Grace Kitayama is a journalism sophomore and Mustang News columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
A key principle I follow when watching Netflix is to not start a show unless it has at least three seasons, thus allowing for maximum binge-watching satisfaction. But investing all those hours in a show takes time and lately, I haven’t been able to emotionally commit to a single series. As a result, I’ve been watching a lot of low-effort movies that don’t require much attention from the viewer. These movies are almost always romantic comedies.
While diving into my Romcom rabbit hole, I’ve noticed several troubling patterns that occur in many of these films — especially if they are produced by Netflix. Of course, there are the more obvious problems with representation. The protagonists are often straight, white, able-bodied, thin and beautiful. However, there are more subtle and glaring issues that I often see in the plots of these movies. The characters are either falling in love by accident, which implies a relationship should not take work, or the couple is together because one of the two in the couple manipulated the other and tricked them into being in the relationship.
The Queer POC best friend
A character I see over and over is the queer person of color best friend. I’ve watched about 10 Netflix Romcoms so far and in every single one, the character of the best friend is either a person of color (often Black), queer or both. Though I support the representation, this character is so obviously Netflix’s attempt to quell the social justice warriors’ rage on Tumblr by jamming all the minority representation into one character. It’s checking off all of the inclusivity boxes for a film to just barely pass the Bechdel test without ever giving the character screen time or development equivalent to, or even near, the other characters. It’s lazy representation. It’s representation with no effort. It’s representation without the need to hire a black, queer writer for the script.
Couples in Romcoms are often straight and it’s understandable why. The majority of people in the world are openly straight. However, there are only so many different ways you can portray a straight relationship. Marriage Story, which was hailed for its brave and realistic portrayal of marriage features two straight people arguing for two hours and getting divorced. However, a movie with a straight couple is not daring just because it features the less romantic aspects of marriage. No one in Hollywood is losing any money by hiring white, well-known actors to play a gritty realistic heterosexual relationship.
Even if the Romcom doesn’t feature a straight couple, the couple is probably white. Films like ‘Tall Girl’ and ‘Sierra Burgess is a Loser’ show the struggles of different straight, white, cis-genered, non-disabled girls instead of simply showing literally anyone else as the protagonist of a Romcom. And it’s clear they’re running out of ideas. In Tall Girl, the protagonist struggles to find love because she is tall. In Sierra Burgess is a Loser, the protagonist struggles to find love because she’s fat. Though I think the intent of these movies is pure in hoping to validate girls who do feel insecure about these things. The protagonists in these movies present themselves as whiny and spoiled while the movie subtly promotes the message that if you are tall or fat, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Falling in love
Falling in love implies that relationships happen by mistake, when in reality they take effort. Romantic comedies always show the chase of the relationship. The whole film is centered around the part where the couple is trying to get into a relationship and ends once the couple is together which in reality, is the worst part of any relationship. The awkward first dates and the fear of overstepping before you are really comfortable around each other is not romantic at all. The constant anxiety of asking yourself ‘are we in a relationship yet?’ Nothing magical has ever happened to me on a first date. At best, the date ended up being not as bad as I thought it would be.
The most harmful troupe that I see in these Romcoms is manipulation. Sierra Burgess is a catfish to the boy she is trying to date. In Hitch, the protagonist’s job is teaching men how to manipulate women into being in a relationship with them. Seth from Superbad concocted a master plan with the sole purpose being to get Emma Stone’s character drunk enough that she will sleep with him. What’s worse, is that all of these plans work. We are supposed to root for the character manipulating their target rather than question their actions and intentions.
I think people who like Romcoms are made fun of because they often lack a serious tone that is in other genres of film. Though there is nothing wrong with watching Romcoms, be it as a guilty pleasure or as one of the many proud followers of Noah Centineo on Twitter. But I often see these expectations about love being applied to real life via social media and it seems like people are comparing themselves to fake love. Because I never looked like the women in these movies and because the dates I went on weren’t as romantic or easy as they showed, I had started to develop insecurities about myself distorted my view of what love was.