Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Paperman & Hollywood Love: Some Valentine Thoughts

I had the delightful experience of watching Paperman in theaters last week. It has been bouncing around the Internet, but this was the first time I actually saw it. The animation is beautiful, the music charming, and the storyline . . . interesting.

I love the design in the film, and it was remarkable how much feeling and emotion in the character's face and body language the artists were able to develop. However, am I the only one that was sickened by the blatant message of "helpless love"? Sure this is a cutesy little animation film, not meant to be a brow beating didactic piece, but as we all should recognize - all media (regardless of the intent of the creators) teaches something.

"We shall be married in the morning!" Tangled (2010)
Since the golden years of Hollywood, happy endings and lovely romantic stories have been a staple of the cinema. Shakespeare's comedies and beyond often include short and passionate romantic relationships, giving the impression that such relationships are normal. These theatrical influences are felt in our culture as young people continually think they must "find their soul mate" and they must find "the right person." This mindset is damaging and simply not true. The whole idea of "falling in love" suggests that a person can't help it, and in the end must give up their agency and ability to reason and function as a normal human being and just give into the desire to be with a person who strikes their fancy. As the paper airplanes held down the character in the subway (in the film above), the audience laughed with delight, but I couldn't help but think about the demented sense of fate and loss of choice.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddi Redmayne's characters fall in love in about ... 1 minute (different in the book!) in Les Misérables (2012)

I know I am not being completely fair. We poke fun at it all the time (at least I do with my friends and family) about how quickly characters fall in love and can only be happy with this one certain person. Yeah, we might recognize that love is more than just thinking someone looks nice, but the media that our children and students consume usually doesn't explain that. Just to be clear, I don't mind that. I know that we don't have 3 hours for the love plot between Marius and Cossette to develop like maybe it should! But I also think we have a responsibility to note what the media is teaching about relationships and help children identify what is real versus what is merely dramatically appealing and convenient.

So, happy Valentines day! May you spend your money, express your love, and remember that you have a choice in whom you give your time, talents, and affection.


  1. Nice post, the idea that love is a feeling and not a choice (albeit influenced by feelings but not determined by the emotion alone) is a potentially damaging lesson. If we believe it, it can become our truth and that is even scarier.

  2. When falling in love seems instant, the movies usually don't show the commitment part that lasts for the next 50 years.