Naturally, most people want to fall in love. Even asexuals need love. So, naturally, as a genre, romantic comedies are rather popular. Romantic notions and possibilities in combination with light humor (in order to create an atmosphere of fun and entertainment surrounding a love story, in congruence with the real-life notion of the beginning of a relationship; i.e., fun and light, easygoing) are easily digestible to the average human being. But what is the “average human being”? Political and social changes in our mainstream are evolving as our population grows and the art of our culture needs to represent this, and not simply as an alternative or a niche.
There is still an underlying heteronormative nature to romantic comedies that excludes non-heterosexuals within the value systems contained within the films. Without progressions in this area, there will be no real room for evolution within the genre, aside from trivial aspects.
Bridesmaids is a recent American romantic comedy that leans more toward the gross-out slapstick subgenre. Annie Walker is a single woman dating a man who cares little about her and treats her as a static character in his life, aside from the fact that they sleep together often. Of course, as we identify with Annie, we know that this is not the right fit for her and her relationship needs so we do not root for that relationship to work, and in fact the male character becomes a slight antagonist as the film goes on.
The intended audience is meant to also expect her to find another male to couple with when she sees her friend Lillian Donovon preparing for her wedding. We are supposed to identify with her longing for coupling, as represented by her feelings toward her best friend’s wedding. The ultimate goal is a romance for Annie, a heterosexual seeking a monogamous heterosexual relationship, specifically. In the end, she chooses to couple with another man more fitting for her, fulfilling her and, as she is the protagonist and we are the audience, our hopes that she enters this heterosexual coupling.
In (500) Days of Summer, the title character, Summer Finn, is a go-getter and answers only to herself. Progressively feminist in that sense, her character is strong-willed and refuses compromise at any angle. Certainly, she is no dunce or floozy, and for this, she is deemed progressive and modern in her presentation to the audience. Her refusal to explicitly imply that she is even in a relationship with Tom Hansen is not in congruence with most romances in the cinematic sense.
The scene where Tom Hansen gets in a fight in a bar when a man tries to insult Summer and Tom, and she is angry when he says he got in a fight “for her,” is, again, in line with a more feminist approach to that type of situation. He only fought for himself, and she neither needed nor wanted anyone to represent her in a situation of the sort. Certainly, in these areas, this comedy seems different, therefore aligning itself with the more recent subgenre of “radical” romantic comedies.
But, underneath these differences, it is business as usual. Boy meets Girl, period. Whatever happens aside from that does not change that. Still featuring heterosexual coupling with the goal of a monogamous relationship, albeit this goal is not achieved. However, it is the goal of the character and the audience sees Tom as the protagonist, so his goal is a part of their titillation. They are to figuratively be on the edge of their seat, and although that goal is not achieved with Summer, the audience receives the satisfaction of another possibility of that goal with the introduction of the character of Autumn in the final scene.
Examples of this are not exclusive to America. The Names of Love was a recent French romantic comedy that seemed progressive on the surface. Girl meets Boy, repeatedly, until they fall in love. Highly political in nature, the film is different because of this and some other key events in the film, such as the sexual freedom expressed by the character of Baya Benhmamoud (again, politically juxtaposed with Arthur Martin as the uptight but slightly conservative counterpart). But, underneath it is still a basic love story featuring two heterosexuals who end up in a relationship and in the end, marry and procreate, fulfilling the heteronormative ritual of creating a nuclear family.
Within these films, there is no homosexual coupling, except a brief mention of Summer dating a female during college. So, the only featured homosexual coupling is a temporary one, a backstory indicating some experimentation during college, and it is certainly a tiny bit more progressive in its inclusion but it still adheres to the heteronormative atmosphere of the themes. While no coupling is indicated, there is also a scene in Bridesmaids where two female characters exchange a drunken kiss. Again, this is temporary; both are married, and there is no indication of the characters even referring to the kiss as it was more a sight gag then a plot point. Again, it is temporary. There are no relationships being displayed other than heterosexual, monogamous relationships.
Individually, this does not pose a problem. Certainly, heterosexual couples exist. But as a whole, if there are no options in mainstream cinema for anyone but heterosexuals in the romance genre, then it has no real room to progress as an art form. Repetitive themes and conventions hold power in our society in that they become myths, and more subliminally, part of our belief systems.
So creating a heteronormative atmosphere as a building block for the eventual creation of a myth, and by proxy, belief system will continue to marginalize any non-heterosexual audiences. Another result of the untouchable nature of non-heterosexuality in mainstream romantic comedies, it will not be able to progress as an art form with such a huge roadblock, resulting in the death of the art and creation of an empty of shell of entertainment.
Turbo is a local author and musician and has contributed to and created various DIY albums and fanzines. He will be shooting his first short film during the summer. Contact him via Facebook.