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Ground zero for romantic comedy evil

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 21:34 EDT
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Irin at Jezebel has a post up making fun of Hollywood, because there are two movies and one television show in production called “Friends With Benefits”, demonstrating the perennial problem of trend-chasing and lack of imagination in the entertainment industry. Why oh why is this suddenly the hot topic in Hollywood? Irin has some ideas:

) Sounds like studios have read too many trend stories about the demise of dating and the rise of hookup culture.

There’s no doubt about it. But there’s another reason that is much older, but no less troubling for it. I’d say even more troubling, in fact, in no small part because the source of the problem tends to go without much criticism or push back from grouchy feminist pop culture critics. The source of this particular evil?

I was shocked and appalled earlier this week when I read Irin’s post about how most romantic comedies are sexist drivel. No, it wasn’t because Irin was wrong—she’s quite right, in fact—but because rose-tinted glasses exploded all over the comments, as commenters routinely cited “When Harry Met Sally” as an example of a good romantic comedy, the sort of thing Hollywood needs to make again.

Call me daft, but isn’t that exactly what they’re doing? These fuck buddy movies, for instance, sound like yet another attempt to retread the basic idea of “When Harry Met Sally”, just with more sex.

“When Harry Met Sally” is an inexcusable piece of sexist trash. It fits right into the formula of most sexist romantic comedies, where a woman doesn’t know what she really wants and has to be schooled by a man who knows better than her. That Harry is a piece of work only makes this premise more insulting. The movie toys with your affections, too. Throughout much of it, we’re led to believe that Sally has the upper hand in their disagreement over whether or not men and women can be friends, but in the end, of course, Harry’s viewpoint (that they can’t) prevails. Along the way, we get some of the most tired stereotypes of men and women ever put on screen—Harry is a smug asshole, Sally is an uptight princess. It’s never explained why we should give a shit if these two fall in love or drive off a bridge together. Feminist beliefs, such as believing that men and women can indeed be friends, are dismissed as childish fantasies. And you can’t help but think Harry and Sally’s marriage is doomed.

And yet, it’s held up uncritically as an excellent example of the genre and something all other romantic comedies should aspire to. But when Hollywood remakes “When Harry Met Sally” over and over again, complete with the stereotypes, the humiliation of the female lead, and the happy ending that doesn’t seem so happy, we’re not happy. Perhaps it’s time for people who remember “When Harry Met Sally” fondly to sit down and watch it again, without the glint of nostalgia making you more generous than you should be.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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