Everywhere you turn, love is in the air. Even on The Bachelor, every exit interview reveals a raw glimpse into how it seems we’re all searching for love. Why? As one of my favorite chick flicks as a teen hypothesized, “Love is the closest thing we have to magic. Yet despite the great magic and universal experience of loving someone, love is also dangerous. It’s vulnerable. When you love someone, it’s inevitable you have or will experience heartbreak at some point”.
I came home one day with what I thought was a broken heart. Callous words do hurt, especially when one tends to over analyse them. “This is it”, I thought, “I’m through”, and unconsciously I followed a ritual which I now call “The Heartbreak Protocol”.
Rituals form an integral part of the script of society, in which we all have a role to play. They are the stage directions for repeated actions that are meant to both develop a “collective consciousness”(as articulated by Emile Durkheim) as well as provide avenues for easing emotional strains in a manner that maintains social order. The rituals designed for letting out steam offer an “artistic taming of the horrible”(Aristotle), that is, they are cathartic. Aristotle originally defined “catharsis” as the purgation of emotion through evocation of fear and pity, but modern psychology broadened the definition to encompass all emotions. When one thinks of a ritual, dimly lit rooms with chanting and smoke comes to mind. However, we fail to see the ritualism in the drama of our daily existence. As I went through the Heartbreak Protocol, my mind’s eye could actually see a script with printed letters, almost as though I was performing on stage.
“She pushes aside the bed covers, red-eyed and stony-faced. Meticulously, she tears from her journal, every page that contains his name (fortunately there weren’t too many!)” and shreds it to bits. She stomps on the pages and hurls them into the dustbin, leaving it overflowing with memories. It is almost akin to discarding the thoughts of him; right click- move to Recycle Bin.
Taking a deep, calming breath she brushes her teeth, braids her hair and rearranges her room neatly (ofcourse, symbolic of reordering her life.) But the drama isn’t over yet. She sits down and composes a piece which is a mirror for her ‘raw emotions’ – an euphemism overflowing with swear words. She thought she attained perfection, unaware that it was mere acting. Truly, she puts all those who performed the role before her (mostly on screen) to shame.”
There are many cathartic rituals in our social system that we are unconscious of at the moment. They seem like the most natural courses of action, and given the emotional circumstances we shift seamlessly from one role to another. The media plays a major role in implementing these roles in our psyche.
Romance movies and novels play a large role in telling us what we are supposed to do in times of distress. The ritual I followed had already been tried and tested by countless female protagonists in mass-produced chick-flicks. In fact that page of raw emotions contained a line directly lifted from Sophie Kinsella’s “I have Got Your Number”: “I am not pausing my life for you. I have done enough of that already.” You might ask, “So what’s the big deal?” You need a book and imbibe some of the characters actions. Big deal, right?
Well, it is a sort of big deal. The much coveted plots of the romantic genre are basically formulas. Think back to every mainstream romance you have ever consumed, there will be three kids of male protagonist- the macho morons (the supposed hunks), the honeyed sweet ones who are so flaky that the blow away at the slightest hint of a breeze and the flirt(everyone’s favourite) who is diffident and saccharine at the same time. Women are approximately the same old cardboard cutout; painted with slight differences, but cutouts nevertheless. All have a tender side to them, with the desire to either be “saved” or have the “saviour”, riding the winged chariot of love.
To me, these characters appear to be two-dimensional patriarchal propagandists that serve to strengthen extant gender roles. Therefore, quoting a product that was manufactured for mass consumption while pouring out my heart does not seem right to me. What happened to individual expression and creativity? Are we mere cogs in the wheels of a million dollar industry that dresses cliches in different attires and reproduces the same story over and over again?
I must clarify that I have nothing against genre of romance per se, it plays host to a great many brilliant and subversive works. However, as a seemingly innocuous mainstream chick flick does affect one’s thinking and actions more than one could have imagined, one ought to be aware of the degree of influence the media has in scripting everyday existence.
Richa Singh is a student pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Iqbal.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.