Seemingly perfect, but emotionally flawed girl meets awful guy with a couple saving qualities; they fight, then get stuck together somehow. Magically, their feelings for each other blossom into throes of deep, passionate love. We all know the story arc many romantic comedies and dramas follow. But do these stories actually affect us longer than the time we spend watching them?
Chick flicks share the beginnings of a budding relationship, which seems harmless, but critiques of the genre, or of those who are or aren’t watching it, are ubiquitous. From the argument that men don’t like chick flicks because they are afraid of their emotions, to a critique of chick flicks’ depiction of women; criticism abounds.
Corvallis women seem to have a similarly complicated relationship with the genre; many love it, but say that it is more due to nostalgia than a love for the narrative itself.
Chelsea Dixon, 29 and a new mother, said, “When I have time I sometimes watch chick flicks, but if I do, it’s the classics.” When asked what “the classics” are, she mentioned Save the Last Dance, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, A Walk to Remember, and sprinkled in others as they came to her while we talked.
“It’s more so a time thing,” Dixon elaborated, “if I’m going to invest the time, I want to know I’ll like it.”
Samantha Walter, 26 and a Corvallis native, also noted that age has a lot to do with whether she watches the genre or not. “Now that I’m an adult, the new rom-coms are too much, they make me cringe.”
When asked why they think women enjoy chick flicks, some answers were consistently repeated.
Jacquie Gartzka, 46, said she loved Notting Hill and Pretty Woman, but that the storylines were the problem. “They all give this princess fairy-tale version of love, but it’s a false view of relationships. It’s not all roses, fairies, rainbows, and pixie dust all the time.”
In a similar vein, Kelsey Miller, 26, stated, “It’s all Hollywood. They’ve created this cultural expectation where, even in the chick flicks themselves, women get broken up with or have a bad day so they go home, cry, watch a chick flick, and eat ice cream or chocolate to feel better.”
In many ways, these films are like an opiate, providing an alternate reality where things work out and popular narratives like “true love conquers all” rule.
Samantha Walter explained that, in her opinion, “we like to escape from our problems – not be reminded that the world isn’t what we’d like it to be.”
If Hollywood and our culture has created a world where women enjoy chick flicks that are unrealistic, is there any real harm? Who cares if a lot of women continue to rely on Julia Roberts or Katherine Heigl for entertainment?
The problem may lie in how people create identities. Narratives and storylines shape our reality and how we perceive the world around us. Countless studies and work have been done to demonstrate this: one small example being confirmation bias. When people believe a story or something to be true, they cannot – or will not – acknowledge evidence to the contrary, only hearing what bolsters the story they believe.
People do the same thing with their identity; taking stories from the world and using them as representations of how the whole world is, often only allowing evidence that supports the story they tell themselves.
In “Life’s Stories”, the Atlantic used the American Psychological Association Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology and multiple interviews to demonstrate how the majority of researchers accept that stories rule our perception of the world and ourselves.
“This narrative [life stories] becomes a form of identity, in which the things someone chooses to include in the story, and the way she tells it, can both reflect and shape who she is.A life story doesn’t just say what happened, it says why it was important, what it means for who the person is, for who they’ll become, and for what happens next.”
When Corvallis women were asked if they thought chick flicks influenced their expectations, there was some discordance in their answers. Walter said, “I want to say no, that the movies haven’t influenced me, but they probably do.”
Miller also started by saying how they probably didn’t, but “maybe subconsciously they affected how I understood dating and relationships, especially in high school.”
If the majority of psychologists are correct, and the stories we tell ourselves influence how we see the world and our expectations within it, then the stories we are told and their frequency likewise influence our personal story.
Chloe Angyal, as a PhD student in New York, did her dissertation on chick flicks. That’s right, she watched romantic comedies and dramas to get her doctorate. When writing about the research for Jezebel, she said, “I don’t dislike romantic comedies because they are made for women. I dislike them because regardless of any fluffiness or mindlessness, they are powerful pieces of popular culture.”
“Rom-coms furnish us with ideas and expectations about some of the most important things in life: love, work, friendship, sex, gender roles,” she explained, “and some of those ideas are worryingly sexist and regressive. They teach us that love is only for straight white people. They teach us that men are sex-crazed, commitment-phobic animals who have to be manipulated into romantic relationships, and that when a man really loves a woman, he’ll demonstrate his feelings with grand gestures that barely skirt the line between love and stalking.”
Chick flicks are not going anywhere, and they might well get worse before they get better, but it seems that the best choice individuals can make is to notice what stories they believe and what they expect from life and from relationships. Confirmation bias may prevent us from even seeing our biases in the first place, but a good starting point is recognizing what stories we consistently feed ourselves and how they shape our understanding of the world around us.
Some other sources you might find interesting are: PsychCentral, GoodMenProject, Jezebel, and the ScienceDaily article on confirmation bias.