Culture refers to people’s way of life and includes things such as beliefs, art, norms, values, and attitudes that are held dearly by people. Art is very important in every culture because it is a source of entertainment. Moreover, art is one of the many ways that the society uses to communicate with the members of the society. In addition, art is also used to portray the core values of the society. In America, film industry is very popular and with time, it has changed mainly due to economic reasons rather than the obvious entertainment reasons.
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Romantic comedy is a part of the American film industry. A Romantic comedy film basically refers to a movie which is very humorous and it denotes romantic ideals. In most cases, romantic comedy revolves around true love, which is depicted as a conqueror of most obstacles in a relationship. This essay looks at romantic comedy in America from a historical perspective and I will start by explaining the importance of comedy in the society followed by the history of the romantic comedy in America. Since culture changes, the film industry is also bound to change and the causes of changes and reasons for change in romantic comedies will be illuminated in this discussion.
For a long time romantic comedies have dominated American film industries. This dominance can be attributed to the main themes of the comedy. Romantic comedy as I had hinted earlier on revolves around romance. Johnson (2006) asserts that romantic comedy addresses three themes, ‘true love does exist, there is someone out there for each one of us and if we search for them then we will end up experiencing true love and romance can overtake and overcome all obstacles.’ Since as human beings we are always pursuing pleasure romantic comedies gives us a good opportunity of addressing our sorrows thus making them very popular.
In addition, romantic comedies have been known to give a good example of shared intimacy to many couples in America over the years. This is derived from the character in the comedy that depict a married couple, dating mates, old but lively couple, young lovers and all of them tend to be dealing with various challenges that arises in their relationship. Furthermore, they give a very fulfilling and pleasurable experience and since such experience is lacking in most relationships people tend to watch these comedies in order to remove their worries. Although many people project that a relationship is a walk in a park (this is not always the case) and once the reality dawns on them they can find a soft landing ground in comedies.
Comedies are also known for being very observant of what is happening around the society from one time to another. Therefore it can be easily said that comedies do represent the value of morality of their time. For example, a comedy can highlight the changes that are taking place in the roles of both men and women in the society. Changes in the role of men and women are important because they shape the way the two approach one another in romance fronts. This is a perfect case of what American romantic comedies are all about. The Tootsie is a case in point because it entails a man coming into terms with the roles of a woman. From the characters many men got a chance of understanding who women really are and this enhances our relationship with them. In these sense then romantic comedy can serve as a source of change in the society.
Johnson (2006) echoes the same point by claiming that ‘romantic comedy offer a view of how people relate to each other over generations.’ As the society changes relationship between people be it the old and the young ones or parents and children’s are bound to change. These changes are often reflected by the themes that comedies carry. For instance, the comedy titled Sleepless in Seattle depicts a good relationship between parents and children which is different from the mainstream one. In this comedy children’s are portrayed as miniature adults and makes it difficult for the older generation to understand such children’s. During hey days of the older generations children did not behave that way thus they cannot comprehend the behaviors of the current generation.
Having looked at the role as well as the importance of romantic comedies in the society I now turn on to the historical path that romantic comedy has traveled over the years. To begin with romantic comedy can be traced all the way back to the medieval era. This is the era when romantic love was created in Europe and later on shared by the Americans. Romantic adventures in this period led to composition of comedies such as the knight of the cart. A continuous progress on production of romantic comedies continued up to the days of Shakespeare and reached its climax during the Victorian age. This refers to a period in evolution history when people became aware of their needs and feminism topics emerged.
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Film industry was born in the 20th century and it is around this time that romantic comedy gained prominence in America. First of all the film industry gave rise to a film genre known as screwball comedy which laid the pace for romantic comedy. This comedy appeared during an era mostly described as the silence era. Silence era means that sound effect was not part of the comedy. Screwball era was followed by Doris Day Style comedy and finally romantic comedies were born. Around 1920s the most popular comedy was in form of cartoons which were animated. All the comedies at this time had a happy ending since their man emphasis was humor and were mostly created for entertainment purposes.
As noted earlier on the screwball era preceded the romantic comedies. Screwball comedy highlighted the battle that existed between the sexes in 1930s and 1740s. Men and women were always crashing and these comedies made the audience to believe that the differences that existed between the two sexes were naturally endowed on them. The society norms also seem to play a part in these differences by prescribing different roles to each group. However, this sub genre was short lived and it was replaced by the romantic comedies. The translation from screwball comedies to romantic comedies was gradual because the defining elements of the screwball comedies were absorbed into the romantic comedy. McDonald (2007,p. 38) arguing a long the same point points out that ‘while by 1960s changing sexual more made sex comedy seem out of date, its visual and thematic elements were not abandoned a long with the narratives but incorporated in the main stream romantic comedy.’
Towards the end of the 1940s up to 1950 a lot of scientific development and artist around this time incorporated sound in their comedies. Thus, the so-called silent comedy era was replaced with new comedy films styles and verbal humor gained prominence. This period witnessed the release of comedies such as the Fields and another comedy titled the Marx Brothers. The sound effect was supplemented by comedies that had short subjects e.g. the Hal Roach was produced in the 1930s.Television was also gaining popularity and later on television changed the comedy landscape a great deal.
