A number of posts back, I skewered the term ‘CHICK FLICKS’ for reasons I won’t repeat now, though I encourage you to revisit them HERE. I mention it because, for my next series of posts, we will be exploring the history, evolution and ramifications of the romantic comedy, a beleaguered genre label too often used interchangeably with ‘chick flicks’—though it didn’t always used to be that way.
Author James Harvey, concludes his insightful book, Romantic Comedy in Hollywood, with a reminder that during the golden age of cinema, not every film was especially great and, to the contrary, many of them, like now, were mildly amusing at best. But the role film played in our society was different, and thus so was the aim of films in general. He writes:
“The movies had a special relation to American culture—even to American democracy. It wasn’t just that they drew more people than any other leisure pursuit in America did, but they drew all kinds of people, all classes and types, ages and backgrounds from the most to the least educated. “
He goes on to say, “Everyone went to the movies, and mostly they went to the same movies. Only the most marginal sorts of film were aimed at special audiences (sex films, low-budget westerns, documentaries, etc.)—in contrast to today when every movie is targeted at a ‘market.”
Harvey clinches his argument by explaining that because each studio was for “everybody,” films revolving around female characters still had to appeal to men, and male-driven action films had to hold interest for women. And that all films, even those offering a more kid-friendly lens, still had to appeal to adults. Likewise, he acknowledges the adult-driven films could not be “harmful to children.” He ends by suggesting, “There was one audience and that was all of us.
Now granted, this idea of films being for “one audience” is still highly problematic because that so-called one audience was predominantly white, hetero-normative and with sufficient funds to afford regular trips to the cinema, so by no means am I suggesting it was even in the ballpark of a level, universal playing field. But in these supposedly less-enlightened times, films were made to bring people together, whereas now, due to niche-marketing among other capitalistic agendas, they seem hellbent on ripping us further and further apart.
And rom-coms may very well be the most blatant perpetrator of them all.
So, as we spend the upcoming weeks taking a quick peek back at the evolution of the rom-com, noting its various incarnations, transformations, progressions and regressions, perhaps together we can discover what’s fueled both the improvements and setbacks and apply what we’ve learned to a more comedic, more romantic happy ending—and new beginning—for us all.
Next up from me: Why Romantic Comedies Matter.
Cheers until then!
© 2018 BeyondTheBechdel. All Rights Reserved.