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The Romantic Comedy Genre

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 4158 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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If even half of the projects picked up this year actually get the green light, the first decade of the next millennium may be known as 'the Romantic Comedy Decade'. Sales totals for the genre surged ahead of former rivals Action-Adventure and Science Fiction, landing squarely in the coveted fourth spot [below Comedy, Drama and Thriller].

There was a 50 per cent increase in the number of romantic comedy scripts bought by studios in 1998 compared to the previous year. Examples of films in this period are Four weddings and a Funeral (UK; 1994), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Shakespeare in Love (UK/US, 1998) and There is Something about Mary (1998). Each year from 1981, the trend is towards a much higher volume of production with especially sustained activity from 1997-9 (Krutnik 2002, p10).

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Romantic Comedy imports from US also increased from mid-1990s. Films such as the international success Notting Hill (1999) and the Australian-French co-production Green Card (1990) encouraged Hollywood involvement in co-productions. Examples are Sliding Doors (UK/US, 1998) and Bridget Jone's Diary (France/UK/US, 2001). Most of the US-British partnership ventures, however, are 'adaptations of prestige literary or dramatic properties targeted at international audiences' (Krunik 2002, p132), including Sense and Sensibility (UK/US; 1995) and Emma (UK/US; 1996).

What exactly is Romantic Comedy? How is it defined in order to help people to understand what it actually is?

'Romantic Comedy: a genre, a family of genres (marriages, manners, screwball), a category of production and marketing, a category of analysis. Definition, even delimitation, is difficult or impossible because all Hollywood films (except some war films) have romance and all have comedy. A workable subset 'romantic comedy' might refer to those films in which romance and comedy are the primary components as crime, war, etc' (Krunik 2002, p132)

As Handerson said, the word 'romantic comedy' not only is a particular type of a story on two lovers but it also 'circulates as something of a free-floating signifier that can designate a bewildering array of possible combinations of sex and comedy' (Krunik 2002, p 133).

Billy Mernit, who is a famous author of romantic comedy, assigns the success of romantic comedy which has continued since the 1980s to its ability to mix with other film genres. Hybridity is by 'no means a new development within Hollywood genre films, and it is certainly no stranger to romantic comedy' (Krunik 2002, p133). Examples are Ball of Fire (1941), in which romantic comedy and elements of the gangster films are combined, I Married a Witch (1942) joins romantic comedy and supernatural fantasy and Too Hot to Handle (1938) combines romantic comedy with aviation adventure.

'Though there are many exceptions that prove the rule (e.g., the thoroughly old-fashioned Pretty Women), contemporary mainstream audiences seem amenable to movies that mix it up. And this is true of your buyers (the studios); a romantic comedy that promises crossover potential is more likely to pique their interest than a straight-up traditional one' (Mernit, B)

Pretty Women is a film which is female-centred, 'pure' straight romantic comedy appeals to women whereas the cross-genre film has broader audience. What is more, some of new romances have the elements of sporting backgrounds. For instance, Bull Durham (1998), The Cutting Edge (1992), The American President (1995) and Bulworth (1998). In addition, another trend since 1990s has been 'the extension of the romantic comedy process to gay relationships' (Krunik 2002, p 136). Gay scenarios have been combined within comedies aiming at broader audiences, such as The Next Best Thing (2000), The Object of My Affection (1998) and As Good as It Gets and Chasing Amy (1997).

Therefore, it can be said that contemporary romantic has been reconstructed for audiences based on age, ethnicity and sexual preference.

'In romantic comedies, the real subject is the power of love. Love is not merely the catalyst for action in a romantic comedy, it is the shaper of the story arc. Although many romantic comedies seem to initially set up their protagonist's eventual mate as their antagonist, in most cases love itself is the antagonist. Wrestling with love can force a character to grow or to resist growth, but either way, love's effect on the central character is what drives the story. 'Billy Mernit

'Heterogeneity and hybridity' (Spicer 2001, p184) are the prominent features of masculinity in contemporary British cinema. It means that the range of male forms is much broader than ever before.

