The Internet did not invent the listicle. Lists-as-arguments—lists-as-stories—have, of course, been around since long, long before Buzzfeed came along. And they haven’t just been around; they’ve also been both playing with and poking fun at the list form itself, one item at a time.
I mention that because the Public Domain Review has unearthed this gem, “The 25 Stages from Courtship to Marriage,” a set of hand-tinted stereographs depicting a sampling of those stages, generally from the perspective of the woman being courted. The cards are undated, PDR notes, but they mostly likely originated in the late 19th century.
One of the fascinating elements of “The 25 Stages” is the extent to which, as a story, it plays with the card form itself. Notable in their absences are the couple’s most intimate moments: their wedding night, the news that they’re going to have a baby, the birth of their son. Notable in its emphasis, on the other hand, is their third date, which warrants five of the 25 cards, and cheekily moves the list’s frame from “stages of romance” to “story of romance.”
Read more. [Image: The Public Domain Review]
If you’re looking to add a digital spark to your relationship this Valentine’s Day, you can download the new app Romantimatic.
Romantimatic will send you scheduled reminders to contact your significant other and give you pre-set messages to fire off. The pre-set messages include simple, straightforward classics like “I love you” and “I miss you.”
Or maybe that doesn’t sound appealing. It sure doesn’t to me. In that case, I recommend you follow my lead: Take a solemn oath before the Greek god Eros and vow to never, ever go this far down the outsourced sentiment rabbit hole.
If my warning rings hollow and you believe—like a writer over at Wired does—that the app is a valid “last resort,” keep in mind Romantimatic offers its own recommendation. It comes loaded with a single but highly revealing “pro-tip”: “Maybe don’t mention that you’re using an app to remind you to express your affection.”
Read more. [Image: Robinson Meyer]
Oh, Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday everyone loves to hate—a chance for the world’s curmudgeons to assert their moral superiority over the Hallmark-industrial complex.
But even if you want to take the anti-consumerist high road, your beloved might not be so keen. He or she secretly wants to know how much you care, and it has to be today. Suddenly, you find yourself panicking at 5:55 pm, pen in shaking hand, already late for your 6:30 dinner date. It’s so hard to maintain the appearance of above-it-all detachment and ironic disapproval of clichéd greeting cards while still being charming. What to write?
Worry not: You can do what college students have been doing for decades and crib your prose from the Western canon. If a philosopher said it, then it must be high-minded, right?
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia/The Atlantic]
Ever since the days of Jane Austen, pop culture consumers have been drawn to stories about female protagonists who find “happily ever after” in marriage and motherhood. (See: the media spectacles surrounding Kate Middleton’s fairytale wedding and now fairytale baby; the storylines of best-selling novels like Helen Fielding’s Austen-inspired Bridget Jones novels and the works of Jennifer Weiner; films and TV shows like 2011’s Friends With Kids and even HBO’s Sex and the City—a series originally deemed celebratory of single women.)
The “marriage plot” has, thankfully, been scrutinized and questioned by some of the aforementioned works—and was perhaps most specifically critiqued by Jeffrey Eugenides’s best-selling 2011 novel The Marriage Plot. Nevertheless, selective omission has successfully kept this perfect, neatly two-dimensional story—of the heterosexual single woman finding happiness by becoming single no longer, welcoming a child, and creating a family—intact.
Which is why Jenny Offill’s new novel, Dept. of Speculation, published a tidy 15 years after the release of her highly praised debut novel Last Things, is so audacious.
Read more. [Image: Random House]
A comic short film reenacts real-life romance.
The year 2013 wasn’t a good one for the romantic comedy.
Pickings were slimmer than they’ve ever been, and the few entries that did garner some attention—like Admission, Austenland, and Baggage Claim—weren’t your typical rom-com, nor did any of them make more than $25 million at the box office. The Atlantic’s own Christopher Orr wrote extensive autopsies of the failing genre, and his critique of Love Actually (as a classic and romance) inspired think-piece wars. The rom-com’s cause of death, he wrote, is not just a dearth of willing (or talented) stars, studios and audiences, but the fact that there are no longer “[obstacles] to nuptial bliss for the budding couple to overcome.” According to Orr, “new complications must be invented, [and] test-driven”—which nobody is invested in doing anymore.
