Romance Shmomance

Recently on Facebook, a little eCard was making the rounds– I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it caught my eye and I thought it was pretty clever.

 

See it here.

 

I “liked” it, reposted it, and then thought critically for a moment. It’s true. Romeo and Juliet isn’t really all that great of a story. It’s not an epic romance with a captivating plot and real cathartic emotion. It’s a pair of teenagers whose families go batshit because they’re dating and in the end, 6 people are dead.

 

Thing is, it’s so well-written, it’s lasted for ages on stage and screen, beloved by Shakespeare fans and romantics for generations. No one really complains about the transparency of the “romance” or how silly it seems in a modern context for a three-day dalliance between a pair of lovesick teenagers to derail the daily lives of 2 whole families and completely end the continued existence of 6 whole people. It has more going for it than the romance alone, which really is the saving grace of the whole thing.

 

It’s got a generations long family feud with participants whose mafia-like devotion to it drive the climax. The story isn’t only about the romance, it’s also about the more interesting conflict between two families that causes them to kill each other.

 

But the romance, shallow though it is, is poetically written, so we can forgive it of its silliness.

 

There are other romances that are equally, if not more silly; for example, there’s Helen of Troy, whose beauty caused a massive war. She’s the face that launched a thousand ships, and killed thousands more men in battle.

 

Again, like Shakespeare, Homer was adept at manipulating words into spectacular configurations which hid the overall ridiculous nature of the Helen of Troy myth. Think about it: it’s a lady so pretty, she accidentally causes a massive war because she had a slight case of Stockholm syndrome. It’s mad.

 

And on the other side of the coin, we have travesties of art, like Twilight (a favorite punching bag of mine) and the first 3 episodes of the Star Wars saga.

 

Episodes 1-3 are particularly terrible specimens of bad romantic fiction. I think a friend of mine put it best when he said that between the two of them, Padme and Anakin manage to destroy the republican government of an entire galaxy and set up a genocidal dictatorship– all in the course of a couple decades.

 

Even compared with our other 2 wacky examples, this is pretty extreme.

And dammit George Lucas, if the script weren’t so terribly constructed, and the dialog so clunky, the horribleness of the plot might not be so transparent; but alas, your writing skills are not as good as those of the George Lucas who wrote the scripts for Episodes 4-6.

 

It could indeed be our next great romantic tragedy, but for the fact that our buddy George was actually writing the script as the films were in the process of being filmed. I’m not kidding. If you watch the behind-the-scenes stuff, you’ll see him say to Hayden Christensen that he hasn’t finished writing the scene that they’re about to film. But not to worry! He’ll be writing it this weekend.

 

Really?

 

That’s terrible. That’s university student levels of procrastination, and the results are about as well-written as a frat boy’s term paper, written after a Sunday to Monday all-nighter after a house party on Saturday.

 

The saddest part of this is that the original Star Wars script is a treasure trove of literary tropes and characters. High school English teachers have been known to use the Star Wars trilogy, Episodes 4-6 as a tool to teach character archetypes because it has so many of them and they play out so well. Like clockwork. If only George had hired himself some decent writers, ya know, like the kind of writer he was back in 1977.

 

Why are the first 3 episodes so different?

 

Why, in those intervening years, did his skills change so much? Or does he simply not care as much about the Star Wars universe? Or maybe it just took so much longer to make movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s that he could write the script as he went and still have plenty of time to craft the story?

 

Or perhaps the truth is somewhat more insidious.

 

What if the real George Lucas died years ago, murdered brutally by a crazy fan…

 

And what if that fan took his place– the ultimate cosplay– BEING George Lucas!

 

Swept up in the dream, he believes that he can live out the ultimate Star Wars fantasy, creating episodes 1-3 and putting them on the big screen. But alas, his deficiencies are exposed! His writing is talentless and banal; his characters are wooden and his plot convoluted. He falls short of the original shining glory of episodes 4-6, the Holy Grail of Star Wars fandom.

 

We only wish this were the truth. Unfortunately, the man who created the original magic is still living, barely hanging on, cashing in on his masterpiece and living as a corporate drone. Now, they’re making episode 7. I don’t have high hopes. All I ask is that it not be as bad as episodes

1-3. What are the odds it will be worse?

Well, at least we still have Shakespeare.

It’s Ladies’ Night! Not really…

Lately I’ve been watching quite a few documentaries, and not surprisingly, what stands out to me the most are the stories about women. And appropriately, this is International Women’s Day!

