Go back to the times of When Harry Met Sally, Braveheart, It Happened One Night, and The Graduate: compare the themes of romance and conquest in those iconic films to the romance genre of the current day. A lot has changed, contemporarily speaking; the romance genre has gone through a significant transformation that was seen across many mediums. When Harry Met Sally, in particular, presents a series of thought-provoking questions about romance, one of which is: Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? Braveheart, on the other hand, does not present the theme of romance as a central fixation, but rather, as a tool to further progress the plot and story, giving the main character, William Wallace, motivation to fight against the British when his love interest dies by their hands.
It Happened One Night and The Graduate serve as great talking points to show the early stages of the romance genre, specifically in relation to the period of time they were released. It Happened One Night was released during the Depression Era, circa 1934. Directed by Frank Capra, the film tells “the story of the unlikely romantic pairing of a mismatched couple – a gruff and indifferent, recently-fired newspaper man (played by Clark Gable) and a snobbish, superior-acting heiress (played by Claudette Colbert).” To many film goers and fans of the romance genre, It Happened One Night is arguably one of the best films of the genre – this could be due to its timeless embrace of the notion of ‘old fashioned’ love.
Moving from It Happened One Night to The Graduate, an immediate paradigm shift can be detected, from an age of classic romance to a tale that symbolizes powerful sexual revolution. In The Graduate, several sexual encounters show that the idea of abstaining from sex until marriage is just not à la mode anymore; furthermore, some parts of movie represent sex as something that can be done without emotion, intimacy and attachment.
An evolutionary pattern can definitely be spotted based on the movies that are used as examples. The movies take us on a chronological journey, beginning at a time of pre-sexual conservative ideals, moving towards a time of embracing sexuality and revolutionizing intimacy, then moving on to a period where romance is simply used as a device to progress the plot.
We are living in the age of shipping–as defined by Urban Dictionary to refer to the practice of making “fan fictions that take previously created characters and (present) them as a pair”–and cult fandoms, which hold massive social followings. If a love story is not riveting enough, producers and the like will receive backlash to the extreme point of death threats. This is why the ‘shipping’ concept is so central to discussing the contemporary romance genre right now. Shows like The Walking Dead, Arrow and Supernatural have massive following on social media, and while it is not necessarily an issue about romance as such, the issue of social media enabling cult-based fandom demands still remains a serious conundrum for the entertainment business. Fans should definitely be able to voice their opinions, but if they overdo it and pressure franchise, then it takes away the creative freedom of the franchise to progress their plot in whichever way they intend to.
Andy Liu, a third-year UTSC student, expresses his feelings on the issue of the constant social media threats that writers, producers, and staff of established franchises of TV shows and movies face: “If you don’t like the direction of the show, or the different couples, then don’t watch it.” Quite a bold statement to say, but it ultimately sums up the situation of the never ending struggle between the fans and the staff of respected TV shows and movies that feature romantic relationships between characters, or lacks thereof.
The contemporary period that we live in now is unlike any other that we have faced before. The Romance genre not only has to deal with how best to present the genre in a modern domain, it also has to deal with the political decision making processes and growing demands of the fans and social media.