A few weeks ago, I saw the film Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. In the film, Robert Pattinson’s Jacob discovers the dangers and excitement of circus life after his parents are killed in a car accident. He falls for the beautiful Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), the wife of the abusive and cruel ringmaster. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Jacob takes extensive measures to prove his love and loyalty to Marlena. Yes, it isn’t the traditional boy meets girl, they date, and live happily ever after storyline, but there was something romantic and sweet about Jacob’s pursuit of Marlena. I left the theater thinking: How often do men pursue the women of their dreams in the modern dating world?
The fairy tale model where boy meets girl and they run off into the sunset has been twisted, revised, expanded, and turned upside down in recent films. Hook up culture doesn’t fit in well with the happily ever after messages we’re told when we’re young. Can you imagine Cinderella telling Prince Charming after he puts on her glass slipper that she would “just like to hook up and have meaningless fun for a few weeks and then find a new prince” instead of the magical kiss and marriage? I’m going to take a wild guess and say that version would not be popular with parents and young children. Yet, these are the messages young people are navigating through in the modern dating world.
While there is an archetype of the non-committal, sex-crazed male in films such as Knocked Up and American Pie, there are new male and female archetypes emerging to keep up with the changing dating climate. For example, in 500 Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Tom declares his love for Summer when she openly admits that she doesn’t want a commitment. His heart is broken, yet their relationship I think offers a reality in the dating world. Sometimes things don’t work out, and sometimes one person has different expectations than the other person in a relationship. Tom loves Summer while she is hesitant and anti-committal.
Tom's seeing birds and leading a musical in the park while Summer isn't sharing the love...
The woman who just wants sex without the love is a rising female model Hollywood has used in the films No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits. I find it amusing that two films with the exact same plot have been released in the same year with actresses that starred in the same Oscar winning movie. While on the surface, the “new” Hollywood leading lady is career-driven and in charge of her sexuality. Yet, is this an empowering view of women? A woman that knows what she wants. I would say no since at the end of the movie she usually changes her mind and trades the career for love. While I think a woman has every right to enjoy her career and hook up, Hollywood films such as No Strings Attached just teach young people that a career is a substitute for a relationship and being in a relationship is of course the best judge of a woman’s character.
So, how do we make sense of these confusing messages? Should a woman wait for Prince Charming to arrive on his white horse? Should she engage in hook up culture? Should she find a “fun friend” to magically fall in love with after weeks of hooking up? Does this actually happen in real life!? I don’t think these answers are simple because I think our society has set up guidelines to punish a woman for whatever choice she makes. If she waits too long, she’ll become a spinster or a prude. Think about Kate Middleton a.k.a “Waity Katie” as deemed by the British press when Prince William wouldn’t propose to her. If she’s too quick to hook up, then she’s called a “slut.” She gets around “too much” and other women resent and judge her. This is a frustrating trap for me, and maybe one day I’ll just get to a point where I don’t care as much anymore.
Below are a few links on this topic:
A Wall Street Journal Blogger on women who want sex while a man wants commitment in Hollywood films.
A review of recent studies done about hooking up on college campuses.
A critique from Fox News about Hollywood's glamorization of domestic violence in teen romances on shows like Gossip Girl and Twilight.