Today I am excited to introduce Michelle Rafferty who has been a Publicity Assistant at Oxford University Press since September 2008. Prior to Oxford she interned at Norton Publishing for a summer and taught 9th & 10th grade Literature. She will be chronicling her adventures in publishing on this site so be sure to check on Friday’s to hear more about what she is learning.
It began when I was sifting through what I like to think of as the “want ads” for journalism. Everyday reporters across America are looking for experts to quote in their stories. These queries pile up in my inbox daily, and I sort through them like a scavenger in hopes that an Oxford author can provide their insight and subsequently garner some free publicity. Earlier this week one reporter inquired: Is romance back? And I began to think, when was it gone? And for how long? And if it’s back, can it stimulate the economy? The more I wondered, the more perplexed I became, and I soon realized that it is because it is virtually impossible to logically sort through the deluge of findings and instructions I receive daily on matters of love. I fear that unless I abstain from books, film and the internet, I am forever doomed to remain utterly confused on the present state of romance. Let me explain.
According to an article I recently read in the New York Times, science has brought us ostensibly close to developing an actual love potion. Dr. Larry Young believes that a “cocktail of ancient neuropeptides” could actually increase our urge to fall in love or booster a dwindling romance. But, what if these drugs have disastrous side effects? According to In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and Its Victims, a book I came across this week at work, some of the most sinister acts in history have been done in the name of love. Even more disturbing is that 30% of all female murder victims have died at the hands of a former or present spouse or boyfriend. Couple these statistics with a love potion, and we could have murders of mass proportions on our hands.
The film He’s Just Not Into You [Spoiler alert!]begins to touch on these love hinged neurosis, but then opts for the happy ending route—I assume that producers felt Scarlett Johansson’s character was better off absconding to India, rather than hacking her new lover to bits after he makes love to his wife as she sits in the closet nearby. Test audiences might disagree, but I think this could have worked. The majority of the film spends its time offering both men and women those much needed cold doses of reality (If he doesn’t call you, it’s because he doesn’t want to call), so I think a murder would suit the film’s depressing appeal. But instead, in the last 15 minutes viewers are told to discard all the previous advice given and believe that there are in fact exceptions to the rules of dating and that women can change men.
Are all the complications and twists and turns necessary to get a happy ending? In film yes, because catharsis doesn’t only apply to Greek tragedy. But perhaps in real life we can get a happy ending without all the drama. According to a recent article in Newsweek, the key to happiness can be narrowed down to one thing: an irrevocable decision. Psychologists once believed that people are happier when they can change their minds, but in 2002 Daniel Gilbert found that people are happier when they are locked into a decision because it leaves no room for doubt. For example, if you are stuck in a marriage, you might as well focus on the positive. That is why according to Gilbert, “I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend.”
But in terms of love, why does marriage have to define the “irrevocable decision”? Why not a six figure contract for a hit reality show? When Jay Lyon signed onto MTV’s new reality show The City as protagonist Whitney Port’s love interest, he surely considered the consequences of high ratings—he and Whitney could be together as long as the show remains popular. Thus viewers are perfectly poised to perpetually compare their own fated toils with his, which are equally fated but in a more artistically appealing, seamlessly stop-motion sense. The longer contracts keep these reality stars together, the longer we feel bad about our own comparatively humdrum relationships.
So is romance back? At a time when we are on the verge of reducing love to a “magic” pill, it seems the answer would be no. But when Ben Affleck’s character in He’s Just Not That Into You makes the requisite romantic gesture (hiding the engagement ring in the pockets of the pants Jennifer Aniston’s character once told him to throw out), and 300 giddy movie goers “ooo” and “aww,” I lean towards yes. This is the problem.
What are we to do when we are told to simultaneously denounce and clamor for romance daily? What if you, despite all logic, have welcomed romance back into your life and are using all restraint possible to avoid a moment very much like the one that marked the beginning of the end of Tom Cruise? Perhaps I can provide one ounce of solace. As Milan Kundera writes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “No matter how we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.” What this means is that the author of perhaps the most pragmatic fictional expose on love that has ever been, has granted you permission to indulge. If this isn’t enough justification, perhaps a certain upcoming Hallmark Holiday is.