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We all know why women identify with the protagonists in romantic comedies: We are all pathetic, overworked, wedding-obsessed spinsters with romantic lives so complicated they could only truly be expressed through the peculiar talents of Jennifer Lopez.
But what of the romantic comedy’s leading man? Who is he? Why is he nothing more than a cipher of himself? Furthermore, how does Matthew McConaughey‘s boner always manage to steal us from our boyfriends and high-powered careers in order to make us his wife in the space of approximately two weeks?
Your questions, answered, in this week’s edition of Sexist Beatdown, featuring: The incomparable Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown. Sady has become somewhat of a connoisseur of Matthew McConaughey’s boner as of late, as she’s recently taken in to a steady diet of rom-coms—-a purely professional endeavor, I am assured! (check out Sady’s eerily fascinating examination ofBilly Zane‘s work in Titanic for proof). But enough exposition: On to us using the word “boner” too many times!
SADY: well, good morning, my friend!
AMANDA: is it time to talk about cute boys??
SADY: indeed! boys who are cute AND dreamy! and also enormous jerks whom you will hate with a fiery passionate rage until you figure out that they are actually dreamy and in love with you and then everything will more or less work itself out. i saw “bridget jones’ diary” for the first time this week. were you aware of this?
AMANDA: i believe i saw that movie in the theater, with my mother.
SADY: oh, good! did it make you want TO DIE?
AMANDA: if not that one, then the second one. i have seen both of them!
SADY: oh, my!
AMANDA: sadly, NO. i was more interested in how dreamy modern Mr. Darcy was. but then again, i was 16, i think.
SADY: really! i found him extremely boring! but then, i was instilled with deep hostility against bridget jones. because – i have to share this with you – there are these constant fat jokes? like, bridget is fat and unlovable and fat and a chain-smoker and unlovable and omg, SO FAT, bridget jones! and then they show her weight at one point? and she weighs four pounds less than i do. and smokes fewer cigarettes. and, probably, drinks less. it was a sobering moment which i reacted to by throwing something at the screen.
AMANDA: I KNOW
SADY: but back to modern-age mr. darcy! because he symptomizes, for me, a major problem of the romantic comedy version of Your Boyfriend, which is: he is boring as hell.
AMANDA: i think i remember being a thin 16 year old … and seeing that weight show up on the screen … and thinking, WTF, I am fat? actually, I do remember thinking that! my extreme discomfort with this movie is breaking through my residual attraction to Colin Firth! but ANYWAY. back to him. don’t remember much about his character, actually. i suppose that’s the point.
[youtube:v=2cpd4py3GuY] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is simply a recycled version of the love interest in a Jane Austen novel, played by the actor who played said love interest in the BBC miniseries.
SADY: right. i mean, i know we are talking here about Masculinity in Pop Culture, particularly through the lens of romantic fantasies For The Ladies, but as someone who has seen a lot of these fantasies recently, one thing that bothers me is that they never do manage to create a believable human dude at any point. like, the versions of men presented for our delectation are either completely vague and dull and personality-free yet handsome (your Mr. Darcys, your Hugh Grant in early-period films, etc.) or charming and handsome assholes (your Edward Cullens, your Hugh Grant in this film, etc). Colin Firth in particular has built a career of playing these ciphers.
[youtube:v=nXVf2hAWRQM] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend mopes, over you.
AMANDA: Yes, and romantic comedies in general are sort of build on the idea of the Suspension of Unbelievable Dudes. consider any romantic comedy that is based around cheating and/or, for the lack of the better term, “homewrecking.”
SADY: ah, yes. i invite you to consider these for me!
AMANDA: consider: the Wedding Planner, with the totally chemistry-less rom-com dream team of Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, about a wedding planner falling in love and hooking up with the groom in a wedding she is, of course, planning. which makes both characters, in real life, scumbags. but on screen, they are magically transformed into … simply boring.
[youtube:v=AkAwO5I-Tuk] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is Matthew McConaughey’s boner.
SADY: oh, my goodness, yes. sleepless in seattle, same deal. it is basically about a lady with a boyfriend who instead decides to stalk a dude whose emotional vulnerability she heard about on the radio one time… and her boyfriend/fiance just goes for it! in the scene where she’s like, “sorry, yo, got to go meet up with this dude i been stalking,” Boyfriend (who is the spectacularly vanilla-pudding-like Bill Pullman) is just like, “too bad for me, good luck!” i watched this with my mother, who commended Bill Pullman for doing the right thing.
[youtube:v=L4KQsPnz8Tw] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is an anonymous yet sexily depressed radio voice.
AMANDA: Yeah, romantic comedies set up this weird alternate universe where cheating isn’t bad, and is in fact encouraged, as long as you are hopelessly in love with Other Person whom you met about 2 days ago.
