Sunday, September 24, 2006

Something to think about the next time you get dragged to a Julia Roberts movie

Let me tell you about Romantic Comedies. They’ve all got something in common, and its this: They’re all a bunch of lies. Most stories are. Sure, they can reveal truths about humanity and the universe, they can make us laugh and cry and occasionally think, but humans are innate liars, and that’s why our stories are so good. Every time we tell a story, it changes. Every memory slides further and further away from what really happened. That’s just the way it is.

There’s no such thing as “They all lived happily ever after.” That’s a lie right there. Even if a couple manages to survive the hazards of their own psychoses intact, they’re still going to die and the surviving partner is going to go through hell in grief. Touching and emotional yes, "happily ever after" not so much.

People are crazy, and when they meet each other, they try to hide the crazy from each other. It never really works. The crazy always find a way out. The lucky couples are the ones who actually don’t mind the quirks they see in each other, they even find them charming and cute. The unlucky ones pretend the quirks don’t exist and spend the rest of their lives in misery while trying to figure out excuses to stay with someone who’s guts they hate. Then there’s the ones who hate the quirks and end things because they aren’t working out. Hopefully they don’t have the emotional baggage of 2.5 kids and a complicated alimony settlement when they do come to that revelation.

Couples argue. Couples fight. Dishes get thrown sometimes. Feelings get hurt. It happens. All the time. Some couples survive, others end after one fight too many. The lucky ones find an avenue of communication and compromise to get through. The unlucky ones profess in full denial of the truth that they love their husband, even after he got drunk and broke her nose with a bottle of Miller Lite. Again.

Sex is an investment. Mating is quick. Gestating and producing another human being takes a while. Ensuring that new human being survives to buy a car and try to mate in the back seat takes even longer. We’re not sea turtles. We don’t fuck for one night, then lay our eggs in the beach and six months later hope that some of the little buggers make it to the ocean without getting snatched up by the seagulls. For one thing, we get emotional about that kind of stuff. We rarely eat our young. We believe in nurturing our spawn, and loving them and “raising them right and proper.” Unfortunately we’re all neurotic monkeys, so all we’re really doing is just raising more neurotic monkeys.

There is no magic potion to make people fall in love. We’re on our own to figure out Love, and the instructions we’ve got all sound like those incomprehensible translations of Korean VHS player manuals. Its hard to fit slot A into Tab 16 when neither was included in the box. Even worse, males and females all have a knack for confusing the hell out of the other gender and complaining about not being understood. Men don’t get women. Women don’t get men. And yet Romantic Comedies provide countless hours of footage and characters that seem to be typical of their genders. You know, archetypes. The bad boy, the loveable fat guy sidekick who never gets the girl, the mousy girl with a wild side, the hooker with a heart of gold. The list goes on and on and on. They’re just broad caricatures. An umbrella category.

People are a hell of a lot more complicated than that. The loveable fat guy is probably throwing himself full force into being loveable because he’s so insecure about his weight and undesirability to the other sex, and if he weren’t appreciated for his funniness, he’d probably get so depressed and lonely that one morning he’s not going to wake up from the sleeping pills and vodka. The hooker with the heart of gold might just have been a promising med student when one unfortunate night at a sorority party, she got addicted to heroin, flunked out of school after a painful semester and ended up on the streets, plying her trade in order to get her next fix, all while her sober moments are filled with regret and self-hatred, so she might do a good deed as an unconscious plea for help before the last vestiges of her spirit get broken. That’s two stock characters made more complex by the infusion of tragedy. And they’re more true to life. Real people’s lives are rife with sorrow, tragedy and despair. That’s why we like Romantic Comedies. They help us laugh through the pain (well, the good ones at least, the bad ones just add to it) and make us believe even for an instant that its all going to be ok as long as your heart’s in the right place and you’ve got courage when you need it the most.

The real world doesn’t act that way. There the bad boy asshole does marry the prom queen, they have three kids, move out to the suburbs and he cheats on her with his young, vivacious secretary while the wife unconsciously injects the kids with her pent up hatred for him. Then, when she finally gets sick enough of his verbal abuse and tells him she’s leaving, he jealously flips out and beats her to death with an iron before putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, unaware that his five year old son just saw the whole thing. The honest shy guy spends years trying to muster the courage to express his feelings for the friend that he loves, berating himself night after night for failing to do so, until one day he can’t take it anymore and tells her at the most inopportune time, like say at her wedding. But unlike a RomCom, the bride to be has never loved the shy guy and yells at him for trying to ruin her wedding. He then runs out of the church crying and spends the next ten years drinking himself into a stupor just so he can get to sleep and contracts cirrhosis of the liver and dies a painful, lonely death. Those kinds of stories happen all the time. We get hints of them on the nightly news.

Romantic comedies are lies, but they tend to be beautiful lies. More importantly, they make us feel that, despite all the fucked up shit that goes on in the lives of everyone, maybe somewhere, at the right moment, standing on the roof of your car in the rain outside a girl’s house with Prince’s Purple Rain blaring out of the cheap stock stereo can win her heart. Because we hate to think that doing that will only get shoes thrown at us, threats about calling the cops, and a silent drive home interrupted only by the loud sobbing of the driver as his heart lies broken in her driveway next to the bouquet of roses he dropped on the ground.

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