|At least this frog turns into a handsome prince|
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Why does the schlub always get the pretty girl?
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.