The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

The Slice: Why do we still love Pretty Woman so much?

My first piece at The Slice was about Pretty Woman, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year:

This month marks the 25th anniversary of one of the best-loved romantic comedies of all time, a modern-day Pygmalion about a romance between a heart-of-gold sex worker and the soulless corporate executive who turns her into a lady. At 25, Pretty Woman—directed by Garry Marshall and produced by the late Laura Ziskin—has left its mark on contemporary popular culture, and on the rom-com genre. Rom-coms are riddled with Pretty Woman references, and this week, the Today Show aired a cast reunion special to celebrate its iconic status. Somewhere along the way, the movie became a classic.

The question is: Why?

It’s not surprising that modern rom-coms still look to Pretty Woman as inspiration; they’re not exactly know for their progressive gender politics. But these days, the movie also appears in some of the most feminist pop culture we have. A few years ago, on Parks & Recreation, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) discovers that her best friend Ann (Rashida Jones) owns a replica of the iconic dress that Julia Roberts wears at the start of the film. (“Ann,” says Leslie Knope, who is trying to find an outfit that will repel a man, “everything you have is too sexy. This is actually the dress Julia Roberts wore as a prostitute in Pretty Woman.” Ann replies, “I know. I look really good in it.”) And just a few weeks ago, the movie got a shoutout from one of the most feminist shows on television, Broad City. Overseas, it remains a quintessential symbol of romance, of Hollywood, of America—even in North Korea, where it’s smuggled in illegally.

You can read the whole thing here.

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

BuzzFeed: The paradoxical rise of the public marriage proposal

I had a piece at BuzzFeed last week, about the way that social media and new attitudes toward marriage have reshaped the way we live our love lives today:

Late last year, a grand romantic gesture went horribly awry. A Dutch man in a town near Utrecht hired a crane to use in a spectacular marriage proposal — the plan was for him to be lowered into his girlfriend’s garden as he sang to her, and for him to then pop the question. Alas. The crane fell over and smashed through neighboring roofs, resulting in the evacuation of 32 homes, international news coverage, and the amused pity of readers around the world. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and she said yes.

As someone who has watched a lot of romantic comedies — they were the subject of my doctoral dissertation — this story caught my eye. In order for a romantic comedy to come to a “happy” ending (that is, with the couple united, and presumably headed for monogamous heterosexual marriage), they must first be reunited, having been parted by the various obstacles to their love. Then she writes an article about him and stands on the baseball field in front of a huge crowd, waiting for him to show up and accept her apology, or he drives to her apartment in a white limo blaring La Traviata out the sunroof and climbs up her fire escape to declare his love. Or he stages a flash mob in Grand Central Station, or stands outside her window with a boom box, or interrupts her at her place of work to propose in broken Portuguese, or shows up at her press conference to ask her a big non-work-related question. You know the drill.

The unnamed hopelessly romantic Dutchman is an extreme example of how the ways in which many of us experience and express love have changed in recent years. Our collective desire to make a spectacle out of our love, and our unprecedented ability to broadcast and share that spectacle, have produced a visible and dramatic shift in the culture of romance. Today, we perform love, and consume it, as never before. And yet, the popularity of marriage is fading among young Americans. It’s a fraught and fascinating paradox, one of several that mark contemporary romance culture.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Eminem’s Taylor-induced temper tantrum

Reuters: Eminem’s Taylor-induced temper tantrum

My latest at Reuters is about Eminem’s newest lyrical outburst, a rap in which he fantasizes about beating a young pop star until she’s unconscious:

I can’t get inside Eminem’s head – and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to, given the chance – but I suspect that his outburst against Del Rey had little to do with Del Rey herself, despite its specificity.

The real reason may be his fear that time has passed him by, and the very group he has so-often victimized in his lyrics — young women — seem to be running circles around him.

Exhibit A?

Taylor Swift, the 24-year-old phenom who is arguably the biggest pop star in the world right now (fret not, BeyHive, I’m sure your queen will reclaim her crown soon) released her fifth album, “1989,” in late October after months of buildup and publicity. The hype was justified: 1989 is a great album, and it’s been hailed as such by everyone from NPR’s music critic to current king of rap Kendrick Lamar.

It’s also a record-breaking album: It sold more than 1 million copies in the first week of release. The last time that happened was more than a decade ago. To be precise, it was in 2002. And the album in question? Eminem’s “The Eminem Show.”

You can read the whole thing here.

The Hairpin: Amour et Turbulences

The Hairpin: Amour et Turbulences

This week’s installment of The Hairpin Rom Com Club is about the French rom com Amour et Turbulences:

Amour et Turbulences is what film scholars such as Stanley Cavell call a “comedy of remarriage”: the central conflict is not whether the couple will get together, but whether they’ll get back together after falling apart. Sometimes, in a comedy of remarriage, one of the parties is already married to someone else (or basically married) and the plot is whether they’ll stay with their spouse or fall for someone else. And if you want to know more about comedies of remarriage: Stanley Cavell coined the term and literally wrote the book on them.

