Is it any wonder nowadays that people have unrealistic expectations about relationships? It’s not just that people are looking for someone who is “out of their league” – they’re looking for something that doesn’t even exist. As kids, we grow up with fantasy lands and fantasy loves – and those kids grow up looking for something out of a fairytale or a movie. The fact that so many people view relationships this way is not coincidental; media heavily influences the way romance is viewed in the modern world. A quick look at the Cultivation Theory will help to explain how media and pop culture have changed the way people look at romantic relationships.
Cultivation Theory is a theory from the late 1960s that posits that mass methods of communication like television or the internet are the tools by which a community can spread its ideas about its values. This is the theory that explains why a person who watches crime shows all day might believe that society’s crime rates are higher than they really are.
These values don’t have to be true to be spread; they must simply be carried by the same systems that carry all other ideas. One can look at the Cultivation Theory to understand how movies and television shows have whittled away at our perspectives of the world. It should come as no surprise, then, that the prevalent ideas of romance from the media is disseminated into the society at large.
One of the reasons why people have so many bad ideas about relationships is that the ideas are so easily spread. Romance is a fantastic topic for any form of media – it entertains us and pushes all the right buttons to make the media money. Romance is such a major part of the human experience that is permeates everything else. When our media enforces certain ideas about romance, those ideas spread much more easily than the comparably mundane experiences of a real relationship. Indeed, many people experience the media version of romance long before they experience anything for themselves.
The absurdity of The Notebook
If you want to look at a prime offender for how pop culture can change the view of relationships, one needs to look no further than The Notebook. The popular romantic film compresses an entire romantic relationship into a very brief period of time, placing the onus on one party to undertake grand gestures and the other party to think of nothing but performative acts as proof of love. What’s important is a quick, one-time spark – not having anything in common, not building a life, and certainly not learning to respect and care for the other person through the good and the bad. Our society loves the newsworthy burst of passion – we care not at all for the shared life that comes after.
The rom-com problem
While The Notebook is problematic, it’s nothing compared to the genre of romantic comedies. In these movies, relationships are boiled down to absurd highs and lows. It teaches us that a man must chase after a woman and that the man must transform to be worthy of their paramour. Likewise, it gives rise to a notion that persistence is the only way to show love – despite negative reactions. It’s unhealthy, obsessive, and usually involves restraining orders.
The media has created its own romantic myth to entertain and maintain viewers. Unfortunately, it has cultivated ideas about relationships that just don’t work in the real world. While the relationships in media might bring in ad dollars and keep news stories relevant, they certainly don’t represent the kind of healthy relationships that can lead to personal fulfillment.