EDITORIAL: Why movies ruin love

ALWAYS RIGHT NOW - Alex Almario - The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL: Why movies ruin love
We’re miserable because we haven’t known a love as intense as the one in One More Chance, or The Notebook, or La La Land. Part of that misery is that we keep chasing Bea Alonzos and Ryan Goslings even if they keep breaking our hearts. Illustration by Patrick Dale Carrillo

I can suspend my disbelief over people bursting into song or levitating because they’re in love but I cannot latch on to the idea of extremely attractive people struggling in life. I’d be less incredulous if the struggling artists portrayed in the movie were untalented people; but the premise of the whole movie is that Ryan Gosling’s jazz musician and Emma Stone’s writer-actress are underappreciated semi-geniuses. And as anyone who wasn’t born yesterday knows, underappreciated beautiful people do not exist. They just don’t. Other things being equal, better-looking people get ahead in jobs, in the dating game, and in life. I’ve done the starving artist routine before and my takeaway from La La Land is that I failed because I don’t look even remotely like Ryan Gosling.

Being extremely attractive comes with privileges for which there is no worldwide outrage. Everyone seems to agree that this is okay. Unlike white privilege and male privilege, no one really gets hurt from beautiful people privilege because we all enjoy looking at beautiful people. The thing about being beautiful is that no one can stay mad at your face. Your worst-case scenario is that you are an exasperating but adorable pet.


I guess that we, as a society, are still secretly bothered by this fact because “sapiosexual” became a thing a couple of years ago. Defined as someone who is attracted more by intelligence than by physical appearance, “sapiosexual” is not an actual sexual orientation but a made-up word popularized online to make people feel better about themselves. The word felt like a necessary moral high ground in the age of Tinder, where people are reduced to mere images waiting to be judged via thumb-swiping, a frivolous act usually reserved for picking carpet samples from a swatch book. We’re better than this, some of us thought, while typing that irritatingly-long non-word on our Tinder profiles.

I don’t doubt that people find intelligence attractive but I call BS on anyone who claims that it is the most attractive trait. I go back to my theory: other things being equal — and, you know what, even if they weren’t equal — beautiful people always win. Here’s a thought exercise for my fellow dudes: who would you rather date? Moderately cute but intensely smart culture critic Susan Sontag circa mid-1960s or moderately smart but intensely pretty Natalie Portman circa-forever? Be honest. I won’t judge.

Everyone fears being judged as shallow for falling in love with sheer beauty but is that even a valid criticism? Do we not well up with profound emotion when witnessing God’s other creations, like a clear night sky, or an orange sunset, or a view of mountain ranges from an airplane window? I get it, we’re the pinnacle of evolution and we’re greater than the sum of our man and lady parts. But are we supposed to feel guilt over feelings sparked by a pair of irresistibly magnetic eyes or a perfectly-sculpted face?

According to scientists, these feelings are hardwired into our brains. What we find physically attractive in people are actually biological signals of health and vitality — traits that held evolutionary value back when we were still cave people and that are now likely to get you more matches on Tinder. The whole point of our evolution as a species, aside from becoming more and more intelligent (although I’m not so sure about that anymore), is to become more and more beautiful. It’s okay to like people for having beautiful faces and tremendous body shapes. If you continue to like these people after mounting evidence of their dullness or overall douchiness, then that’s on you.

Beauty Equals Happiness?

Now, I’m no scientist (surprise!), so I can’t speak to the many ways this primal instinct manifests itself. What I am, though, is a voracious pop culture consumer and if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. So here’s my nail: pop culture has conditioned us to equate beautiful people with personal happiness. And this is making us more unhappy.

Much has already been written about how movies and pop songs have influenced our aspirations. In Nick Hornby’s iconic novel, High Fidelity, the lead character wonders, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” In his paradigm-shifting 2003 book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, writer Chuck Klosterman posited that the women of her generation were destined to be unsatisfied because they all subconsciously expect men to be like John Cusack in the movie Say Anything. Film critic Nathan Rabin briefly became a semi-celebrity for coining the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe the Hollywood trope of the quirky, perky, and adventurous heroine whose sole purpose in the script is to change the brooding male protagonist’s life.

The harmfully unrealistic expectations on romance set by movies have been discussed ad nauseam but what remains under-discussed is the vessel on which these expectations are carried. Rabin lists all the ways in which the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is problematic except the most obvious one: literally every Manic Pixie Dream Girl in cinema history — from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Audrey Tautou in Amélie — is insanely beautiful. I guess hardly anyone mentions this because it’s so self-evident as to be rendered moot. And that’s precisely the point. Our romantic expectations have been personified by the most beautiful people in the world for so long that we take its effect for granted. Sure, we’re miserable because we haven’t known a love as intense as the one in One More Chance, or The Notebook, or La La Land. But part of that misery is that we keep chasing the Bea Alonzos and Ryan Goslings of our lives even if they keep breaking our hearts. Damn you, Gosling.

Jesse and Celene

The spell works reflexively, too. After seeing Before Sunrise in college, I spent much of my adult life looking out for attractive women in various public transport situations, hoping to find my Celine. This plan was clearly doomed from the start (and not because I was looking for blonde French women on jeepneys; I’m not an idiot, you know). At the time, I thought it was because instantly connecting with complete strangers only happened in movies. But now, looking back, I’m fully aware of what went wrong. I think that, while waiting for my Julie Delpy, I secretly believed that I look like Ethan Hawke, which is incontrovertible proof of both my insanity and cinema’s druglike potency. Trying to live your fantasy makes you susceptible to the trap of embodying it. The disconnect was ultimately damaging, since the fantasy of falling in love with complete strangers is more likely to come true if it involves exceptionally beautiful strangers.

I know: I should have watched fewer movies in college and talked to more girls, but that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is that I wish I looked like Ethan Hawke so I wouldn’t be able to relate to these made-up problems.

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Tweet the author @ColonialMental.


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