    The first documentary I dug into on Netflix today was Miss Representation, which explores the inherent patriarchy in the media. I wasn’t necessarily surprised about the pervasiveness of sexist and objectifying portrayals of women– everyone knows about that. What was surprising was the fact that it’s not getting better. Try, if you will, and count the number of female protagonists whose action is not driven by a man in some way, or whose story arc does not somehow involve finding love and (re)discovering her feminine side..

There’s not many, right?

    Worse still is when you learn that our entire social structure and cultural gender bias is almost entirely created and enforced by a media campaign that was started after the end of WWII. During the war, women went into the workforce in droves. When the war ended, they did not want to go back home– they liked working! Something like 80% of them didn’t want to leave work. But alas, the men returning from war wanted to put their women back in the kitchen, so America’s new-fangled mass media tool, the television came to the rescue.

    Advertisements and TV shows were created by newly created networks that glamorized the image of the woman at home. They focused on how pretty she looked and how perfect her home was– all because she was there to take care of it. As time has advanced forward, we see that this image of the happy housewife at home has become warped and used against women to keep them from achieving success.

    To this day, if a woman is in the public eye, the focus is on what she looks like instead of what she says. Journalists ask her how she can balance being a wife and mother with her career– why don’t they ask men how they balance being a husband and father with their careers? Women are described in terms of beauty and attitude rather than intellect, skill and expertise.

    Entertainment and news media are equally to blame for this– it’s seen in equal measure in both. And then popular culture imitates it like a bunch of monkeys. Take for example, the shitstorm that takes place on the internet every time Feminist Frequency posts a video. My YouTube feed is filled with response videos that often fail to address any of the actual content of her videos, instead focusing on how she looks and what kinds of degrading things they would like to do to her. If you watch one of her videos and make the mistake of viewing the comments section, you’ll find much of the same sort of thing, only badly spelled and usually in all caps.

    Ironically, this type of response kinda proves that many of her arguments regarding gender norms are, in fact, correct.

    Inbred sexism has spread across our society like a plague. If you look at the world of politics, you’ll find that the US is far behind in gender equality–China, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others, have all had a female head of state. The 2010 election was the first time that women haven’t made gains in congress since 1979. And there weren’t that many women in congress to begin with. This could explain the sudden rise in absurd laws regarding women’s health. There just aren’t enough women around to sit these men down and explain to them how the female reproductive system works– with diagrams.

    And the political commentary surrounding female politicians is vastly focused on what they look like, how they dress, how they act, etc., rather than what their views are, or what they have done during their term.

Weirdly enough, much of this commentary comes from female journalists, who are in turn judged by television producers and the public based on these same criteria. And the public (you and I) will then judge our female neighbors and ourselves based on what we look like, how we dress and act. It’s a vicious cycle.

    Our societal gender constructions haven’t just hurt women, though. I recently watched a short video that has been circulating Facebook for a couple of weeks. It’s kind of a flipside of the Miss Representation film, and it talks about how harmful the American version of masculinity is and how it has harmed young men and boys.

    Turns out, being told to “be a man” and encouraged to hide emotions and present a facade to the world is actually pretty harmful to the psyche of a human being– male or female. Boys with behavioral problems in school are often struggling to express their emotions while simultaneously hiding behind a mask. Men in America have significantly fewer friends than women, even though they crave and need the support of friendship just as much. Culturally, it seems that men are constantly forced to prove their manliness and any infraction– crying, liking fluffy bunnies, things of that nature– can result in the loss of something called a “man card.”

    I don’t have a “woman card.” It seems that women are women no matter what they do, wear, say, or achieve.

    What if we could all just be who we are? What if a man could express emotion and have friends and a woman could be president and earn $1 for every dollar her equally qualified male colleague earns? Would that be so terrible? What if the term President or Lead Pastor could belong equally to a woman or a man and no one raises hell about it? Would it crack the foundation of our society?

    So I think today is a great opportunity to have a Come to Jesus moment as a society. I think the suggestion made at the end of Miss Representation is a great one– recognize the power of the consumer. If we stop watching and buying into the harmful portrayals of women that we see on TV and in movies, the producers and television executives have to change it. If we stop voting for politicians who don’t support the rights of women to have the same general freedoms as men, our political parties will have to change their rhetoric. We have to be courageous enough to say that the way things are isn’t the way that they should be– and then act to make changes happen.