A few years ago, Mindy Kaling wrote an essay for the New Yorker on romantic comedies. She wrote about their implausibility and their cliches-but also about her ability to still enjoy them. For Kaling, these escapist romantic comedies were equivalent to science fiction movies. Magical, unrealistic and possessed with the ability to transport the audience to a place that exists in the aisles of Hallmark card stores with hearts and splashes of pink and red.
Like Kaling, I love romantic comedies. I love dramatic romance films. I love television story lines where characters fall in love. I can quote monologues from The Notebook, poems from Love Jones, and can make you a map of the love lives of the characters from The L Word. But I am also intensely critical of the media I consume. And I am left to think about how certain expectations of romantic relationships informed by pop culture and modern society alter our ability to create authentic partnerships.
There are certain themes that are lacking within narratives surrounding interpersonal relationships, whether communicated via media or in communities. What does care/love/intimacy outside of a capitalistic heteronormative framework look like? How can we access vulnerability in a patriarchal society that views emotional intelligence as unnecessary or weak? What do partnerships look like that are not built on models constructed by the romance industrial complex, but instead built on cooperation, value, understanding, respect and genuine appreciation? And how can media create stories that do not rely on cliches and traditions surrounding like/lust/love and support connections that include the lives of people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people who do not identify as monogamous?
I am hyper critical of films within the romance genre. Not because I am cynical or embittered, but because I feel the very opposite. I believe strongly in the power of connection, collaboration, and affection between people. I think people who consciously decide to embark on a healthy journey together, no matter how long or short it may be, are beautiful. And I want to see these journeys told in a way that are radical, progressive, and moving.