Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why does the schlub always get the pretty girl?

At least this frog turns into a handsome prince
I found an old Stephen King book in a hotel book exchange a couple weeks ago. I usually enjoy his books, but this one’s got a secondary plot line of a widower over 40 falling in love with an enchanting 19-year-old girl, and I just can’t bear that May-September thing even one more time.
     I mean, think about how many times you have read a book, seen a movie or watched a TV series  in which some aspect of the plot involved a man who was either much older or much homelier (and often both) than the woman who loved him. If books and movies were real life, we would have to conclude that young, beautiful women overwhelmingly prefer schlubby, unattractive and aging men.
     Don’t get me wrong, I embrace the concept of gorgeous young woman seeing past the superficiality of physical beauty to the cool, sensitive dude inside the aging bald guy that the rest of the world sees. But how often have you ever seen that plot line in reverse? On the rare occasion that a good-looking male character finds himself drawn to the homely girl, there will always be a scene toward the end in which she undergoes a makeover and is suddenly ravishing. When does the schlubby, old-enough-to-be-Mom woman EVER get the young, handsome dude, other than in movies whose whole premise is to throw something “weird” like that at us as a kind of satire, or in teen comedies in which boys sleep with their best friend's mom? 
     I saw the best/worst example of this overdone plot line in an episode of Criminal Minds, a popular American TV drama about FBI agents hunting serial killers that plays endlessly here in Honduras. I’ve come to despise the show because it’s such a thinly veiled excuse to show women being mutilated, raped and tortured on TV. But we’ll leave all that for some future blog post.
     Anyway, there’s a quirky female character in the show, Penelope, who plays the classic stereotype of the brilliant but never-chosen woman – buddy to everyone, girlfriend to none. Nonetheless, there was a small plot line that played out over two or three episodes one season (yeah, I know, if I hate the show so much why have I seen all these episodes? But sometimes you just want to watch something in English) in which Penelope got wooed by a Handsome Man.
     She’s overweight and wears glasses – a funky dresser and amazing computer whiz, absolutely, but a long way off the TV norm for women. Handsome Man, on the other hand, is steel-jawed and fit, with a full head of hair and yearning eyes. But there he is, crazy about Penelope. A more naive viewer might conclude that the less-hot chick might actually be poised to get the dream guy. 
     Not a chance. Penelope’s FBI buddy Derek, who ought to be slapped upside the head for all the times he calls her Baby Doll, gives us our first clue with his reaction to Handsome Man. He is very, very suspicious of Handsome Man right from the get-go. And who can blame him? A good-looking guy picking a less attractive woman - well, that’s just messed up.
     How messed up? Murderous-killer messed up. Penelope and Handsome Man are outside her house after a romantic dinner date, she leans in close for that first wonderful kiss - and blammo, the guy shoots her. Shoots her. Could there be a more pointed message about what happens to women who go looking outside their league? Honey, when a Handsome Man is flirting with a Plain Jane, it just has to mean that he’s either going to steal your money or try to kill you!
     As much as that plot development stunk, the clincher was still to come. Returning to work after her shooting injuries have healed, broken-hearted Penelope lifts her gaze one day and connects with the bespectacled gaze of a dumpy computer nerd character who has been inserted in the story line, one who deeply admires Penelope for her adept computer work. She looks deeply into his non-luminous eyes  and by the end of the episode is falling for the guy, who is most definitely less attractive than she is. All is right with the world again.
     I suspect the main reason why pretty-young-girl-meets-homely-old-man is such a popular plot line is because men make most of the movies. They make shows from a male perspective - that being that dewy young women like nothing better than aging, funny-looking men like themselves (“Don’t they?” joked my spouse. At least I think he was joking.) 
     And so we get very odd romantic combos like Scarlett Johannson and Bill Murray, Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Ed O'Neill, Woody Allen and…well, all his leading ladies. Back at home watching our televisions and movie screens, never seeing any variation on that story line, who could blame us if we conclude that women must strive to be young and beautiful in the search for love, while men can look and act however they choose and still get the prettiest girl?
     I would, of course, be completely delighted if TV shows and movies started shifting away from the young and beautiful and giving roles to those who look more like the rest of us. But it’s only the men’s roles that seem to come with that option. So few female actors continue to be successful after the last blush of youthful beauty fades that I think I could probably name them all. (Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Dianne Wiest….uh, are there any more?)
     As for the Stephen King book, I’m just going to give up on it. I can’t concentrate on the ghost story when I’m thinking the whole time, “Oh, come ON!” as Sad Rich Widower moons over Sweet Conflicted Child from the Wrong Side of the Tracks. 
     Gee, what a surprising twist. 


Ian Lidster said...

It's because the tales are so often written by schlubs with wishful thinking. On the other hand read 'She's Come Undone' by Wally Lamb about a not so pretty and very overweight girl for whom, in the tale, I developed a big affection.

Unknown said...

Some women (maybe many), in that weird I'm- dumpy-and-nobody-will-ever-love-me-way, want to fall in love and be loved in return by that ever so perfect, handsome prince. Of course, in fairy tales (& reality) princes never grow up. Or that homely, yet kindly older man who would love to have that princess trophy on his arm. But once again, reality is, princesses never grow up. These television scripted, romance novel, screen play fantasies are romantic stereotypes no matter the sexual orientation. Fashion these twisted little plots of "beauty myth" anyway you like but they are always fantasy. These perfection standards are a myth. Love and affection are never outside of who we are. Let the fantasies titillate but never forget they're not real. They're just pretend.

And who couldn't adore Dolores in "She's Come Undone", exactly for who she is ( and still trapped in a story 8>)

Anonymous said...

All of which makes me want to ask - How far apart are PW and you? ;)


Justice Canada

Government of Canada Launches On-Line Consultations to Seek Views on Criminal Code Prostitution-Related Offences

Public Input to Inform Government’s Response to Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on prostitution

I'm looking forward to reading your submission.

Jody Paterson said...

For Anonymous: Paul is a little less than 5 years older than me - he's April, I'm December. That seems to be a standard age gap for me in successful relations, although I was in one relationship with a man 11 years older, and another with a young guy 9 years younger. I'm not against age gaps - just a bit weary of how it always goes one way, and how the female always has to be the beautiful one! And I'll definitely will be giving feedback to Justice Canada - good thought to post it here when it's done.