There was a time when it was unheard of to portray sexual relations in the media. Love and romance were sacred things. Even in the movie, An Affair to Remember, the first kiss that the couple shares is not shown directly. Their heads are out of the shot and the viewer only sees their feet on the stairs. At that point in time, there was no movie rating system, only the Hays code. This code limited what could be shown on the silver screen. The moral standards of the film needed to be higher than those watching it, the sanctity of marriage would be upheld, profanity was forbidden, among many other things. In 1967, the Hays Code was replaced with Motion Picture Rating System. This is what is still used today which helps audiences decide which movies are appropriate for themselves. Now with movie ratings, the movie makers have more freedom in what they put in their movies. As the media changed, so did the society that it portrayed. Gradually Americans have become less romantic as sex has become more public and has less strings attached because of many options for birth control. Other things that have contributed to this decrease in romance are the advent of new technology, materialism, and capitalism.
In current society, there has been a dramatic decrease of romance in the lives of college students. The current college lifestyle is now known as the “hook-up culture”; sexual encounters consisting of anything from making out to having sex with a friend or a new acquaintance. (Forbes) The hook up culture has evolved due to a number of factors. Some believe that they are just too busy to be in a relationship so they attempt to make a semblance of a relationship through their sexual encounters. The Online College Social Life Survey done in England found that 72 percent of students had participated in at least one hookup by their senior year. One third of those students had “engaged in intercourse in their most recent hookups” Hookups can have a tendency to lead to a relationship but more often than not, they lead to regular or continuing hookups. Due to the sexual nature of men and women, women tend to be more affected by hookups in a negative way. Women tend to hope that hookups will turn into something similar to a relationship, while men tend to hookup with no commitments. (Armstrong) Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, The Rules of Attraction, exemplifies this. Sean and Lauren, the main protagonists of the story, begin their relationship by hooking up. Before they are together, Sean hooks up with other girls just because he can’t get with Lauren. At some point, Lauren gets pregnant and they agree to get married, however they change their minds when Lauren realizes that their whole relationship is superficial. The whole time Lauren is in love with someone else named Victor and hopes that their hookups were enough for them to be together once he returns from Europe. She finds that their hookups meant little to nothing to him and he doesn’t even know who she is when they meet again. (Ellis) Although this is a fictional situation, it resembles reality. Armstrong’s research found that many female college students have been in similar situations and that they would ally together to avoid future harmful situations. Even if women are looking for relationships in college, they can be bombarded with interests from men, which are then refused, and then the man can not understand why someone would not want to be with him and pursues the woman in vain. This also causes a harmful situation for female students. Many feel pressured to stay in or enter unhealthy relationships, which causes a decrease in romance for them because they are unhappy or unsatisfied with their partner. (Armstrong)
Technology is one of the things that is weakening the relationship between couples and people in general. The advent of internet and cellphones, which respectively led to social networking sites and texting, has increased the gap of social interaction between people. There is no doubt that the benefits of these new technologies do help people stay in contact through easier means than before. However, texting and websites like facebook.com are reshaping what it means to be in a relationship. There is less physical and face to face contact between people with the internet so easily accessible and a cell phone in their pocket. We live in a society of instantaneous gratification. We are addicted to new technological inventions. New generations are growing up in this digital culture, not knowing what it really means to wait for something. No knowledge of what it is like to not know where someone is and having to wait for them to find a pay phone or go home to call you. Even the simplest things like looking up a word; we no longer have to go find the big, fat dictionary, all you have to do is google it and then click the definition link. Technology has reshaped every category of life. It is unreasonable to believe that it has left romance and relationships unaffected.
Internet is a many splendored thing. You can research, blog, play games, shop, watch videos, chat, and communicate with people; all without leaving your chair. It is the two latter items on this list which will be discussed in further detail in respect to their affects on romantic relationships. The idea of being constantly connected even though we are physically separated changes the way that people communicate. It is possible to be constantly talking, or chatting, via AIM or facebook, but to rarely see that person face to face. On the internet we can embody a different persona. Be the person that we really aren’t in person. This discontinuity of character can also cause problems within a relationship. By mainly conversing with someone over the internet, you can find that you have a lot in common, but when you actually meet them, they could act completely different than how they do when chatting. In Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail, two New Yorkers meet in an online chat room and become anonymous e-mail pen pals. Coincidentally, they know each other in real life and abhor one another. Of course, because it is Hollywood, they end up liking each other in real life too. Many people find themselves in a similar situation to Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s characters, however their situation tends to conclude without the Hollywood ending.
