Two springs ago I was the enchantress in a local production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Pretty cool. Got to wear a fabulous dress on-stage (for less-than two minutes).
What I observed after each show– dozens of little girls mobbing “Belle,” and the disenchanted prince being ignored entirely– made me see how different the roles of men and women are in different genres.
In the most popular fairy tales (think of the most well-known, the most-frequently retold), the man is the female lead’s accessory. Neither Belle nor Disney’s Cinderella address their princes by name. I can’t remember about Snow White.
Theirs is the fantasy of many females: to be the gorgeous center of attention. The man is useful, of course. He somehow signifies the princess has “won,” and (one assumes) he’ll be her devoted adorer even after everyone in the glorious finale has gone back to their own lives.
In contrast, many (most?) action-oriented movies cast the always beautiful woman as the male lead’s accessory. I’ll easily admit I’m not as familiar with this genre, so I may be proven wrong, but one example I can offer for this is Sahara. The leading lady was sometimes interesting, but from a storytelling perspective she existed mainly to allow our leading man to be heroic.
(Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy heroics, and I sometimes think its a sad thing that young men today have so little opportunity to do anything heroic for the ladies they’re drawn to, but that’s another conversation.)
Something that really bugs me sometimes about the action genre is how the man can carry through a series (Indiana Jones, for example), and maybe even hang on to some (male) buddies, but the ladies always change (Bond, anyone?).
My husband and I are still wishing writers could come up with a show/movie about a married couple. (I guess Mad About You was okay sometimes, and the Cosby Show). I once read somewhere that letting the male and female leads in a T.V. series get married was the official death-knell of the show. I have to wonder if it was really the getting married. Two other reasonable ideas would be
- Messing with why people watch the show (Mad About You did this when the couple had a kid, I was told), and
- The marriage comes far enough into the series that the writers have nothing new or interesting for the couple to do anymore, so they marry the two off, and hope the long-anticipated (or dreaded) “twist” will hold on to viewers while the writers wait for real inspiration. (Perpetuating in the meantime the idea that marriages can’t compare to the single life.)
But it comes down to needing conflict to make a story. I’ve never read Anna Karina (don’t really plan to) but I’ve heard it said a number of times that the story opens: Every happy family is the same. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
It makes me think of a quote I used earlier on this blog:
Simone Weil said imaginary evil, such as that portrayed in books, television shows, and movies, “is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
Happy or not, no two families are alike. There are stories everywhere, and I enjoy those stories (I have found some) where challenges draw a couple closer together, rather than driving them apart or (as seems to be House M.D.‘s M.O.) proving nobody’s really committed.
I totally fell in love with the movie Undercover Blues when I was in high school; its quirky humor “fit” me and my siblings. I really enjoyed watching a married couple in the lead. My brother and I kept hoping they’d create a sequel. But I guess it wasn’t as popular in the real world as it was with us.
Anyway to return to the original topic, it’s easy for me to understand why men would be generally uninterested in living a woman’s fantasy, and equally understandable why many women aren’t interested in the man’s fantasy.
I know a couple who watches movies on a point system. They want to watch movies together, but their tastes vary greatly; so when they watch a chick-flick he earns points toward his action flick. When she endures a war movie she might redeem it on a musical. If it turns out they both like a movie (the wife was surprised she enjoyed the Lord of the Rings so much) it doesn’t matter whose genre it was, and no points are exchanged.
This works pretty well for them. And if they’re feeling particularly accommodating or romantic that evening, they won’t even poke holes in the movie’s plot or characters.