You can just tell it’s the end of summer, because the pointless douchebaggery to real article ratio has gotten really out of control. But this (via) may really deserve a special award for mega-douchebaggery of levels beyond what our primitive instruments can measure. When it was first coming out, I wrote some posts making fun of the trailer for (500) Days of Summer, and I actually let people make me feel bad about not giving the movie a chance. Perhaps, I thought, these folks are right and this movie doesn’t fall somewhere on the epic fail to misogynist trash scale. But no one told me that it’s misogynist trash from the opening credits:
The opening credits for my film include the standard legal disclaimer that ‘any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental’. But then it adds: ‘Especially you, Jenny Beckman. Bitch.’
Yes, the article is by screenwriter Scott Neustadter, and from the very beginning, both this article and his movie engage in one of the classic paradoxes of this sort of misogyny: To call someone a “bitch” for dumping you is to imply that she was wrong and mean-spirited to do so, but the fact that you wield the word “bitch” to describe women who believe they own their own selves is evidence that she was actually a wise woman for getting rid of your sorry ass. It’s not exactly Schrödinger’s cat, but it’s nonetheless a puzzle. By making the case that his ex-girlfriend had no right to dump him, Neustadter actually manages to make the case that all women should probably steer clear, and that includes his current girlfriend. Let’s investigate.
I was on the rebound from a relationship that had ended months before in New York, where I had been working for a film company.
I had been desolate. You know the drill. Sleepless nights, long days watching Swedish movies and listening to The Smiths on a constant loop.
But when I met this girl in London, my depression lifted, my heart filled with love again and I felt that this could only be the result of divine intervention.
From the beginning, we see his problems, starting with the unbelievably misplaced pretentiousness of his Smiths obsession. The Smiths are a great band—one of the all-time best—but that tends to put them in the pantheon of the people’s music, not something that douchebags should have a right to wear, along with Swedish movies, as evidence of their unique snowflake-ness. But worse—and as a big time music fan, this is painful for me to say—is the way that he holds women responsible for his happiness. This sets up the objectification and anger he has that some woman believes she has a right to say no to a relationship with him. Can’t she see that she’s here on earth to keep him from torturing the rest of the world with the pity parties he throws himself when he’s not being validated by a woman’s attention?
Hey, I’m not a cynical person. I’m aware of how love can put a bounce in your step, and how being rejected or (gasp!) having to break up with someone can leave one wallowing in sadness. The newly single have every right to lay around and weep for awhile, and listen to whatever pitiful music that they want. (I like overtly painful country western, myself.) But then you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and realize the only person responsible for your happiness is you. Ironically, the people who find love the most easily seem to be the ones who are the most content with themselves. The grasping and neediness that Neustadter displays here is exactly the sort of thing that sends most sensible potential love interests fleeing, which is sensible. A person who needs you to complete them is going to act entitled and downright vampiric, like I do when I’m really hungry and someone’s stalling my access to food. Or my cat does when she decides if I don’t wake up right now, she might die.
This is why Jenny’s behavior is not as puzzling to me as it is to him.
We began chatting and found that we shared the same taste in books and music. That had to mean something, right?…..
We – OK, she – decided soon after that to not use labels. ‘Boyfriend/girlfriend,’ there would be none of that. Labels equalled possession and this girl was her own woman. And so I went with it. What did I care what we called ourselves as long as she kept calling?
I thought it was modern, cultured – anything other than what it actually was: uncertainty, confusion, detachment. It was a roller coaster. Some days were perfect – I have beautiful memories of us drinking wine, watching bands and sneaking kisses in the elevator at the LSE.
While other days – lots of days – were unforgettably awful. Eventually, she told me what I had always known deep in my heart: that this thing, whatever it was, simply wasn’t going to work for either of us.
Doesn’t seem so hard to figure out what was going on: Jenny no doubt enjoyed a lot of his personality, and they shared the same tastes, and they had fun. But she perceived what is blatantly obvious, which is that he’s dopey, possessive, and entitled, and so she was rightfully scared of committing to him and giving him more cause to feel a sense of ownership over her. In fact, it appears she said as much, albeit obliquely, with the rejection of labels. Meanwhile, the fact that the whole “OMG you also like The Smiths?” thing was inspired by a Brit makes me want laugh even harder at the douchebaggery. It’s like saying, “OMG, you like soccer, too?!” It really calls into question whether this woman had any relationship to the image he had of her.
Bored with moping, my friend Michael H. Weber and I decided to channel those energies into something of value.
Except not, of course, because this sort of pity party about how it’s unfair that women have all these rights to say no. A pity party over the injustice of these modern women who think they have a right to put themselves before any random dude who lays claim by falling in love—that’s Hollywood gold. So bully for him. He was able to channel his douchebaggery into a major payday. Instead of resting on that, though, he has to take one more swipe at the woman who wisely looked at him and said, “I’ll pass.”
After writing the screenplay, I met up with Jenny for the first and only time since we broke up. We had dinner in Venice Beach, California. We talked about life, friends, everything – but not about what had happened between us.
I gave her the script to read on the flight back to London. Some time later she wrote me a letter. She loved the story, she said. It had surprised and moved her because she really related to Tom. Yes, incredibly, Jenny hadn’t recognised herself as Summer at all.
Probably because Jenny Beckman is not actually the monster you make her out to be.