Romantic Comedies Are Making Kids Miserable

| 1/2/2009 11:21:08 AM

Tags: Science, Technology, Arts, psychology, movies, films, Romantic Comedies, Notting Hill, Miller McCune, ,

Image from Romantic Comedy Notting HillHollywood’s romantic comedies aren’t just innocuous cinematic tripe. They’re actually warping children’s minds (pdf), according to new research from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. The films, including Notting Hill and You’ve Got Mail are skewed portrayals of relationships with “both highly idealistic and undesirable qualities,” the researchers write, where romantic problems or transgressions “have no real negative long-term impact on relationship functioning.” The films tend to focus on the early stages of relationships, but the characters displayed emotions that generally develop over time, including deep feelings of love and emotional support. Adolescents sometimes use these films as models for their own relationships, which could lead to unrealistic expectations and disappointment. 

In the book and film High Fidelity, the main character  asks, “What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?” For romantic comedy films, researchers may now have an answer. 

(Thanks, Miller-McCune.)

Image from the film Notting Hill.

bennett gordon
1/15/2009 11:13:14 AM

Hmmm... yes, I definitely see your points, but I still stick by my original idea. The researchers go to great lengths to show the link between popular media and people’s psychology (especially children’s). They cite previous research showing that people use media as a model for their own relationships. The use of the words “may” and “could” point to the fact that not every child is going to be affected by these movies in the same way. And yet, if romantic comedies do present an unrealistic view of relationships, and children do use those movies as a model for their own relationships, then romantic comedies are going to make kids miserable.

d champoux_2
1/14/2009 11:11:46 AM

But Bennett... You state a POSSIBLE result of adolescents viewing these movies (notice the repeated use of "may" in the quote you cite). This study - again, as Mac said - looks at the content of movies. No one (apparently) studied the adolescents themselves to see what were the actual effects of these movies. The effects stated in the article are a guess - which might very well be right. But the article acts like that's what the research actually determined. It isn't. I think writer is well-meaning (and, again, possibly even right) but hurts his/her cause by trying to finesse a conclusion.

bennett gordon
1/13/2009 2:00:39 PM

Hi Mac, The research does actually examine effects on viewers. It says "Adolescents repeatedly exposed to these highly idealised images may therefore come to perceive them as normal, which in turn could have an adverse effect on their satisfaction with their own future relationships. When their own relationships do not compare to the exaggerated depictions in the media they may come to feel as though they are lacking a relationship that others are enjoying." That would probably make me feel miserable.

mac parks
1/13/2009 1:47:26 PM

It may or may not be true that watching romantic comedies has a negative effect ("making kids miserable"). But one thing is for sure-- the press report leaped far beyond what the research actually said. The research itself is simply a content analysis of the themes in the movies themselves. The research does not examine effects on viewers. It doesn't directly document any effect whatsoever as far as I can tell. As a professional communication researcher, I am concerned when the press leaps to an inference like this. Media themes are not just injected into passive receivers. Viewers bring their own knowledge, experience, and expectations to the interpretation. Simple-minded assumptions of media affects are rarely correct.

dee josephson
1/12/2009 11:01:36 AM

The same can be said for song lyrics: I struggled for years with, "You're nobody 'til you're somebody's baby" and others like that. I think, or hope to think, that our society has moved on from an image that we are dependent on being part of a "we" to be worthwhile. To a very great extent, that was what the whole feminiist movement was about.

barack like me_1
1/6/2009 1:18:06 PM

I certainly hope they move on next to fairy about skewed portrayals of reality. paraphrase, apparently no academic ever lost grant funding underestimating the intelligence of the media audience.

bennett gordon
1/5/2009 10:46:01 AM

I’m not convinced by the whole “escapism” argument. Even if people aren’t consciously thinking to themselves, “Hey, I’ll rent this Hugh Grant film to find a model for my future relationships,” the film can still have an effect. You are right, that it’s not too difficult to make adolescents miserable. And most adolescents will likely have a skewed view of relationships no matter what. The news for me was the ways in which the films skewed relationships, and I thought the authors’ conclusions of the effect on young children was quite interesting, too.

erica wisner
1/2/2009 9:08:10 PM

Does it really take much to make adolescents feel miserable, or to give them unrealistic expectations of romance? What's the news in this story? (What were the results of the study, exactly?) The original writer's comment about "escapism" is relevant. Adolescents seem as likely as adults to learn from experience, and to model their relationships on real ones instead of on fiction of any kind. I do remember as an adolescent, feeling entertained by romantic movies, especially comedies, but not taking them very seriously. I was inspired more than once, though, by movies that focused on a character's personal struggles and adventures, ranging from "Pump Up the Volume" to "Prince of Thieves" to "Stand and Deliver." Then my own courtship turned out kinda like a romantic comedy after all. Though it did last two years instead of a week, and involved a number of fully three-dimensional characters. -E Wisner