Romantic comedies, as harmless as they may seem, can actually have profound effects on how watchers view healthy relationships and the world around them.
Romantic comedies, otherwise known as rom-coms, are something everyone secretly loves—whether we cop to it or not. Come on, admit it. We have all indulged in some feel-good romantic comedies at some point, either devoutly or every now and then when in need of some amorous attention.
Now, there is no denying something has always been inherently fishy about rom-coms. Be it in the supposedly romantic way the “hero” never takes no for an answer, or in the utterly predictable plot scheme that inevitably plays out, this movie category is not exactly known for its realistic qualities.
Little did we know, however, some of what makes this genre famous could be affecting how fans view the world and certain otherwise questionable behaviors.
Yep, that is right—something seemingly so harmless and light-hearted could actually be marring perceptions of people and actions in the real world. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, participants who viewed romantic comedies were more likely to see aggressive pursuit techniques as favorable instead of creepy as hell.
The research participants were specifically shown movies portraying the typical rom-com trope of the persistent guy who will not stop until the female submits to his advances. Such tenacious guys employing these belligerent techniques are often shown in movies as being romantic, but in actuality such behavior is usually indicative of stalking or other potentially dangerous behavior.
Those of us who view these types of movies regularly can find our ability to gauge what falls into the romantic category and what crosses the line into disturbing is hard to differentiate. This can lead to someone being put in a potentially unsafe predicament without the possible “victim” recognizing a hazardous situation when it arises.
Take the shining example of everything wrong with the romance genre: 50 First Dates. This dating rom-com staple revolves around the goofy Adam Sandler’s pursuit of the always-adorable Drew Barrymore. After a car accident leaves her unable to form new memories, Sandler makes eye contact with Barrymore and in true romantic style, decides she must be his.
Naturally, instead of simply introducing himself like a normal human being, Sandler makes it his mission to force Barrymore to fall in love by staging contrived situations, which creates a disturbing hunter vs. hunted dynamic portrayed as being romantically comical. The movie perpetuates the belief women are inanimate prizes with no autonomy or voice.
If viewers are constantly told aggressive and domineering males insisting on seeing women as prizes to be won constitutes romance, then their ability to measure whether something is right or wrong is going to be severely skewed. After all, if we are routinely told being relentlessly pursued is a romantic declaration, you might not see the disturbing red flag. The chance you will not see the warning signs until he is cutting off bits of your hair in the middle of the night are quite high.
Now, no one is saying people cannot enjoy a gratuitous amount of romance every now and then, but what they need to do is be aware of how these types of movies can skew perceptions of danger and romance.