All rom-coms contain some element of reconciliation or temptation – the template is “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back,” – but comedies of remarriage are a little more explicit about it, calling attention to the competition between old and new love. Lots of classic rom-coms are comedies of remarriage: His Girl Friday, Sleepless in Seattle, Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, and It Happened One Night, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. In His Girl Friday, for example, Cary Grant’s Walter makes the competition between himself and his ex-wife’s new fiancé, Bruce (played by serial nice boring guy Ralph Bellamy), very explicit, continually goading her about the boring suburban life that awaits her if she chooses Bruce instead of getting back with Walter. That comedies of remarriage became popular in the 1940s was no coincidence: divorce rates were rising, and with them, widespread cultural concern about the durability and relevance of the institution of marriage.

Against that backdrop, comedies of remarriage make the most sense; there was a spate of romantic comedies about divorced or separated couples reuniting and living happily ever after the second time around. Don’t worry,these movies seemed to say, this divorce thing isn’t going to totally change our culture and our understanding of gender. Whoops.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story

Reuters: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert liberal lions? The guest chair tells a different story

Last week at Reuters, I wrote about how the diversity – or lack thereof – among guests on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report is in conflict with Jon Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s reputations as liberal icons:

Appearing on Stewart or Colbert bestows credibility and respect on many of the people with whom the hosts choose to converse.

And yet when it comes to gender and race, their guest rosters more closely resemble a GOP national convention than they do the liberal vision of a diverse and equitable America. Of Stewart’s most recent 45 guests, 17 of them, or 38 percent, were women. This is closer to gender equity than many comedy and news shows manage, and it’s certainly a better showing than Colbert. But when you factor in race, Stewart’s numbers start to look very grim indeed. A resounding majority – 68 percent – of his guests were white, and of the very few African-American guests who appeared on his show, all were entertainers – the band Wu Tang Clan and the comedian Kevin Hart. Women of color fared similarly poorly on The Daily Show: Out of 45 guests, just three were women of color.

In Colbert Nation, the numbers were worse still: Of 45 guests, 73 percent were men, and 89 percent were white. And of the 12 women (12!) who appeared among Colbert’s last 45 guests, three of them shared a time slot. Of those 12 women, there was just one woman of color — District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

You can read the whole thing here.

 

Reuters: Why the contestants on Dating Naked are (kind of) just like us

Reuters: Why the contestants on Dating Naked are (kind of) just like us

I have a piece at Reuters today, on reality shows about looking for love, hatewatching, and horseback riding in the nude:

If naked horseback riding strikes you as a bad idea, then Dating Naked is not the reality show for you.

The show, which debuted last month, is filmed on a Caribbean island, and it’s much like any other reality dating show, except that contestants show up for their dates — which involve island-y activities like spearfishing, zip lining, paddle boarding, and yes, horseback riding — totally naked, and stay that way for the duration of the date. Suffice it to say, the folks responsible for pixelating the footage for this show have their hands full.

Dating Naked is one of several reality shows in which nudity is part of the central premise. Recently, we’ve also seen the debut of Buying Naked (TLC), about a real estate agent who caters to a nudist clientele; Naked and Afraid (Discovery Channel), in which strangers are left naked in a deserted location and must fend for themselves in the wilderness, is currently in its third season. If you hold to the journalism adage that three makes a trend, then naked reality shows are officially a hot new trend (or, in the case of the Naked and Afraid contestants who spent three weeks in the Yungas cloud forest of Argentina, a cold one).

What is striking about these shows, however, is how quickly nudity becomes the least remarkable element. In Naked and Afraid, building a shelter and obtaining food quickly become top priorities for many contestants, and being naked while doing so is an uncomfortable inconvenience, but not a central concern. Similarly, the contestants in Dating Naked say that by the time they’re stripping down for their third naked date, they’re getting comfortable with the idea of meeting a purported complete stranger in the buff. Since the discomfort, awkwardness, and innuendo that, uh, arise, from the nudity are central to the appeal of the show, their dissipation reveals Dating Naked for what it is: Yet another formulaic reality dating show, just as heavily edited and booze-soaked as any other member of the genre. Once the contestants get comfortable, the show loses much of its appeal.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reuters: John Oliver, the insider-outsider perspective, and jokes that punch up

Reuters: John Oliver, the insider-outsider perspective, and jokes that punch up

I’m at Reuters again this week, writing about John Oliver’s new show Last Week Tonight, about how to make humour out of dark and dull topics, and about why a man with a thick Birmingham accent is so good at American political satire:

Oliver’s addition to the news-comedy landscape demonstrates the value of a half-American’s perspective on American politics and culture. He was born and grew up in Britain, moved to the United States as an adult, and has a strong Birmingham accent. He has been living here for almost a decade, is now married to an American, and has become a citizen. He is at once an outsider and an insider, a powerful position from which to critique and mock the United States.

At times, Oliver is explicit about his outsider status, particularly when he is addressing those subjects that are especially hard to joke about. In a May segment about the death penalty, Oliver noted that, as a Briton, “I come to this as a bit of an outsider. Britain does not have the capital punishment, so in a way, I really don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“But,” he continued, “in another way, I really do know what I’m talking about.” He then proceeded to give a brief overview of the lurid and grotesque history of British execution methods — “we boiled people, and in the grand tradition of British cuisine, if anything, we over-boiled them” — and joked about how British people respond when asked if they want to reinstate the death penalty, which was abolished there in 1965. It was, quite literally, gallows humor. It also demonstrated Oliver’s ability to joke about grim topics and situations that no one wants to talk about, in a way that does not detract from their gravity or strip the people involved of their humanity.

You can read the whole thing here.