Monday, March 10, 2014

For Once, The Girl Makes the Grand Gesture (Pitch Perfect)

On the advice of my sister, who is a very wise and lovely person (and who also doesn't read this blog, so technically I could say whatever I want, but she is actually wise and lovely), I'm going to tell you guys about my weekend: It sucked. Well, not exactly. The weekend itself was fine, but a fair number of sucky and/or stressful things happened. An amazing woman in my church passed away. Another person close to me went in for major surgery. A good friend of mine lost her baby. 

It's been a rough weekend. God is good, but it's been a tough couple of days.

And to top all of that off, the stuff I've been reading and watching has been pretty universally intense and depressing. I'm watching 24 so that I can write a really smart and cool academic paper on it. But the coolness and smartness of the paper don't negate the fact that 24 is a freaking intense show. I read a really good comic series about people dying. I read The Maze Runner. Not exactly full of warm fuzzies.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm feeling kind of down. Worn out. Run through the ringer. I know that God has good in all of these things, and I know that none of it is more than I can handle, not even my taxes (which I hate) and all the other stuff I have to do this month to be a responsible adult, but dang do I want to curl up in bed and Redwall books for the next couple years.

So I'm putting this out there: what do you watch and/or read when you feel like poop? I'm seriously asking. I'm even more seriously asking for recs that are up on Netflix instant or apt to be at my library. I want to engage with media that is fun. Positive. Hopeful, and life-affirming. And if you send me something new that we've never covered on here before, chances are good you'll get to see a review of it!

Just, please. Help. I'm sure in a few weeks I'll be back to wanting to talk about the deep darks of depressingness again, but for now it's all a little too raw, and I think I want some fluff to make me feel better.

With that in mind, let's talk about Pitch Perfect.

Look, I'm not exactly known to be a big proponent of romantic comedies. They're just not my thing, and a lot of the time I think that our cultural obsession with happily ever after and perfect romance (between two inordinately attractive, young, affluent, white people, especially happily ever afters that end just as the wedding starts) is total bunk. But that doesn't mean I have a stone where my heart should be, and every once in a while one of these rom-coms breaks through and makes me smile.

Not that I'm exactly saying that Pitch Perfect is a rom-com. It shares story elements, but overall it's a female-lead ensemble comedy. And that's okay. I love female-lead ensemble comedies. Like, a lot.

The point, which I seem to be losing rapidly, is this: I don't hate romantic comedies, but I do hate the way they try to propagate an incredibly narrow view of gender dynamics. You know the drill. Guy and girl meet and hate each other almost on sight. After a few slightly contrived coincidences, they realize that it's not hate, it's passion, and they fall madly in love. But then there's some kind of lie or misunderstanding, and they split apart, only to be brought back together at the end when the guy makes a grand romantic gesture that reminds the girl why she loves him, and tells the audience that he has matured enough as a person to be worthy of her love.

But here's the thing: it's always the guy making the big gesture. Even when it's the woman who screwed up the relationship. And even when the main character of the film is purportedly the woman, she's still the one waiting and hoping that he'll come to his senses and sweep her off her feet. Even when she's the one in the wrong.

The perfect example of this for me is Never Been Kissed. In that movie, Drew Barrymore plays an improbable reporter who goes undercover at a high school, macks on a teacher for a while, and then gets exposed as a reporter. Said teacher (who totally hit on a student thinking she was a student) is then kind of pissed (he should be relieved that she can't really press charges), and also a little bit reviled by the city. Because he hit on a student.

So Drew makes it up to him with a grand romantic gesture. She'll stand and wait on the pitcher's mound of the baseball diamond until the game starts, and if he loves her and forgives her, he'll come and give her a big old kiss in front of everyone.

Now this may sound like Drew is the one making the grand gesture. It may sound like it, but it's not. Remember, the guy is the one whose life was ruined. He's the one who could be up on charges. And he's the one who has to come racing across the city in order to kiss some girl by some arbitrary deadline or else...what? Or else what? But he does it, and it's cute, and everyone cheers, because that's what's supposed to happen. Our hero is supposed to in some way make a gesture, and usually humiliate himself, in order to get the girl.