With these kinds of conversations painting a grim picture around what isn’t working in cinema’s most visible form of amour, it’d be easy to believe all romance has vanished from the movies.
While rom-coms (love stories anchored to comedic situations, amusingly neurotic characters and happily-ever-afters) continued to flounder, cinematic romance (fewer laughs, more human portrayals of being in love) thrived in 2013. If you wandered into Auditoriums 15 to 20 in your local multiplex last year, you probably discovered a veritable feast of great cinematic romances, like Enough Said, The Spectacular Now, Her, Blue is the Warmest Color, Before Midnight, Drinking Buddies, and the Belgian drama The Broken Circle Breakdown.
Read more. [Image: A24; Fox Searchlight; KFD]
It’s well documented by now that Disney’s Frozen is dominating at the box office. This past weekend, it pulled off a rare feat when it reclaimed the top spot in the U.S. a month after its release, and it has now passed the $300-million mark to make it Disney’s most successful animated film since The Lion King. Critics and audiences have also praised its subversive plot, which focuses on the relationship between two sisters and turns Prince Charming into The Villain.
Frozen isn’t without its detractors, of course. In a post for The Atlantic, Gina Dalfonzo wrote that she found the latter twist too scary for children: “There is something uniquely horrifying about finding out that a person—even a fictional person—who’s won you over is, in fact, rotten to the core.” She argues that children need a very clearly defined hero-vs.-villain trope because they’re not mature enough to appreciate nuances.
But there’s another argument to be made against Frozen’s villain, and it has to do with the implicit notion that there was something wrong with the Prince Charming fantasy in the first place. The assumption is that it needed correcting because providing girls with idealized images of romance and romantic partners is inherently bad for them. Jezebel contends that the twist “undoes the very cherished tropes of the other films… It is a counter to the steady diet of falsehoods, and frankly, it’s high fucking time.”
Read more. [Image: Disney]
Thoughtful, elegant, and moving, Spike Jonze’s film about a man in love with his operating system is a work of sincere and forceful humanism.
Read more. [Image: Warner Bros.]
The Love Actually Wars
At The Atlantic, there has been a recent debate on the film Love Actually. The 2003 Christmas-themed romantic comedy has drawn two camps: those who love it and those who find it to be awful. After an argument that the film is the least romantic movie of all time, we’ve put up defenses and critiques. It’s a debate that’s spread beyond The Atlantic, and even spawned a hashtag on Twitter: #LoveActuallyWars.
So, where do you stand on Love Actually? Are you a die hard fan of it? Is it a film that you never want to watch again? Or do you just find it average?
A decade after its release, Love Actually is under attack. The Atlantic’s Christopher Orr posted a lengthy takedown of the movie last Friday, eliciting glee from the film’s many haters and only sheepish defiance from its fans. His criticisms: the movie focuses too much on physical attraction; it portrays relationships as grand gestures and crushes, rather than timeworn care and hard work; it suggests love can’t overcome obstacles. Basically, Orr says, the movie offers a lusty, shallow, wimpy version of love.
I disagree, and I’ve been plotting my response to Orr’s post for a while. At approximately 4:33 p.m. a Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, virtually all work at our D.C. office ground to a halt when staffers circled around me and Orr, Fight Club style, as we loudly debated the movie’s merits. And since The Atlantic is “of no party or clique,” there’s room for more than one Love Actually opinion on this website.
I admire the bravery that’s needed to declare oneself the enemy of Christmas, Colin Firth, and crushes nurtured by 11-year-old kids, and it would be cowardly to hide behind the movie’s cute-factor in mounting my defense. There’s a real argument to be made on the film’s behalf: Love Actually shows awkward, charming, complicated entanglements that can be very instructive in thinking about love.
Read more. [Image: Studio Canal]