One of the major ways by which identity is able to be reconstructed is through the mass media as this provides an outlet whereby the expression of alternative identities can be communicated. The media therefore becomes a focus whereby different expressions of gender identity can be expressed and debated.

In recent years, there have been rapid changes in many ways within the politics, society and culture. There are many significant reasons for these changes. As the result of these changes there were crucial impacts on social movements. Feminism is often said to be one of the most well known social movement. The key elements and developments of both feminism and cultural discourses are closely related to each other. Question arises at this point, such as what it means to be a woman and man, how are feminine and masculine identities constructed and what is the nature of femininity, masculinity? Not only to feminists but people such as intellectuals, politicians, artists and of course 'ordinary' women and men is interested in such struggles within the culture and society. Since, those struggle occurs when people characterises their existence by repeating the same routine within people's daily lives.

This section will examine the key elements on sex and gender to elucidate the cultural meaning within the media. Gender is a way in which social practice is ordered. In gender processes, the everyday conduct of life is organized in relation to a reproductive arena, defined by the bodily structures and processes of human reproduction. This arena includes sexual arousal and intercourse, childbirth and infant care, bodily sex difference and similarity (Connell 1995, p71).

For Judith Butler, who is an American philosopher and has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy and ethics, the various manifestation of gender in culture are driven by the self-same expressions deemed to be its consequences (Butler, 1990, p25) is accepted as gender is driven by performance, or the very activity of presentation, it is therefore dependent on what and how this is currently expressed by the individual that, ultimately, constitutes the crucial determining factor, and not an all-embracing universal disposition. In this sense, Butler sees gender as a regulatory fiction that is sustained by performative acts. Due to the fact that the choices an individual can potentially make in relation to gender are restricted thanks to ongoing cultural norms and assumptions, a person is therefore presented with a limited choice of possible identities. Individuals are thereby obliged to follow a course that fits the male/female dichotomy through performing and conforming to prevailing gender stereotypes.

Furthermore, if the gender is socially constructed the relations between sex and gender become more unstable which makes gender independent from sex. As butler puts it in her writing that, 'gender is free-floating artifice which culturally constructed, indeed perhaps sex was already gender, so that the sex/gender distinction is actually not a distinction at all' (Butler, 1990 p7). Butler suggests that it is possible to have a designated 'female' body and not to show traits generally considered 'feminine', in other words, one may be a 'masculine' female or a 'feminine' male. One way of challenging such assumptions, Butler suggests, is to encourage awareness of these limitations by the creation of alternative gender scenarios that can lead to a more genuine realisation of one's identity. In effect, this provides for greater flexibility and range of options by which a person is able to construct a unique individuality.

The fashion world definitely had the great impact on gender identification. It has been the case that distinctions of the gender are made when looking at fashion magazines such as masculine male and feminine female. The stereotypes of the gender role are repeatedly shown in the advertisements, fashion runways. As if it is saying that this how men and women should look like thus it limits our choice.

These examples that I am going to give show how some of Butler's ideas have been taken up in a practical manner. Tailored jacket, bow tie and so forth have been socially accepted for men's clothing. However wearing men's clothing item such as oversized tailored jacket or a bow tie become as a fashion trend for women's clothing in recent years. This indicates from my point of view, that there are no such assumptions or rule for the style of gender identity. There are no set of rules for wearing clothes in order to represent certain gender's identity. However there are social taboos which limit people to choose their own identity. But by looking images or photographs in magazines gender is not something fixed it is actually transformable as it shifts in style time to time. Thus, it can be explained that it is challenging the male dominance by reducing the assumption of the cultural meaning of the gender and sex to the level of fashion and style.

Another example is how the boundary of men and women has been blurred. First example is a skinny male fashion model, what I found interesting in this example is that how assumption of the male body has been changed. Within the fashion industry, where their fashion products should be sold in order to make a profit. Traditional male fashion models in the past showed strong masculine male body to represent their products. Furthermore, second example is a photo shot of male fashion model by PRADA's spring/fall collection. As I explained of skinny male models above, PRADA also chooses skinny male model. But this time the model is wearing a trousers and a skirt at the same time. This also can be explained as it is breaking the traditional gender stereotype. The formula which says that 'I don't wear a skirt therefore I am male' 'I am male therefore I don't wear a skirt' fails in this image.

