How loss of virtue is killing the romantic comedy
By Focus on the Family
Over the holiday period I had the unfortunate experience of having to sit through several recently released rom-coms (romantic comedies). The experience was unfortunate not because I don't like rom-coms, but because of the content of these particular films.
One thing this experience has taught me is how our cultural amnesia about the importance of virtue is basically killing the rom-com genre at lightening pace.
To be fair, this criticism could probably also be extended to the comedy genre in general today, which, apart from the odd exception, is starting to crumble under a weight of self-indulgent, virtue-less and sexually deviant schlock.
In the past week critics have unanimously savaged the upcoming Farrelley Brothers' comedy Movie 43 as an "orgy of bad taste", but I'm not sure why the Farrelley Brothers have been singled out for such a harsh reaction when such a criticism could easily and justifiably be leveled at many of the comedies released in the past decade.
Basically, more than any other movie genre, comedy has become a rather troubling window into the soul of a Western culture that has become mired in a loss of authentic human identity, sexual confusion and moral relativism.
In a nutshell, here are the recurring problems that plague modern rom-coms (and the comedy genre in general today):
The loss of authentic love... This issue is one of the main flaws in modern rom-coms, where love and lust are regularly presented as if they are the same thing. Another way this problem constantly manifests itself in rom-coms is in the way that romantic sentimentality is regularly confused with love.
Love is NOT an urge that you have for someone else to provide you with sexual gratification, and it is definitely NOT the sentimental emotions that you might experience for someone else.
No, authentic love, as Aristotle would tell us, is about seeking the good of the other.
Neither lust, nor emotional sentimentality are a participation in such a vision of love, because neither of these is 'other-focused', instead they are all about us, and what we are getting from the other person and our relating to them.
The sad fact is that many of the characters in rom-coms are little more than emotional and relational adolescents who live a reality of perpetual hedonistic selfishness. What makes this so bad is the fact that they (and by implication, the script writers) don't seem to comprehend that this is NOT what a normal and healthy adulthood is meant to look like.
The normalization and celebration of deviancy and dysfunction... I'm truly starting to lose count of the number of rom-coms that normalize and even celebrate deviancy and dysfunction. Bachelorette is a recent example that springs to mind. It features three female lead characters who spend most of the film snorting cocaine, drunk and engaged in promiscuity; and a best-man character who is a sexual predator and date-rapist - and in true relativistic fashion, not one of these behaviors is ever criticized or lamented.
Another recent example is the comedy Bad Teacher, in which Cameron Diaz plays a totally dysfunctional primary school teacher (the kind that no sane parent would want teaching their child) who commits a major criminal act when she steals the answers to an academic exam and then uses them to cheat her students through to a record-breaking success come exam time.
Now most films, comedy or otherwise, would resolve with Diaz's character being held accountable in some way for her offending, but not Bad Teacher. Instead her character uses blackmail, involving sexually compromising photographs, and then successfully pins all her offending on a totally innocent teacher who had been held up for ridicule throughout the entire rest of the film for being a good teacher who tried, albeit in a cringe-worthy fashion at times, to make learning fun for her students. Not only does the film end with Diaz walking away from her serious criminal offending without any consequence or repercussion whatsoever, but she also ends up in a promiscuous relationship with the dope smoking PE teacher at her school. Oh, and did I mention that she has a moment of personal revelation where she decides that she is a bad teacher, and is therefore much better suited to a change in vocation so she becomes the school's student guidance counselor.
I could go on citing numerous examples where deviancy and dysfunction are normalized and celebrated, ranging from the American Pie franchise to the Hangover films, but I think you get the picture.
If you want a refreshing antidote to this madness, then I would recommend the George Clooney film Up in the Air. It ends with Clooney's character being forced to face the cold hard reality that his promiscuity, pleasure-seeking and self-centredness has cost him the chance at a truly happy and rewarding future in a stable relationship built on love.
Negative portrayals of masculinity and femininity... Along with the normalization of deviancy and dysfunction has come a version of manhood where men are little more than porn-addicted sex addicts incapable of love and commitment, until the girl of their dreams comes along of course (more on that in a moment). These same sorts of dysfunctional traits are now being imposed upon women in comedy films as well, in order to create 'ladette' females who are the fantasy of every porn-using male (the kind of women who craves one night stands and never says no to sex).
Idealized and unrealistic portrayals of romantic relationships... One of the ultimate ironies of modern rom-coms is the fact that, despite the name, they aren't actually a very reliable guide to finding romantic happiness and success in life. Instead they present story after story of some alternate reality where promiscuity and one-night stands lead to relationship success and lasting happiness, and where that success is something that just happens like magic without any real effort on the part of either party.
There is no real sense of the fact that relationship success doesn't simply come out of thin air. True relationship happiness comes on the back of making prior decisions that were prudent and good, and which form a habit of commitment and virtue in a person's life. It is this pattern of living that then enables that person to show true love and commitment to others, not some magic sexual or emotional chemistry that suddenly creates relationship success and happiness.
The other problem of course is the way compatibility is presented in modern rom-coms. Contrary to what is presented in most rom-coms, compatibility is not something that simply arrives in a relationship along with the other person, instead compatibility is something that grows on the back of an authentic love and commitment to another.
My wife and I are far more compatible today than what we were on the day we met each other, or even on the day we married. This is because our compatibility and interconnectedness has grown stronger with each passing year as we have worked to build, constantly renew, and remain true to that original commitment we made to each other. This has led to our compatibility becoming more intimate and complete.
The problem is that rom-coms present a version of romantic love which is largely self-centred, pleasure-centred and which doesn't require much in the way of effort or commitment to sustain (i.e. relationship happiness suddenly happens to YOU and it's usually all about emotional sentimentality and sex). So basically rom-coms feed us something that is terribly shallow.
An example of this shallowness appears in the film Bachelorette, where, part way through the film it is revealed that two former lovers have abortion in their past, and that it was the catalyst for the breakdown of their former romantic relationship. As you can imagine, such a scenario is actually massively complex on an emotional and psychological level, and would require some sort of profound healing and restoration in order to be properly resolved. The exact opposite happens in Bachelorette however. The issue of the abortion is raised, and then the couple literally sleep together and resume a relationship as if the massive issue of their abortion, and the damage that it has done to them as individuals and as a couple, doesn't even exist anymore.
The problem is that anyone who tries to live out such a shallow vision of romantic relationships in the real world is likely to find themselves bitterly disappointed and confused by their unhappiness and failure to sustain meaningful relationships.
And sadly, this is precisely the reality that far too many people in our culture now find themselves caught up in.