Hollywood Has Taught Men Not To Take No For An Answer
Change is slow. Hollywood is slower.
On Friday last week, 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis took a sawn-off shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun to his school in Santa Fe, Texas, and murdered 10 of his classmates and teachers.
One of his victims was 16-year-old Shana Fisher. Prior to her death she had been subject to "four months of problems from this boy", her mother, Sadie Rodriguez, told the LA Times via Facebook. "He kept making advances on her and she repeatedly told him no."
It's not totally dissimilar to another recent act of horrific violence. Last month, Canadian Alek Minassian, 25, was charged with murdering 10 people -- mostly women -- after allegedly mowing down pedestrians from behind the wheel of a van.
In a Facebook post published shortly before the attack, he declared "The Incel Rebellion has already begun!", and now the politics of incels -- short for "involuntary celibate", and essentially an online community of men who believe free sex from attractive women is their birth right -- is being debated worldwide.
We don't yet know the full details of either attack, but there's a similar thread to both: men believing that a woman's affection, love or sex is owed to them, and becoming violent when it isn't given.
Not long after the Santa Fe shooting the following tweet from user @adigoesswimming went viral.
It puts the spotlight -- yet again -- on the problematic equation of doggedly crossing boundaries and romance. We see it play out in romcoms over and over again: Boy meets girl. Boy wants girl. Girl doesn't want boy. Boy spends 90 minutes engaging in a series of increasingly desperate escapades and, suddenly, girl wants boy. The credits role, some upbeat pop-rock song plays and the new couple ride off into the sunset, the boy having achieved his goal and the girl now a more malleable participant in this 'partnership'.
Perhaps satirical website The Onion put it best with its piece: "Romantic-Comedy Behaviour Gets Real-Life Man Arrested."
"Every single romantic comedy ever made educates young men to not take no for an answer," tweeted Magda Szubanski. "This erroneous belief is what drives the plot and without it the movie would be over after the first 90 seconds. Time to rethink narrative drive Hollywood??"
We've all witnessed the nosedive of Richard Curtis' once-celebrated Love Actually, with Andrew Lincoln's infamous "to me, you are perfect" cards scene now the benchmark for entitled (and downright creepy) male behaviour.
But entitlement is such a common trope that it's right there in films otherwise celebrated as high points of the romcom genre. It's there in Noah jumping on the Ferris wheel in The Notebook, threatening to fall if Allie doesn't go out with him.
It's there in Lloyd turning up at Diane's home in Say Anything, boombox in hand to -- what, annoy her into going out with him? Cameron pretended to know French to get closer to Bianca in 10 Things I Hate About You, Phil Conners wooed his colleague Rita (to varying levels of success) by imitating her habits in Groundhog Day and Ted literally hires a private investigator to track down his crush in There's Something About Mary.
It's even more present in the trash: the absurdly successful Twilight franchise saw Edward Cullen straight up stalking Bella under the guise of "keeping her safe", and the erotic fan fiction-turned-bona-fide franchise 50 Shades of Grey seemingly asked the dangerous question -- what if domestic abuse was sexy? (And we're not talking about BDSM.)
In fact, films are so deeply etched into our understanding of romance, they can warp our idea of what unhealthy relationships even look like. A University of Michigan study found in 2016 that romcoms can skew our judgement on stalking, making people take the crime less seriously.
Hollywood is moving slowly in the right direction, helped in part by social media's lack of forgiveness when it comes to presenting problematic views in an uncritical way. Kay Cannon's Blockers ended up being the unexpectedly feminist, sex-and-LGBTQ-positive film of early 2018, and 2017's The Big Sick was expertly handled by real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon to portray the nuances of navigating a one-sided relationship when the other side is in a coma. (Not your typical romcom plot line, of course, but one that is based on their actual beginnings as a couple.)
But change is slow, and Hollywood is slower. (How else do you explain absolute misfires like Jennifer Lawrence's torture porn Red Sparrow, or Louis C.K.'s still-canned I Love You, Daddy?)
Until we reach some kind of socially progressive, Hollywood utopia, it's important to dismantle the deeply problematic tropes movie execs present to us as romantic entertainment.
Oh, and teach your sons not to harass their crushes. That, too.