Again it is just the style and fashion which blurs the boundary of fixed gender and sex .These examples above show how some of Butler's ideas have been taken up in a practical rather than passive way to meaningfully challenge how the public view gender to the extent that the younger generation are now coming to accept a more ambivalent attitude towards sex and gender. Moreover, androgynous models seem to becoming more common in the media - a further sign that boundaries are becoming permeable.

All societies have cultural accounts of gender, but not all have the concept of 'masculinity'. In its modern usage the term assumes that one's behaviour results from the type of person one is. That is to say, an unmasculine person would behave differently: being peaceable rather than violent, conciliatory rather than dominating, hardly able to kick a football, uninterested in sexual conquest, and so forth (Connell 1995, p67). Perhaps we are aware of masculinity than ever before as it has become one of the interests that have been analysed since mid 1980s.

Definitions of masculinity have mostly have taken our cultural standpoint for granted, but have followed different strategies to characterise the type of person who is masculine (Connell 1996, p68). Essentialist focuses on the core of masculine and their lives whereas positivist finds out what men actually are. Normative definition is a standard and explains that masculinity is that men should be. Semiotic definition, however, is that masculinity is non-femininity so that the level of personality is limited.

Rather than attempting to define masculinity as an object (a natural character type, a behavioural average, a norm), we need to focus on the processes and relationships through which men and women conduct gendered lives. 'Masculinity', to the extent the term can be briefly defined at all, is simultaneously a place in gender relations, the practices through which men and women engage that place in gender, and the effects of these practices in bodily experience, personality and culture'(Connell 1996, p71).

A concern of much early masculinity scholarship was to highlight the range and diversity of male identities that exist both within society as a whole and in specific settings (Crew 2003, p27). It means that there is class difference between men and the power that they have masculinities in working-class and middle-class to different experiences of capitalist working practice (Tolson 1977; Willis 1977). Tolson described masculinity in working-class as 'characterised by collective recognition and solidarity, physical toughness and presence, bravado, confrontation, anti-authority sentiment, and the avoidance of 'feelings' (Crew 2003, p27). By contrary, masculinity of middle-class was described as 'moral dignity, emotional restraint, 'respectability' and individualised notions of self-discipline, ambition and competitiveness' (Crew 2003, p27).

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The interweaving of masculinity and class was most clearly illustrated in Paul Willis' (1977) ethnography of a group of working-class 'lads'. Most striking was how the lads associated different types of work with different genders such that they valorised their own identities and the futures that awaited them explicitly masculine terms (Crew 2003, p27). For example, it is both shop floor workers and managers in middle-class who 'construct a masculine hierarchy in which physical labour is at the summit' (Roper 1994: 106). Managers find it hard to show their masculine position and masculinity in their work.

It was suggested by Collison and Hearn (1996) that similarly, whilst shop floor workers reject the idea of promotion because it would compromise their masculine self-images (Crew 2003, p27), men working in office also are endangered by what they think of their work as unmasculine. What is more, it is important to see the difference here between what men want to be and what they really are. 'masculine identities are lived out in the flesh but fashioned in the imagination, with cultural representations providing the repertoire of cultural forms' upon which fantasies are cast' (Dawson 1991: 118).

Masculine heterosexuality somewhat 'in line with the laddish personalities they were ascribed in the press' (Crewe 2003, p 128). They are certainly not 'macho, overbearing or aggressive: nor did they exhibit the emotionally inhibited toughness of Roper's (1994) organisational men' (Crew 2003, p 128). There are two social practices that reinforce oppressive, discriminatory forms of heterosexuality are homophobia and the sexual objectification of women (Pease 2000, p76).

