Saturday, April 13, 2013

Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner!!

Although we probably do not like to admit it, the majority of people were pretty impressionable in High School, at an age when many of us were firmly trying to establish ourselves.  Reflecting back on my time at an all-males prep. school, it is easy to see how conditioned I was into several cultural norms.  Not that I did not think for myself, but when I saw or heard an advertisement, trailer, or conversation about romantic films, typically I gave them no thought whatsoever.  While I am still not a huge fan of the genre, I can appreciate why individuals enjoy the emotional roller coaster present in these fantasies.  But more often than not, they are just that—fantasies.  I tend not to like Romantic Comedies, Divine Romances, Romantic Tragedies, or any other genre that is centered on an idealistic yet impossible or at least highly impractical love story.  If I did or said 1/10 of the things that the heroes do in Romances, I would get slapped—or at least would come across as super creepy.  This is why the ability to identify with a character in the specific context is so crucial.  As Carl Plantinga explains in his essay, “when we assent to the narrative of a film and become ‘absorbed’ or ‘immersed’, we accept an emotional role.  We entertain the fiction in our imagination…yet we have a consistent background awareness of its artificiality” (Plantinga 152).  This is why I chose to watch Dirty Dancing. 

            The film is centered on Fances Houseman (AKA “Baby”), and the summer her family spends at a mountain resort.  She discovers the underground clubs where Johnny (Schwayze), the resort dance instructor, leads the staff in dirty dancing.  She soon discovers that Johnny’s dance partner, Penny, is pregnant by Robbie, her sister’s unfaithful boyfriend.  Trying to help, Baby speaks to her dad (a physician) in confidence and asks for the money necessary for an abortion and gives it to Penny.  Frances and Johnny practice and perform at another resort and dance well although she is too nervous to complete the climactic lift at the end of their routine.  While the abortion goes horribly wrong, leaving Penny is agonizing pain and eventually forced to be seen by Baby’s father who helps the young dancer despite his fury and disappointment in Baby for deceiving him, it leads to Johnny and Baby growing closer.  Johnny is accused of stealing a guest’s wallet and, due to his lack of an alibi, is likely to be found guilty.  In an act of defiance, pride, and passion, Frances announces that she can prove his innocence as she was with him at the time.  Although Patrick Schwayze is fired (I mean he did sleep with and romanticize a seventeen-year-old resort guest), he is so taken aback by Baby’s selflessness that they become even more in love.  This all boils down to the final resort dance of the summer, in which the couple is reunited, Johnny fires one of Hollywood’s most famous lines, “…nobody puts Baby in the corner!”, and the two lovebirds dance their hearts out (to Time of My Life incidentally) and finish with the climactic lift they were unable to do before. 

            I thought it was interesting to read Plantinga’s deconstruction of ‘sentimentality’, or a “false or unearned sentiment” as well as Mary Midgeley’s opinion that it “…misrepresent[s] the world to indulge our feelings”.  While I used to hate on romances for this very reason, after watching Casablanca and speaking about it with friends who are big fans of the genre, I propose a slight editorial to that stance.  I cannot bring myself to agree with the idea that sentimentality in films is a “howling self-deception” that leads to a “distortion of the world” (Plantinga 155).  Rather, I see it as a fantasy film in which one views a love story that, while impractical, is so ideologically beautiful that they wish to engage themselves both in the fiction of the movie, and of the reality that (even if only sliiiightly) there is a chance that something similar will happen to them someday.  As Plantinga states, emotion is a process.  And for this viewer, emotion can be a confusing and difficult idea to understand.  Nonetheless, movies can enduce and elicit sentimentality for the purpose of critiquing it, (Plantinga 156), realizing it, or just putting it out there for the viewer to enjoy.  Just as screen violence is guaranteed to generate affect, so too does emotion and sentimentality, especially that of love and affection. 

I thought the following quotation from Mindy Kaling ends this post nicely:

“I feel almost embarrassed revealing this, because the genre has been so degraded in the past twenty years that saying you like romantic comedies is essentially an admission of mild stupidity. But that has not stopped me from enjoying them. I like watching people fall in love onscreen so much that I can suspend my disbelief in the contrived situations that occur only in the heightened world of romantic comedies. I have come to enjoy the moment when the male lead, say, slips and falls right on top of the expensive wedding cake. I actually feel robbed when the female lead’s dress doesn’t get torn open at a baseball game while the JumboTron camera is on her. I regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world operates according to different rules than my regular human world.”


  1. I'm very intrigued by the analysis of "romcoms" as being in a different, idealized universe than the one we live in. Surely, most comedy takes place in a different universe, one where the characters don't realize the humor of their own situation, but romantic comedies really seem to take this idea and run with it. The draw of the romcom, I think, is not the end result - everyone knows the characters will fall in love. The draw comes from the different ways the plot unfolds and the viewers ability to put themselves into the minds of the characters and experience falling in love themselves

  2. The way I see it the genre has its good points and its bad. On the one hand it can be nice to fantasize about an idealistic relationship, but for a lot of people one of the biggest issues I have with the genre is that is sets people's standards too high. After watching a lot of romance movies, it's natural to want to take part in such a successful relationship, but the way the genre portrays things is just unrealistic. Mainly, the type of guy in the movies is the issue. They're almost always really good guys, but haven't had much luck with women and just also happen to be incredibly attractive. Over spring break I was hanging out with my buddy and several of our female friends, and the topic of romance films and celebrity crushes came up. My buddy asked them why they liked them so much, and after several moments of no good answer, I offered "It's because they like to set their standards way higher than they can ever hope to achieve," to which all three girls, at the same time, agreed "Yeah!"
    To this day I don't know if they realized I was being condescending.

  3. I agree with you, Eric. I think another issue with romantic comedies is how it portrays women's worth - in nearly every single romantic comedy the female in the relationship is lost and without hope prior to meeting her man, and once she lands him for good, her life has meaning. While this plot wouldn't be detrimental if it happened a few times, like I said, it's almost every last romantic comedy, which I believe enforces an idea about women's worth. Same goes for the high standards. While it isn't bad for movies to feature romance that we envy, if it happens every time, it's going to work its way into our psyche somehow.

  4. I agree with Hayley: when you watch romcoms it seems as if the female lead is almost always seems to be in a state of dazed and confused mess until her relationship is fulfilled. And in every one there almost seems to be a scene of the female character acting irrationally out of emotion or overreacting to something in the film out of nowhere. Also, I agree with Eric. While the stereotype of the single female looking for love is exaggerated, so is the role of the male. Very rarely is it ever the Seth Rogan's of the industry playing the single male who hasn't found love, but its the Ryan Gosling's or Justin Timberlake's portrayed as those who somehow couldn't manage to find a healthy relationship.


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