Sunday, 17 April 2016

Life Imitating Art: The Manosphere and Romance


"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" - Rob Gordon in High Fidelity (2000)

In the past week, an article by Stephen Marche on The Guardian entitled "Swallowing the Red Pill: a journey into the heart of modern misogyny" caught my attention. Originally it was for The Matrix reference indicated in the title. The article discusses a reddit community called The Red Pill, after the famous quote, where anonymous men console each other and discuss "sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men." I encourage you to read through a few of the topics to access the tone of the site. What I really want to talk about is the brief interview Marche had with The Red Pill moderator Morpheus Manfred. Below is a segment of what was said by Manfred.

"Having spent my 20s looking for female companionship, I noticed that the dating game wasn’t what I was taught – what my parents prepared me for, and what I learned from movies. It was stacked against guys, and it was a very unpleasant experience... What I saw in movies – where having a good heart and being yourself is all you need – that’s not what happens now. Good and nice aren’t attractive any more. The manosphere fundamentally became a surrogate father for the life lessons I never got."


While I imagine Morpheus Manfred's parents were well intentioned people, I found it strange that he should point out that the movies had lied to him about what the dating game was like. This is why I always lament it when people tell me that I'm taking a film too seriously; people absorb these lessons and take them to heart, consciously or not. While we are all aware that Hollywood, in particular, make no secret that they're stories are over the top and fantastical, we still hold them up as the goal: little girls want to be Disney princesses, guys want to be the tough guy macho man, etcetera etcetera.

Romantic films, including the chick flick, saccharine drama and every variation of the rom-com, is the genre that we all should take with a very generous pinch of salt. Remember, Hollywood is under no obligation to give you life lessons, movies exist first and fore-mostly as entertainment. When you break down a romantic film, they can be decidedly creepy, like the twisted relationship in Pretty Woman, along with the almost stalkerish persistence of some characters (Fifty Shades of Grey is a perfect example), the "make-over" to make the guy notice you (She's All That), and the notorious phenomena of happily ever after. Though debatable in real life, these tropes are used in order to progress the plot, in which many months and years of the characters life have been truncated into a couple of hours. They make for a good story, essentially.


Let me summarise in an anecdote about the famous French rom-com Amelie (2001), which has probably inspired many people to make the trip to Paris. With stunning cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, the city looks pretty, warm and whimsical. In reality, the production crew painted over graffiti from the streets to achieve the perfect look, and if you've ever been to Paris, you'll know that there is a lot of graffiti. There's a psychological disorder related to this called Paris syndrome, particularly common in Japanese people, which is an extreme form of culture shock. Wikipedia includes a perfect statement on some of the symptoms:

"The Japanese often picture Paris as a land of dreams, the land of beauty, culture and romance. However, they soon find out the contrary when they visit Paris for the first time. They find it to be a very regular place, the facilities are disorganized, many areas are unclean, and life characterized by noise, not like what was in their imagination."

I can understand why some people may have a hard time dating and finding companionship, but you will always set yourself up for failure if you insist on comparing your life to a celluloid fantasy, and especially if you then go on to blame the people you are trying to attract for not measuring up to that fantasy. While cinema is making steps to portray realistic relationships and complicated characters, it is always worth reminding yourself that these are not real situations.

Romantic films are like Amelie. Real-life romance is like Paris to a anxiety ridden Japanese person. But that doesn't mean that you still can't enjoy Paris.

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