Let's take another example. 10 Things I Hate About You. A seriously awesome movie, and one that hits almost all of my qualifications for things to be good. It's just such a fun flick. Wildly inappropriate for any actual teenagers, and I can't believe I saw it when I was twelve, oh my gosh, but really fun. Anyway, the end of the movie has Julia Stiles reading out her English assignment, which turns out to be an incredibly personal poem about Heath Ledger and how she hates that she doesn't hate him, not even after everything that's happened. And then she rushes out of the room crying.

Again, it seems like this is a case where the girl is the one making the grand romantic gesture, but, again, not really. You see, Heath Ledger chases after her. He runs down the halls and out into the parking lot where she's about to get into her car, and bam! We see that he's already used the money he was paid to date her to buy her a brand new electric guitar. And then they kiss.

I'm not sure entirely why it was so freaking time sensitive that she find the guitar that instant, or that he chase her down to her car, or why any of it was so urgent, but then, I never understand why the ends of romantic comedies are so weirdly rushed.

At any rate, it's just another case of reaffirming the gender paradigm. No matter who is at fault, it is the man's responsibility to humble himself and seek forgiveness from the woman in order for there to be a happily ever after and a kiss.

Only. That's not what happens in Pitch Perfect. Which is strange. And unusual. And awesome.

So, the main story in Pitch Perfect is about a bunch of girls who want to win a national a capella competition, blah blah blah, let's be real, you've probably already seen this movie. Let's cut to the chase: the romantic subplot between Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Jesse (Skylar Astin). Jesse and Beca have a pretty normal meet-cute (see each other on the quad during orientation, he makes a fool out of himself), and Jesse very doggedly spends most of the movie pursuing Beca. He likes her. He thinks she's pretty and awesome.

But Beca, being deeply emotionally constipated and not super into the idea of college in general, is a hard person to date, and after a while, and some misunderstandings and stuff, Jesse gives up. He is pretty (rightly) pissed at Beca, and so he puts his efforts into his friendships and doing well at a capella.

Beca finally realizes that she does actually like Jesse, and also that feelings are not just for the weak, but what can she do? Jesse won't talk to her. He's still very hurt, and even when she tries to tell him that she finally watched The Breakfast Club and now she understands it, he's not impressed. He's pretty sure she's just the same old Beca: snarky, kind of a bitch, and liable to eat his heart right out of her chest.

What to do? Grand romantic gesture of course!

Only this time, it's Beca making the gesture. Not even Beca going halfway and Jesse grabbing the other half. No, this is 100% Beca. She is the one who comes up with her team's a capella final performance, and she includes in it the song from the end of Breakfast Club, you know, "Don't You Forget About Me". And then she sings it, straight at Jesse, in the middle of their performance, and keeps going until he gets it. She watched the movie. She is putting effort in. She wants you bad, dude. 

Here's the part that really gets me here, though. It's partly that this is one of the only, if not the only, romantic gesture from the end of a movie like this that I can think of, that is 100% all the girl, but it's also partly something else. It's partly that this? Isn't humiliating. Beca is not acting like an idiot. She's not throwing away her team's chance of winning in order to get some guy to notice her. She's not making a scene. 

Instead, she's allowing Jesse to see that his love for her made her a better person. It made her a better human being, but it also made her a better singer, a better musician, a more well rounded member of her team. When Beca sings that song, yeah, she's saying that she wants Jesse back, but she's also saying that she needs him. That she needs him to show her movies and challenge her to engage emotionally, and that she wants all of that. That she's ready to try.

You see, in most romantic gestures, especially the grand ones, it's about the man showing that he's humble enough to really love the woman now. He's humiliating himself to prove that he is willing to risk it all for love. That this woman is enough for him. He doesn't need anything else. That's not what Beca is doing here.

Beca is saying that she appreciates Jesse because he makes the rest of her life, and her relationships, and her music, better. Not that he's the only thing that matters, but that he makes the other things matter more.

That's a hell of a lot healthier, and, really, a hell of a lot more romantic. Romance should be about that. Romance should be about two people making each other happier, yes, but also two people who make each other more. Challenge each other. Make each other more compassionate, intelligent, interesting people. The person you love should, by loving you, make you more yourself. They shouldn't insist that you debase yourself or give things up in order to love them better. They should encourage you. Add to you. Real love is about finding the person who will make you a better you.