The term 'homophobia' is created by The Gay Liberation Movement to identify the fear of homosexuality. According to Kirk and Madsen (1989:26-7), hetero sexual men dislike gays because they believe that homosexuality is caused by sinfulness, mental illness or recruitment (Pease 2000, p 76). It means that homosexuality is a distortion: gay men are evil and corrupted. Most heterosexuals have this misidentification and misconception as they have a negative image of the gay world.

Sedgwick (1985:1) used the term 'homosocial' to describe the non-sexual social bonds between men and to analyse how these social bonds keep men in power (Pease 2000, p77). The ''inability to recognise any homosexual impulses in oneself causes men to project all homosexuality desires outward on to gay men (Kupers, 1993:49)'' (Pease 2000, p77). Therefore, homophobia is seen as caused by hidden homosexuality. Many men are not aware of flaws or suspects of their heterosexuality. So if heterosexual men regard themselves as normal, homosexual men become abnormal. Heterosexual men try to avoid doing anything that other men might interpret as effeminate or unmanly. Men fear that any intimacy between men may sully their sexual identity (Pease 2000, p 78).

Most heterosexual men are attracted by women's bodies and this objectification is the process by which men ''sees the woman as a thing or an object and fixation to the process of focusing on parts of the female body (Buchbinder, 1987:65-6)'' (Pease 2000, p84). Heterosexual men are aware of sexism and they often feel ''torn between their sexual desire and their awareness that their expressed fantasies about women can be experienced as oppressive by women (Horowitz and Kaufman, 1987:81)'' (Pease 2000, p84).

Objectification is one of the key processes in ''men's sexual relationships with women, in which often a part of the women is seen to represent the whole (Kaufman, 1993: 124)'' (Pease 2000, p84). Heterosexual men have not done any reflective writings about their sexual desires: ''Rich (1983:66) has also challenged men to say why they like pornography, whilst gay men have challenged heterosexual men to be 'up front' about their sexuality (Stoltenberg, 1991: 8)'' (Pease 2000, p85).

In part these changes reflect the present state of British film-making which has become decentred and eclectic, lacking studio infrastructure or dominant producers of the earlier period (Spicer 2001, p184). Since 1970s, British film production has recovered and a new generation of film producers has become known that grips a more commercial cinema. The arrival of the 'multiplexes encouraged revival in cinema-going' (Spicer 2001, p184) in all UK. Most of cinema-goers are young people, but ABC1 is the major audience who frequently do cinema-going. The balance between men and women is equal.

However, cinema-going will never return to its former importance as a leisure pursuit, but film viewing continues to be a significant part of popular culture with the majority of films watched on television or on video (Spicer 2001, p185). The use of DVD and internet help to increase consumption of film viewing and it eventually makes cinema remain a popular and 'influential medium, among all classes and age groups and representation of masculinity' (Spicer 2001, p185). It has developed from successful British films put in to a national image culture. This section will look at various complex types of masculinity in contemporary British Cinema and give examples for each type.

James Bond has been 'the most enduring post-war British film hero in twenty films spanning thirty-eight years' (Spicer 2001, p185). Films that represent Bond's heroic masculinity are A View to a Kill (1987) where Roger Moore 're-created Bond as an old-style debonair hero, more polished and sophisticated' (Spicer 2001, p185) and The World is Not Enough (1999). He continues to be a hero who keeps the masculinity of traditional male adventurer.

There is a 'new man' concept which emerged within 'commercial culture, in particular, within retailing, advertising, and the early formation of the UK men's magazine market' (Crew 2003, p27) and it was 'in many ways driven by the discovery of a new market' (Seidler 1997, p8). The formation of 'new man' imagery has developments in and associated with menswear play an important role. Together with the reshaping of the men's toiletries and grooming products markets, development in menswear markets set some of the big terms for the emergence of the 'new man' imagery (Nixon 1996, p31).

