Abigail Ruhman is a sophomore journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.
Not to sound like a teenager who didn’t get an invitation to the prom, but I hate romantic comedies. Hate is a strong way to say that I’ve enjoyed my fair share. Despite being a quiet but avid audience of the worst romantic plotlines in history, it’s hard to not pay attention to how toxic romantic comedies are. Even if can look past the toxic ideals that are presented about romantic relationships, which you really shouldn’t, romantic comedies are made for upper-class cisgender straight heterosexual couples.
While recent steps toward diversity deserve to be celebrated, films that make these steps shouldn’t automatically be treated at the pinnacle of diverse films. Finding comfort in these films is valid and, honestly, really freeing, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to criticism.
There have been a few romantic comedies that have challenged the toxic environment that the genre tends to offer. With the release of films like “Love, Simon” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” it felt like there was a new era of romantic comedy. Diversity is valued in this film genre because communities who rarely see themselves on the screen were excited to get a sliver of representation.
However, as much as I, and thousands of other people enjoyed these films, they are still playing into a lot of toxic ideas and are scraping the surface of diversity. When you look closely at the films, they fail to consider their position in the medium.
For example, “Love, Simon” plays into the normalcy of high school life but shows a landscape that is wildly outside of the norm, specifically in relation to socio-economic class. Simon Spier starts off the film by stating, “I'm just like you. For the most part, my life is totally normal.” This declaration is followed up with a shot of a house that would probably make both of the Property Brothers cry and a car that Simon got from his parents for his birthday. The claim that he’s just like “you” erases a lot of the privilege that he has.
He continues by stating, “So, as I said. I'm just like you. I have a totally, perfectly normal life. Except I have one huge-ass secret.” The scene then goes on to show that Simon is gay. Apparently, the only thing that makes Simon any different than the 78% of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, according to a study by CareerBuilder.com, is the fact that he is gay.
While “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” was important because it featured an Asian American lead, it also played into harmful stereotypes within American media. According to ProAsian Voice, an advocacy group that focuses on the representation of Asian voices in media, “the phenomenon of white men-Asian women couplings was also pervasive in media.” The framing of a white man as the ideal takes steps towards diversity and turns them into a slow shuffle towards possible progress.
The modern shift to be more inclusive has helped make films that represent people who are rarely presented, but how inclusive is the shift? Romantic comedies are failing to make plots that include disabled individuals, differing economic classes, non-stereotyped depictions of race, and fair queer and gender-nonconforming representation. Films that are diverse play a game of remaining just typical enough to engage in the norms and tropes of the genre, but this ultimately leaves diverse audiences in a game of supporting even when they want something that should be a standard.
People shouldn’t have to beg or offer rewards to get good representation in the media. Romantic comedies shouldn’t be a game of how to play the diversity card without committing to the responsibility. No film or media genre should be able to do that, but everyone deserves the chance to see themselves on the screen. Everyone deserves a romantic comedy that they can see themselves in while they avoid thinking about the fact that no one invited them to homecoming in high school.
Edited by Bryce Kolk | firstname.lastname@example.org