You know that old joke about how awkward it is to watch a sudden sex scene in a movie or on TV with your parents next to you? Well, that’s my life.
Only it’s not just sex scenes. And usually, my parents are nowhere near me.
On more than one occasion, I have had to resist the extreme urge to hide my face when the hero and heroine have their dramatic kiss before saving the world of your resident favorite action-adventure movie. If my friends are sitting next to me? Embarrassment reaches maximum levels.
Let’s move past the obvious first: my experience as someone who identifies as asexual is not representative of all asexual identifiers (commonly termed ‘aces’). But I’m about to get really real here: I have zero interest in sex. I don’t even have an interest in kissing someone. I debate whether I even care about ever being in a relationship (for those interested, that is known as aromanticism and identifiers call themselves ‘aros’). None of this means I don’t enjoy romance; my bookshelf currently boasts more romance novels than your local bookstore.
I say all of that to ask: Why are we so obsessed with shoehorning romance into every single movie? Now I know, I know, most of the movies I bring up below are adapted from comics. Trust me, I am a massive movie-goer and all-around nerd, I know. As film adaptations, their storylines are somewhat preordained, so to speak, but let’s imagine a world where liberties can be taken to reflect societal changes.
Hollywood has an obsession with turning any leading pair into a romantic item, no matter the story or relevance. We have been inundated with the belief that the only way we can find happiness is to find true love. Only true love’s kiss or a passionate embrace can break the spell, remind a broken hero they aren’t too far gone to save, or ground a fantastical story into something ‘real’. There are a number of times this comes across as an attempt to keep characters straight (I would need three more blog posts to unpack this problem), and just as frequently, it is used as a way to reinforce the idea that romantic love is the only thing that matters. Remember, I love romances. Bring on all the ships, I’ll be your number one ship captain and cruise director. But it’s not enough for me to just say, “Well, they’re both attractive so they should kiss before one of them dies.”
I’m looking at you, Captain America: Civil War.
Civil War sparked an anger in me, and friends have the text messages to prove it. I’m a massive fan of Captain America and I fully want Steve Rogers to find happiness with Bucky Barnes (yes, I’m that girl, yes, I know about the comics). When Sharon Carter first popped up in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I was frustrated. When they kissed out of nowhere in Civil War, I was pissed. I don’t have time to delve into the horror show that is a guy falling for his dead love’s descendent, but here we can see the result of forcing, “No, he totally only likes ladies.” Demonstrably throughout his arc Rogers is seen as someone who takes care of others, his drive is his love of humanity as a whole. It’s only when that drive produced a friendship that many view as bisexual that suddenly a new, straight, character was thrown into the fray.
The treatment of a character’s non-romantic love being shoved aside in favor of a romantic arc is not exclusive to male superheroes. Friends and I disagree on this one, but here I go: I don’t think Wonder Woman needed to show Steve Trevor and Diana Prince kissing. It was the one moment in the movie that pulled me out of the experience and left me with a weird sense of feeling like it was random. I get it, he’s a major line in her story from the comics, and trust me, I want Chris Pine on my screen all the time. I still didn’t see the need to show a scene of awkward flirting, kissing, and the obvious fade-to-black. It reeked of “if you don’t see it, it wouldn’t exist,” something used on ships many view as LGBTQIA-centric. At the start of the movie we see a glimpse of the power family and friends can have, arguably it is the desire to fight alongside these women that drives a young Prince to training in the first place. Yet it is the romantic love of a man that is ultimately treated as the awakening of her prowess as a warrior.
I’m at the point I actively anticipate (dread) seeing the erroneous romance subplot in movies where I signed up for world saving, one-liners, and explosions, so much so that I was truly shocked when movies like Rogue One and Power Rangers both set up a plot for romance and then … showed friendship. I cried genuine tears at Rogue One, not because of the deaths we all saw coming, but because Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor held hands (and each other) in their final moments in an embrace that spoke volumes of bonding, volumes that—for once—didn’t include sexualized romance.
I’ve had debates about the nature of the above storylines countless times, and for me, it all comes back to this: romantic love continues to be treated as a pinnacle for human connection, and that is hard for me to understand. I believe human connection can be found in all forms of love, from friendship to familial to romantic, and one isn’t better than the other. So when will filmmakers start realizing that? How many times do I need to hear the impassioned love speech, and watch the dramatic close-up kiss taking place just before the world is saved from destruction? When do I get to watch a plucky hero/heroine save the day without so much as blinking when someone starts giving them a smoldering look?
That is my plea for 2018 and beyond: to see a rise in movies that truly celebrate the many facets of love and human nature. I promise you, those stories are just as beautiful as the romantically heroic gestures. Movies like Rogue One and Power Rangers prove it’s possible to have a gripping emotional story arc that carries the action forward without forcing romance into the equation. They are proof that at the end of the day, sometimes, all you need to save the world is the strength of your rag tag group of friends … but a Megazord comes in pretty handy too.
Lauren Jernigan is a nerdy bibliophile in NYC who spends too much time posting photos of her cat. She works as a Social Media Specialist and is online more than the average person sleeps. Follow along as she live-tweets her way through life: @LEJerni13
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