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December 17, 2008

Analyzing the Romantic Comedy

As Gelf has noted, academic studies of the influence of successful Hollywood films on society at large are inherently problematic. Despite their best efforts, researchers often overplay their hands by trying to draw real cultural implications from terribly silly movies. Case in point: a recent study that finds that adolescents who expect their own relationships to resemble those of romantic comedies are "likely to be left disappointed."

Not Another Teen Movie

A screengrab from Not Another Teen Movie.

First of all, duh. Secondly, I get the impression that some of these studies are done purely in the interest of getting written up on BBC.com. (Could there be any other reason that as part of their study, these researchers also had half of a group watch Serendipity and the other half watch a David Lynch film?) Thirdly, it's kind of hilarious to see which examples from recent rom-coms the authors thought would be instructive. Here's an actual passage from the paper:
What is interesting to note about the behaviours comprising this category however is that, irrespective of seriousness, there appeared to be no real consequences for characters' transgressions in their relationships. For example, in You've Got Mail, a character in a long-term relationship is having an emotional affair with a man she speaks with through e-mail. Her partner never finds out about this; upon the relationship eventually ending, the affair is not revealed and the separation is amicable. In She's All That, a relationship occurs because of a bet the male character makes with a friend. Upon finding out, the female character's initial distress is soon forgotten and both are happy together again. Similarly in Never Been Kissed, when a character is revealed to have been deceitful about who she is, initially it appears that the man she has fallen for may not forgive her. However, after writing an apology in the newspaper she works for, the relationship continues as though no transgression has occurred. Such depictions do not accurately reflect the actual emotions individuals typically experience in response to acts of deception and betrayal in their relationships, which can involve feelings of hurt, anger, resentment, and relational devaluation. As a result, with characters' negative behaviours either going undiscovered or having no long-lasting impact on their relationships, adolescent viewers may underestimate the consequences their behaviours can have on their own relationships.

Also, female adolescents may find it confusing that taking off their paint-covered overalls and glasses and putting on a dress will not make them look like Rachel Leigh Cook, and male adolescents could learn to their dismay that writing a sappy letter to the hottest girl in school is more likely to get them mocked than laid.

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