The new man concept is the creation of imagery that represented men in ways that were 'more narcissistic, self-conscious, emotionally expressive, domesticated and feminine than conventional iconography of patriarchal authority, action and machismo (Brannon 1976; Goffman 1979; Wenick 1987)' (Crew 2003, p 31). Nixon said the new man imagery was most important in that it represented a 'loosening of the binary opposition between gay and straight-identified men and extended the space available within the representational regimes of popular consumption for an ambivalent masculine identity (Nixon 1996: 202)' (Crew 2003, p 31).

The New Man was an 'alternative image to the macho tough guy, embracing female roles and qualities, a vulnerable nurturer in touch with his emotions, but also rather narcissistic' (Spicer 2001, p 187). Hugh Grant in two romantic comedy films embodied the New Man: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). Both films show the gentle, low-rent Man About Town, lovably awkward, tongue-tied, endlessly self-deprecating and sexually naïve (Spicer 2001, p 187).

The independence and the power of women in films like Four Weddings and Notting Hill made Grant show more feminine sides. This is manifested in his insecurity and compliance, his lack of ambition and his desire for stability and heterosexual union, thereby fulfilling his supportive New Man credentials (Spicer 2001, p187).

The type of the damaged man appears so frequently in recent British cinema and it has become 'the most representative image' (Spicer 2001, p195). Shallow Grave (1994), Jude (1996) and Heart( 1998) are the performances of Christopher Eccleston who showed the figure of the damaged man with 'his gaunt features and suffering eyes' (Spicer 2001, p 195). Mike Leigh's Naked (1993) shows that the underclass male is often irreparably damaged by social disintegration and the film deepened this paradigm into an existentialist nightmare (Spicer 2001, p196).

Mark Renton in Trainspotting is perhaps the most representative contemporary male: young, alienated, but also a chameleon, neither hero, villain, conformist or rebel. He is the product of a culture that is decentred and heterogeneous, no longer recognising clear national, ethical or sexual boundaries, where forms of masculinity are becoming increasingly hybrid and audiences delight in the knowingness and self-referentiality of popular culture (Spicer 2001, p 204).

Contemporary British cinema has capability to produce positive forms.

In Affairs to Remember, Bruce Babington and Peter Evans define romantic comedy as a genre that 'centres on the couple, celebrating the passionate but hopefully companionate love that brings them together, and typically ending at the moment of passage into the responsibilities of marriage' (Babington and Evans 1989:234). (Spicer 2004, p78). In Britain, successful romantic comedy films since the revival are If Only (Maris Ripoll, 1998), Fanny Elvis (Kay Mellor, 1998), Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1997) and Hugh Grant films.

Hugh Grant is 'arguably the most successful current British star, famous throughout the world, able to sell a film on the strength of his name alone' (Spicer 2004, p77). The revival of British romantic comedy is linked with popularity that Grant has.

Grant's films such as Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999), Four Weddings and a Funeral (Mike Newell, 1994), Bridget Jone's Diary (Sharon McGuire, 2001) and About a Boy (Chris and Paul Weitz, 2002) share a 'central characteristic: the reluctance to commit, and yet the need to find love meaningful and central to well-being and happiness' (Spicer 2004, p77).

In Bridget Jone's Diary, Grant was 'No More Mr Nice Guy' (Spicer 2004, p83), and his bare-chested in tight leather trousers was photographed in women's magazines to show his new and more muscular body. Hugh Grant plays Renee Zellwegger's boss at the publishing company, Daniel Cleaver, 'sophisticated, sexy professional with long, flowing dark locks and rakish hair' (Spicer 2004, p 83). Cleaver is another 'familiar archetype, the Byronic anti-hero. The essence of the type is its fascinating eroticism' (Spicer 2004, p83).

The scene where he is undressing Bridget and he says, 'Silly little boots, silly little dress and these fuck me absolutely enormous pants. Don't apologise, I like them. Hello Mummy!' That's all him. I'd have written 'What the fuck are those knickers?' or something similar. He fooled around a lot on Bridget because it was in line with his own style of naughtiness. (Curtis in Raphael 2002s:13) (Spicer 2004, p 83). Some judged that he, 'like many Byronic males, was more attractive than tedious virtue' (Spicer, p84), Daniel is has more charisma than dull Darcy.


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