“Love Is Dead” –University of Michigan

Greatest HIMYM Moment

By Ryan Dowd

So, stick with me as I bury the lede here. I’m inclined to click on any article/list that includes any of the following: romantic comedies, cliches, beliefs, ect. Because I’ve seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall(500) Days of Summer, and Wedding Crashers about 30 times combined.

So a couple weeks ago I came across this little gem. In a nut shell, “University of Michigan researchers found that participants who claimed to be big fans of rom-coms and marriage-based reality shows also agree with sentiments about love at first sight and finding “The One.” So if you religiously watch the bachelor or cry during Pretty Woman, then you’re someone who looks on doe-eyed at a black red and white, cupid ruled world.

And…”On the opposite end of the spectrum, those who regularly watch sitcoms such as How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory shared those shows’ slightly more cynical view of love as a troublesome subplot, to be greeted by the canned, mocking laughter of God’s studio audience.” True love is a farce. Disney is evil. We’ll all die alone. You can throw fans of (500) Days of Summer in there as well, and I guess consequently fans of indie music videos with these grizzled, gray eyed wanderers.

Much like The New York Times‘s yearly insistence that “college students/generation Y have a whole lot of casual sex and we should probably talk about this” and studies from NYU like this one, I take this apparent revelation from the University of Michigan with a pot of salt. I’m intrigued to learn that years spent watching How I Met Your Mother and listening to The Temper Trap has led me down a path of bleak romantic dissonance, but I think that at the sharp age of 20 there’s still some magic out there for me, and if I’ve indeed become this disillusioned romantic nihilist as the study suggests, than real world experience has led me down that path, not Ted Mosby.

I think the lede, now that I’ve found it, is that maybe we take romantic comedies a bit too seriously. Maybe romantic comedies haven’t really taught us anything, excpet that some of us really like watching attractive people fall in and out of love. Those who write about pop culture, and I’m guilty of this in my marginal, artificially constructed corner, make a bigger deal out of some art than it deserves. There’s a notion that art tells all, and sometimes that’s just not the case. Sometimes Zoey Deschanel’s eyes are just really, really blue. And the Mathew McConaughey’s abs are just abs.

Love is a fantasy (sob)
Love is a fantasy (sob)

Another aspect that our friends over there in Ann Arbor may have overlooked is the slow, somehow quiet recession of the romantic comedy. Sure we have romances, tear jerking affairs like The Fault in Our Stars. And we have comedies, like Neighbors and 22 Jumpstreet. The only straight romantic comedy coming out this summer will be Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight (with Emma Stone by the way), and Woody Allen will be making romantic comedies til the perv finally drops dead so I don’t think it really counts. We’ve reached the end of the “friends with benefits” rom-com run. The Apatow machine has moved away as well.  Then there’s They Came Together, the cheeky parody starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd.

Comical parodies are often indicators that a genre is reaching its twilight, not that you won’t see some form of romantic comedies in theaters in 2020, but they’ll be different, just like When Harry Met Sally… is different from old screwball comedies and Forgetting Sarah Marshall is different from Harry Met Sally. The form changes, sure, but our desire for these stories never really changes, because well, desire never changes.

The reason for this aparent lack of feature romantic comedies is probably the emergence of the television rom com–shows like How I Met Your MotherNew GirlThe Mindy Project have taken over that particular corner of the market. And they’ve done it better than enjoyable yet bland films like Friends With Benefits and Crazy, Stupid, Love. People ascribe to Jess and Nick, Ted and bimbos, Mindy and whoever (I don’t actually watch this show). Maybe their rocky, episodic stories feel more real to us. Maybe it’s the form, watching at home, that gives us the feels. Maybe a new study from our pals up in Michigan might give us the answer.

My half-baked analysis of industry movements aside (which you should take with a grain of salt), I don’t really care what the general population gets from romantic comedies. It’s more complicated than optimistic v. pessimistic, naive v. cynical. Romantic comedies are just sort of there to help us figure it out. Romantic comedies aren’t equations that lead to neat, clean answers. There are too many variables. Because what you get from romantic comedies is derived from your real life experience, which is obviously different for each individual. I know that Forgetting Sarah Marshall and (500) Days of Summer means different things to me than they do to you given when, where, and how I experienced them. I’m sure you have your own go to rom-coms, and if you don’t you probably don’t have a soul. But don’t let some grad level researcher (or me) tell you that. You go ahead and do that for yourself.