently it is much to her disadvantage” (5). Beauvoir also a point out that double-standard rule is still in effect today. Much of this can be experienced, read, or seen throughout one’s life. Men and women are not equal when it comes to pay, promotions, jobs, education, or opportunities.
I confer that the ideology rests that women are superior to men unless women are given an opportunity to share the same scale as men.
Romance comedies give the illusion of marriages through use of storyline. Heather Gilmour writes about one of the characteristics, “Not only is verbal conflict viewed as healthy but it is a reliable sign that the man and woman are meant for one another” (29). While some romantic comedies start the characters off as friends, this genre also suggests that love will be the ultimate ending.
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