SADY: well, and also it provides… CONFLICT!!! like, there is always supposed to be this other dude in the background who is totally wrong for you but of course you don’t know that yet. and that dude alwaaaaaays gets shafted. perhaps because he is basically a ken doll. he is there to distract you from realizing that you are Totally In Love with this other person until it is nearly too late! at which point you put him back in the box.
AMANDA: Right. And then, all of a sudden, totally after the fact, you realize that Other Dude is a jerk, or also cheating, or boring, or dumb, and this justifies the affair you have already embarked upon.
AMANDA: Which brings us to the Other Other Dude in romantic comedies: the fancy “career” of the protagonist who is married-to-her-work! … until a really boring hot dude drops into her life, which makes her realize that life is not all about planning weddings. it is also about having others plan weddings for you.
SADY: yes. often, in fact, she meets this gentleman through her career! consider, my friend, “failure to launch,” which is about a lady whose job is to give apatovian losers boners and hence inspire them to better their lives. which is an odd job. but whatever. because one of the man-children she is hired to date is TOTALLY HOT! and he believes she must LOOSEN UP! and she does. or “how to lose a guy in 10 days,” or… shit, this is all matthew mcconaughey. he is basically the dude who makes you hate your job with his boner. in every movie. I FIGURED IT OUT!
[youtube:v=5y28R-ZWP9A] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is Matthew McConaughey’s boner, again.
AMANDA: I guess I like my job too much to let Matthew McConaughey’s boner convince me that my boyfriend is a jerk? “Women are so complicated!”
SADY: we are! it’s true! but if there’s one thing we’ve learned, as a gender, it’s that wanting something for your life other than a superdreamy boyfriend is misguided, and you need to Get Your Priorities Straight ASAP. with boning. illicit cheater boning. which is what women want, the end, i have solved everything.
AMANDA: but why is the cheater boning dude always so boring? Have you seen Made of Honor? I’ve heard that it is My Best Friend’s Wedding but with a hilarious role-reversal. Is that dude boring, as well?
[youtube:v=jBQ1NG34cdg] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend falls down repeatedly, because he loves you
SADY: um. he’s that dude with the super-boring face? and i never saw the movie, because his face in the poster was so boring. so that might answer some questions. for all i know there’s a third-act twist where he’s a bungee-jumping heroin-dealing bad boy, but his face would still probably put you to sleep before you figured that out.
AMANDA: so … yes. but it’s not as if the women in these movies are terribly compelling, either.
SADY: well, yeah, but they’re meant to be Us. ALL OF US. personalities get in the way of mass identification. and, to be fair, not all movie boyfriends are boring! some are also hateful and borderline-abusive. such as gerard butler, in “the ugly truth,” where the entire point is that gerard butler hates women like poison and fire and snakes all combined, and he takes it on himself to teach katherine heigl how awful women are so she can date, and then you learn that he broke up with a girl once so it’s all okay.
[youtube:v=yUMMdLiDJSc] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is a jerk who causes your panties to vibrate unexpectedly at dinner in front of representatives from your corporate office, causing you to orgasm.
AMANDA: and he’s in his mid-30s? isn’t that supposed to happen in college?
SADY: NOT FOR GERARD BUTLER. the wounds of gerard butler do not heal easily.
AMANDA: he has nice abs!
SADY: he also has a face like a pork shoulder. which is mean, but also bridget jones gave me bad body image this week so i will excuse myself there. okay, MAYBE I WON’T. sorry, gerard butler. but anyway, i think we’ve learned a lot about what women want from men this week. it is (a) boredom, (b) an excuse to quit their fancy jobs that they love with all the passion they should be reserving for matthew mcconaughey, (c) grace under being-cheated-on, and (d) ????
AMANDA: Um … have you ever seen a romantic comedy that does not do this?
SADY: “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind” is a romantic comedy! and i liked it so, so much! but it’s never mentioned in our recaps of the genre. because if a movie is GOOD, it avoids the “romantic comedy” label-of-death. also if it is focused on a dude, which a lot of them are these days. and then the ladies get to have no personality! equality! GIRL POWER!
AMANDA: yes, in the world of film, even women can be brainless objects. this is truly progress.
SADY: well, i’m just going to go and bask in the glow of How Far We’ve Come, if you don’t mind.
AMANDA: I’m going to go watch What Women Want. I am told the answers to all of our questions lie within that film.
[youtube:v=99-8-9az2To] In which your cipher fantasy boyfriend is psychic Mel Gibson OH GOD
SADY: ah, what is the point of chatting when mel gibson could be shaving his legs or something right in front of your own personal face? good luck to you.
AMANDA: it is what I want, apparently!