I don't want someone who will chase me through an airport, or kiss me on a baseball diamond, or even sing and dance his way across a stadium then buy me an electric guitar. I want someone who will make me want to be a better human being. That's all. It's a lot.

Awwww, yeah. Kiss like you just smashed the patriarchy, girl.


  1. Parks and Rec. I've been watching a lot of Parks and Rec this weekend. When I feel crappy I kind of watch anything that's not triggery (like I was watching season 5 of Buffy last year and stopped because it was too close to home and I was going to start up again and then this so no) but I have a really hard time settling on music that works for me. I've been reading the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix and that's good, nice mid-grade almost-YA fantasy stuff.

    1. I do love Parks and Rec. Haven't read Keys to the Kingdom, but I'll stick it on the list. And yes, season five of Buffy is possibly the absolute worst thing to watch right now. Except maybe season six.

      I watched the latest Teen Wolf and now I am sad. Again. More.

  2. I have a go-to feel good book (series) that works every time for me - and it got me into college too! I am sure that you have read and explored the wonderful and not so wonderful aspects of Anne of Green Gables... Whenever I need something to pick me up, I read Anne of Avonlea and Anne of Windy Poplars. For something a little sappy, I read Anne of the Island... I hope life gets better shortly!

    1. ...I love those books and I have not read them in so long. That is a fantastic suggestion. Thank you.

  3. I second Parks/rec, and actually also enjoyed Raising Hope (haven't seen the second season or so). When I'm sad I re-read Pride and Prejudice or the Harry Potter series (and watch more horror movies than I eat, but I don't rec that for you at all), and sometimes I hunt down completely insane, OOC Twilight or SPN fanfiction. Only the most bonkers will do. Also Good Omens; that book cheers me up. Also also the recorded live versions of Rocky Horror, which is indeed rocky but not horror and kinda falls in the category of bonkers fanfiction. CC>

    1. I definitely second you on the fanfic thing (though I prefer tooth-numbingly sweet at times like this). Pride and Prejudice is a good idea too.

      Hmm. What are your thoughts on the Lizzie Bennet Diaries?

    2. LOVE THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES FOR ALL OF FOREVER. They're not so feelsy until the Lydia side maybe?

    3. I've never even heard of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries! That's a sumthin for me, then. I did enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, though.

    4. Jorja, you neeeeeeed to watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Trust me. :DDD

  4. I really enjoyed this article! I think the reason so many grand romantic gestures involve the male making a fool of himself might involve the fantasy of a "vulnerable man," but I'm just an unqualified person creating psychology theories on the internet, so.

    Hmmm. Entertainment I turn to when I'm sad include:
    Animorphs (the early stuff, later stuff is pretty dark)
    The mushier episodes of South of Nowhere (baby lesbians are always cute)
    Foxtrot Comics
    Charmed (yeah, the plots are pretty ridiculous, but at the end of the day it's really just about three sisters learning how to get along with each other and the world. Also magic. It's great.)

    1. Haha! I never got into Animorphs for some reason - I am the exact right age to have been obsessed, but somehow I missed it. I should go back and give those books a shot. (I was always more of a Babysitter's Club girl). Never seen South of Nowhere either, but I do love Foxtrot. I wish all my Foxtrot books weren't on the other side of the country now.

      Charmed is hilarious and wonderful.

  5. Here's the part that really gets me here, though. It's partly that this is one of the only, if not the only, romantic gesture from the end of a movie like this that I can think of, that is 100% all the girl, but it's also partly something else. It's partly that this? Isn't humiliating. Beca is not acting like an idiot. She's not throwing away her team's chance of winning in order to get some guy to notice her. She's not making a scene.

    Presumably - going by the description rather than having seen the film - it's also something that's only likely to be interpreted as a big romantic gesture by her and him, and maybe a few other initiated secondary characters. But not the whole crowd.
    And that's a big deal too, because standard romcom gestures are often public - part and parcel of the humiliation you're talking about - but thus also putting public pressure on the woman to accede.