By 1950 television was so popular up to a point where comedy producers saw it as a competitor and more as a threat because more people stopped visiting the comedy theatres. Instead of going for a comedy people enjoyed entertainment from the television at home. However, later on Hollywood discovered that the television could be used for commercial purposes and this discovery lifted the comedy into new heights where it is today. Advertisement through the television has popularized romantic comedies up to a point whereby child affairs organizations are calling for censorships of these comedies because they interfere with the growth of the children.
After a sharp decline of romantic comedy in Hollywood around 1970s radical romantic comedies took the center stage. The evolution of this type of comedy was anchored on the social contexts of the American society therefore the comedy was a representative of the social forces in place at that time. MacDonald (2007 p.57) arguing a long the same point notes that ‘of all the 1970s films, Annie Hall seems to have been both visually the most influential, and narratively the most unrepeatable.’ The comedies which were produced at this time were iconic since they broke many generic conventions such as the happy endings. The film in question also carried a lot of satire which was being directed to the society at large.
The theme of the comedy at this time also deviated from the mainstream ones. This is because the romantic comedy abandoned the notion that in a romantic comedy the couple should end up together, even though this is not easy. Instead the radical romantic comedies were geared towards investigating the basic ideas behind romance.
This change could be well connected to the changes that were taking place in the society at large. These social changes included, production of more male oriented movies, and films that contained very many of violent scenes. Since women were not major actors in these movies absence of their roles led to a sharp decrease in production of romantic comedies. Arguing a long the same point McDonald (2007, p. 60) points out that ‘there can be no romantic comedy without strong heroines. Thus changing societal attitudes to sex were solely responsible for the shift in the romantic comedy’s terrain.’
Changes in social mores and birth control have taken their tall on romantic comedy. This is because the comedy heroine has been removed in addition to the removal of the famous verbal fore play in the earlier romantic comedy. Verbal foreplay enticed the other actor into the eventual act although this did not actually take place. Thus without postponement that was introduced by changes in the social more; sex was evident in such comedies. Thus MacDonald (2007, p.61) notes that ‘changing social structures thus impacted directly on the romantic comedy’s ideology and narratives.’
Therefore radical romantic comedy evolved as a new genre whose main aim was to correct the past mistakes through examination of past comedy occupations and conventions that had guided it. It is worth to note that this was a self conscious exercise. Therefore the 1970s comedies ended up reflecting the contemporary preoccupations and anxieties that were present in the society. These anxieties could be traced back to both social as well as political upheavals that Americans were experiencing at that time. For instance, the assassination of Martin Luther king jr. and Robert Kennedy.
Towards the end of 1970s another remarkable change took place and romantic comedy was also affected by this changes. Artist moved away from the then popular social optimism and political movements that dominated the scenes. This led to emergence of new comedies that represented self absorption. A comedy by the name Starting over was produced in 1979 and it gives us a good example. This comedy introduced new topics such as women, self defense, class, and sex manuals. Topics revolving around various kinds of orgasms that were acceptable in the society were also dominant in this period’s comedy. Songs that accompanied these comedies also had similar messages.
A new era in the social structure in America was also emerging at around this time with heavily influenced romantic comedies. The era came to be known as realism era and it was supplemented by various depictions of screen sex. Greater realism was compelled by various changes in the social structure which included: a sharp rise in divorce cases in America posing a very serious blow on modern relationship, and an increase in the number of single women living in American cities. In addition topics on abortion in America were gaining prominence in the public realms and thus there was a need to depict these changes in the comedies that were being produced around this time. Although these events were incorporated in the romantic comedies, there was little change in relation to the romantic comedy endings thus the comedies ended up with the formation of heterosexual couple (McDonald, 2007, p.62).
A discussion on romantic comedies cannot be complete without looking at the major defining characteristic of the romantic comedies era. MacDonald notes that ‘whereas both screwball and sex comedy made use of ideas of disguise and masquerade, and inversions of the norm, radical comedies choose to inflect these more literally.’ This means that there is a change of the message being put across through the actor’s action. For instance, previously men were being depicted as the masqueraders but romantic comedy goes a step further to withhold men’s deceit. Therefore, we can easily realize that every one is a liar and when caught a lair suffers alone.
The radical comedies themes are anchored on self reflexes issues. This is because around this time in history there was an increase in conscious of the self therefore people explored romance since it was good for both sexes and the idea of self was more modern and realistic enticing people to embrace it. In addition, the romantic comedy character glorifies a fully pledged and satisfying relationship although romance does not go hand in hand with such relationships. Similar themes are also present in the contemporary comedies.
Today romantic comedies are the order of the day. They are being produced in large numbers because their demand is ever rising. Growth in their demand can be attributed to various factors which include: increase in the number of entertainment of television channels that are purely dedicated to comedies twenty four hours and emergence of a culture of mass consumption in the world. I can single out the later reason as the driving force behind romantic comedies today. This is because a culture of mass consumption drives people to consuming things not because they need them but because they are made to belief that the things on offer in the stores are good for them through well thought and designed advertisements. This culture has compelled to install digital television networks which offer different channels at a throw away price.
In conclusion romantic comedies emerge during the medieval era in human history. During this time romance was not popular but events that took place during cultural evolution popularized these topics. Screwball comedies emerged in 1930s and they laid a strong foundation for romantic comedies. Political and social events that succeeded World War II led to development of radical romantic comedies that addresses various themes that were different from the mainstream thoughts. Today romantic comedies are very popular up to a point whereby various television networks have dedicated a good number of their channels to twenty four hours of comedy entertainment. As long as the societal values keep on changing the face of the romantic comedies will continue to being altered.
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