The internet can also lead to a lack of physical interaction because people become satisfied with their interactions over the internet. This constant interaction creates a larger physical distance between people. You can sit alone at home, but still feel connected to the world and your friends because they are all doing the same thing. physically separated but mentally connected. An interesting paradox. On the other hand, the internet can also be used to find new people to be with sexually. Websites like eharmony.com or match.com are more inclined for people who are looking for a relationship. But they can also be used in the search for someone to hook up with. Creating your own profile, you can post whichever information you chose to about yourself. By omitting information that may make you less desirable, you become more sexually appealing. According to Piazza and Bering in their report, Computers in Human Behavior, men are more likely to use the internet to find people to engage in one time sexual encounters with. An important factor of dating and flirting is eliminated through online communication. It is difficult to display body language and cues through words. In an effort to overcome this lack of physical language, people try to find a “balance between making a good impression online and creating an impression that is sustainable offline”. (Piazza and Bering)
Cell phones have a similar effect as the internet does as relationships. It can bring people together that are far apart, but can also separate people that are close. Just talking on the phone has now become outdated. Texting, which was originally intended for communicating with people when you can’t physically talk, has become the main mode of communication, especially for those in younger generations. Much the same as internet communication, texting loses many of the benefits of face to face conversation or even conversation on the phone. Face to face conversation includes all benefits, phone conversations lack body language, but text conversations also lack intonation. It is replaced with smiley faces. Bad spelling and misreading can also lead to misunderstandings through text messages. Courtship is now becoming less prevalent with text messages. Over usage of the cell phone to send cute texts diminishes the power of them when used sparingly. Text messages require less courage than calling or speaking to someone face to face. So if someone is somewhat timid about flirting with the opposite sex, texting becomes their favorite tool. However nothing can “replace the human voice or touch”. (Washington Post) In comparison to other countries, like China, Japan and the Philippines, Americans use texting much less as a tool for dating and in general. However, they began utilizing the technology before we did in the United States, so with time, we too might be texting just as much as those in Asia.
Materialism is the attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life. With the economic prosperity of the eighties, people began to focus on objects rather than ideas. The surplus of salary for middle to upper class Americans led to the purchases of unnecessary and/or luxurious items. It became a necessity to display one’s wealth and show their superiority through the collection of extravagant items. The song “Material Girl” by Madonna, clearly expresses the mainstream culture and desire for expensive items. In contrast to the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” by the Beatles, which expresses the opposite opinion of Madonna’s lyrics. Also the eighties gave way to the commodification of people.
Societal standards pressure people into being in a perfect relationship. A relationship in which the man is in charge, the woman is beautiful, and she takes care of a lovely home. This ideal actually became mainstream when people started living in suburbs during the 1950s. Shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Honeymooners exemplified the accepted societal norm. The 1980s took this ideal to a new level. To completely manifest the ideology of materialism, people become commodities. Personal attributes are overlooked for physical attractiveness. Your partner becomes a trophy; arm candy. Everyone desires to be part of the ideal. This desire is still true today. We all read magazine articles that will help us get that six pack in six weeks, try to eat healthily, not necessarily because it is better for our bodies, but so that it will be better for our sex lives. Even though real women do have curves, every woman that is idealized in the media looks like a stick. Influencing adolescents to strive for that ideal who are ultimately hurt by the reality that not everyone can look like models or celebrities. The commodification of people also raises standards when looking for a mate. If you’re a bit chubby, have acne, or for whatever reason, not as physically attractive as the next person, its more likely to be rejected than if you aren’t that way. This also leads to more disappointment and less opportunities for relationships for people who do not fit the society’s ideals. Materialism also causes a lack of romance when people view other people as items. If romance or sex is viewed as a commodity because the people that you engage with it in are also commodities, that leaves little room for the niceties or romance or flirting. It encourages more of a “get in and get out” philosophy rather than slowly taking advantage of the intimate time that you share with someone.
Capitalism also has a large effect on the decrease of romance in contemporary culture. The movie industry, jewelry companies, card companies, chocolate companies, lingerie companies and florists all use romance to make more profit in their business. Valentine’s Day has become the biggest day for these sort of companies, pushing men and woman to buy these items for their significant others. Their ad campaigns are designed to convince consumers that their significant other needs diamond earrings or whatever item it is that they are trying to sell. When in reality, the fact that your boyfriend gave you diamond earrings or not does not prove his love for you. Giving these items creates the illusion of romance. It is really what you say or do that is romantic. Not what objects you can buy or cards you can give. Those are not necessarily from the heart; technically they are from the store. Marriage can be romantic, but weddings tend to be more capitalistic. The wedding industry is a multi-million dollar industry itself. With cakes, dresses, food, and venues, brides pay big bucks to have a picture perfect wedding. One could say that weddings promote romance, however I disagree. Weddings promote an influx of capital to major companies within the United States and around the world. Words or gestures could be more romantically meaningful than buying an item that is mass produced so that people can give things to their partners on national holidays and birthdays or anniversaries. Companies have adopted the philosophies of Henry Ford in producing products. It is most efficient method in manufacturing products. Gifts that people give that they think are romantic, could be romantic but are not unique which leads to a uniformity within the masses. (Barker) Individuality is an important thing, especially when it comes to romance. It is the uniqueness of the person which others should fall in love with. If everyone conforms to the social norms, then anyone could be in love with anyone. But that is not the case. It is hard to find the person that you love and even sometimes when you do, it turns out that they may not love you back.
Although romance has disappeared in a majority of contemporary society, that does not mean that it is extinct. Various different factors; including technology, materialism and capitalism have greatly contribute to making the current culture the “Hookup Culture” that it is today. (Forbes)
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies:Theory and Practice, Los Angels: SAGE Publications, 2008. Print.
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Hamilton, Laura, and Elizabeth A. Armstrong. "Gendered sexuality in young adulthood: double binds and flawed options." Gender & Society 23.5 (2009): 589+. General OneFile. Web. 17 Dec. 2009.
Piazza, Jared, and Jesse M. Bering. "Evolutionary cyber-psychology: Applying an evolutionary framework to Internet behavior." Computers in Human Behavior 25.6 (2009): 1258+. General OneFile. Web. 16 Dec.2009.
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Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage, 1987.