FACEOFF: The case against rom coms

Everyone has their own way of getting into the holiday spirit, especially during Valentine’s Day. What better way to celebrate the season than spend your time indulging in the comfort of the romantic comedy? We all have our guilty pleasures, but maybe it’s time to reconsider what exactly the rom-com says about romance and love.

The romantic comedy has always been a target for unjust criticism due to its association with its primarily female audience. Yet, despite this already tarnished reputation of being cheesy chick-flicks with little cinematic value, rom-coms actually deserve the criticism; but not for the reasons you may think.

Unfortunately, the rom-com genre actually has a bad history of promoting toxic, unachievable ideals when it comes to dating and romance. Fiction does not exist in a vacuum, and these movies affect their audiences’ perceptions and expectations of romantic relationships. The unattainable ideals and representations of what the audience should interpret or accept as love are often partnered with harmful ideation surrounding romance, such as abusive and dangerous tendencies like stalking or love-bombing.

The audience is expected to glaze over the unsavory actions that a character might do, just because the narrative tells the audience that it’s all for love so it’s justifiable. Notable rom-coms like “There’s Something About Mary,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” and “While You Were Sleeping” all have plots where the main character is stalked or stalking their desired partner. This  trope has been aptly named Stalking is Love, where it’s seen as acceptable. Rom-coms have built a very prominent franchise on convincing audiences that anything goes in the name of romance.

Romantic comedies also have a bad reputation of relying on sexist, misogynistic, racist and even transphobic tropes to make up their storylines. Majority of rom-coms are heteronormative, and put white, straight, able-bodied couples on pedestals while they push characters that do not fit that description to the sidelines. This gives the impression that LGBT, fat, disabled and non-white people are not as deserving of love as their white, heterosexual peers. This is only made worse by the obvious lack of representation in romantic comedies and in Hollywood in general.

Despite catering to a primarily female audience, many rom-coms often sideline their female protagonists for the sake of their male characters’ own fulfillment

Until rom-coms can release their formulaic stance on storylines and start telling more realistic stories about real love, their pleasure will not outweigh the guilt.