    I don't have very good feelgood recommendations, though, I'm afraid. The ones that I think would suit you are ones you'll already know.

    1. That's a really good call. I love that the gesture here is actually personal. It's not theatrical or really showy, it's just a nod. It's an, "I understand what you were trying to tell me," but for everyone else, it's just a really good addition to the mix. Which is what love should be.

      And yeah, the public pressure of grand romantic gestures, especially proposals, drives me nuts. Absolutely bonkers.


  6. I do too read your blog!!!! Albeit, occasionally... I'm sorry, the interwebs gets less priority of my time than most other things in my life, but I like your blog and think you're smart, and am SUPER PROUD that you've found something that you're brilliant at and love so much! Plus, if you're writing about happy things and not depressing, "everyone is racist," kinds of things, it's much more my type of entertainment. But I still think that what you do is important, because we need to be called out on our cultural crap!

    And, P.S., thanks for the compliments, even though you didn't have to say them, and you really could have said anything, because, hey! It's the internet! ;)

    1. Oh my gosh, you're reading my blog. Are you lost? :DDD

      I'm glad you like my happy articles! And no, I don't mind that your priorities are less than internet-centric. Someone in our family has to bother engaging with the real world and make sure none of us starve while we're entranced by the glowing screens.

      PS, I love you and you're awesome.

  7. READ Forest Gump. I hated the movie although my son loves it. Look at British t.v.on Netflix, If you like Supernatural, you may like Tremors series. Netflix: Terriers or Out of Practice are funny and short lived sitcoms, romance of a sort and very funny. If nothing else, the Out of Practice Thanksgiving show will make you laugh.

    YOUTUBE: the Supernatural ComicCon (?) videos! They are hilarious and add much to watching the show. The funniest ones are the Jensen Ackles ones and the Trickster is a great story teller! The only one who isn't funny is Bobby. When Jensen, Jared and Misha are all on stage, it is very funny.

    I just found your blog and I enjoyed your blog about Charlie/Supernatural. I miss my brother and I enjoy the Charlie/Dean relationship. It makes the Dean/Sam relationship less annoying.

    Life is awful, it is joyful, it is difficult right up to the very end, especially if you love and are loved. There is not a 'happy ending.' But there is 'simply happy.'

    I am not boasting, I believe that you are going to have something like this too, I want you to know that it happens...I am coming up on my 24th anniversary with the 'love of my life.' I married when I was 28. We were old enough to know who we didn't want and to appreciate the 'spark' when it happened.

    We have lost children, jobs, parents, loved ones. I used to tell my friends (when we were still young and looking for love) that He was not the excitement in my life; (you know, those EXCITING bad boyfriends, bleck.) he and I did exciting things together...traveling, exploring, living, etc. and that was so much better! He isn't excitingly bad and I knew almost instantly that there was a special connection between us.

    I met him at work on our first day. I told him about the man that I had dated for a long time and who was a bum in every sense of 'bad boyfriend' definition. He told me, "If you were one of my friends, back East, me and my friends would beat him up."

    After that, every time BB came crawling back for whatever, I heard HIM. I learned self-respect that day. Since then, he has given me love, babies and all manner of material things, but the most important thing that he ever gave me was what Self Respect.

    Good mates are out there; you just have to open your eyes to look past the common standards that people have today. My girlfriends thought that I was stepping down bc he didn't dress 'cool.' However, I knew that he had a good heart. Clothes, I could fix, egotistical jerk, nope.

    You are a good friend, love your family and you are very smart. I know that your life will be filled with the joy and wonder of a great relationship and you will find the right person to hold your hand through the worst.

    Trust God, open your heart and your eyes and remember to respect yourself and you will find someone to walk with forever. The problem that I see today is that young women want respect, but don't give it. No matter how strong your mate will be, there are days when you will have to support and carry him. There will be days when you are both broken and you must get up to take care of your kids anyway or if you don't have kids, you can curl up in bed and cry together and eventually dream again.

    good luck, let the world spin a few more times and you will find something that makes you smile.

    1. Thank you for sharing all of that. I've been overwhelmed by the awesome responses I've gotten to this post. It's made my heart very happy. Thank you for your encouragement. :)