Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where has all the Romance Gone?

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 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 or 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)

Works Cited.

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies:Theory and Practice, Los Angels: SAGE Publications, 2008. Print.

Moore, Natalie. “Rule of Thumbs: Love in the Age of Texting”.
College Sex 2.0." Lifestyle. Forbes LLC, 2008. General OneFile. Web. 16 Dec. 2009.
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.2009.2048/gps/start.doprodId=

“Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code).” 2006. Web. 16 December 2009.

Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage, 1987.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The "Urban Place" of Sex and the City

New York City, known as the city that never sleeps, is busy, bustling and involved in world affairs and economy. As a global city, New York City is an icon of economic success and American culture. There is a very large Central Business District which includes the Stock Exchange and many multinational corporations. HBO’s series, The Sex and the City, reflects the hectic lifestyle of New Yorkers. In one scene, Carrie is at a party on a boat and runs into her ex-boyfriend, Big, and as they catch up on what’s going on with each other, the New York skyline is seen in the background. This skyline represents the post-industrial state of the city. After the industrial revolution, skyscrapers sprung up everywhere throughout the city to utilize the many innovations of the previous period. New York City holds much excitement and opportunities for its inhabitants and others who wish to live there. Carrie and her friends are part of the elite of NYC and they explore the opportunities of work and leisure, meet many different types of people and have the possibility of a surprise encounter with someone. The latter, happens in this scene and Carrie is shocked by the coincidence of Big being at the party also. His presence at the party altered the social space of the party and Carrie is impacted by the bad timing the two have. Space is socially constructed and is dynamically changing. New York has become the city it is because of the people that live there. Its diverse inhabitants all contribute to what New York City really means.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Rules of Attraction" Response Paper

Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, The Rules of Attraction, criticizes the lifestyle of students in the 1980s. Their infatuation with sex, drugs, alcohol, and materialism causes the characters in the novel to lead half lives. Camden University, a small, liberal arts college in New England is full of rich kids that spend all their parents money on unnecessary commodities. They numb themselves through substance use but at the same time want to get to know each other. This search for closeness with another person is in vain because no one is able to make a connection.

The conclusion of The Rules of Attraction is interesting in that there is no real character development throughout the plot. At the end of the novel, each character ends up in almost exactly the same situation that they were in the beginning. All the problems that were troubling the characters originally are left unsolved. This is radical in that Ellis is implying that there is no real solution to the problems in life. In a typical narrative, the hero pursues a goal in the face of opposition. This pursuit usually leads to a character arc and development. Since there is no real opposition to the characters, they eventually get what they want and then decide that they don’t really want whatever it is anymore and decide to pursue something else without a change in their character. And since everything else is so easy, when they cannot obtain their goal, they feel that all is lost and completely give up, like Mary.

The movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High also reflects Ellis’ view on the culture of the 80s. At Ridgemont High, the students don’t really take their classes seriously. In contrast to the students at Camden, these students are not as rich however, they are not poor either. These students also are looking for a connection with their peers, ironically, the only real connection between two students, Stacy and Rat, does not involve any sex or drugs. It seems that all the characters at both Camden and Ridgemont believe that by having sex with someone, you will automatically be closer. But because sex has become as common as shaking hands with someone, it loses its importance. In Stacy and Rat’s relationship, their abstinence causes them to get to know each other in less intimate ways, which ultimately causes a deeper relationship between the two characters.

According to Woody Allen, “Its not the quantity of your sexual relations that counts. It’s the quality. On the other hand, if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it.” At Camden University, there is never a problem with the quantity of sexual relations. However, the quality has much room for improvement. Woody Allen’s opinion of sex is the complete opposite of a majority of the students in The Rules of Attraction. The main goal of the students at Camden is just to get laid, by whoever, whenever. Sean once wonders why he is not enjoying a sexual encounter and then he realizes that he can’t remember the last time he had sex sober. Allen on the other hand, is more of a supporter of having sex to signify the closeness between a couple.

The characters in The Rues of Attraction relate to each other as commodities rather than people. The materialism that was prevalent in the 1980s greatly influenced the Camden students. Coming from rich and affluent families, these students were raised on luxuries and learned to accept nothing less. Their feelings of superiority are emphasized throughout the novel, especially through Sean and Richard, or Dick. Both characters have a certain air about them which is displayed in their everyday routine and also when they feel the need to have their way. Sean’s use of phrases such as “rock ‘n’ roll” and “deal with it” reveal his opinion on how he should always have the final say and that it is his way or the highway. Dick is different in the way that he imposes himself upon others, rather than just ending the conversation like Sean, Dick will persist until others give into his ways.

Overall, Ellis’ portrayal of college life in his novel, The Rules of Attraction, displays students as materialistic, under the influence, and aloof.

Works Cited
Ellis, Bret Easton. The Rules of Attraction. New York: Vintage, 1987.
Heckerling, Amy. Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Universal Studios, 1982.
Silverberg, Cory. “Sexuality.”
About. 8 Jan. 2008. Web. 14 Oct. 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Panera Bread Ethnography

Panera Bread is a place where people mingle, eat and catch up on some studying. It is an ideal place to go if you need a change of environment from your current studying areas. A majority of the customers come prepared with their laptops to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi internet. Many people often feel comfortable enough to come alone to this cafe however, there are plenty of people who come with their significant other or just a friend. Just by looking at a man and a woman sitting together it is hard to be certain that they are “together” without any public display of affection. There were many couples that did not show their affection obviously, and a few that showed minimal affection. For others, you could have a hunch because of their similar ages or styles.

There was a young woman, probably about twenty, and an older man with grey hair sitting together. They did not seem to share any physical characteristics that could be passed down through genetics. The man had a laptop in front of him and a hands-free earpiece in. He seemed to be explaining something to the young woman. She didn’t really say much to him only nodded and agreed with his comments or explanations. When he wasn’t talking she turned to her Blackberry to occupy her. Eventually she brought out a text book and began to study, but it never really seemed to initiate any conversation. When she left, they parted with a handshake.

Another man and woman sat together. The woman was a bit older than the man, but both were wearing wedding rings. The woman intently listened to the man as he spoke and he later covered his face with his hands frustratedly and the woman seemed sympathetic and considerate towards him. They often pause in their conversation and then later resume.

People often come in pairs to Panera Bread, even same gender pairs. There were two young men sitting together, one bearded and one with a ponytail, that had finished their food before I arrived. In contrast to many of the people present, there were no laptops or textbooks present to occupy them. They spent at least one full hour just chatting with each other. Every other group of two people there had at least one aid with them besides conversation.

There were only two instances in which affection between a man and a woman was evident. There was one woman who kissed the man she was with on the cheek and one young man who looked over at his [what I can assume] girlfriend, stroked her hair, and then pulled her in for a kiss. Besides that, there was no hand holding, touching, caressing, footsies, or anything of that nature.

The young woman and grey-haired man sitting together exemplify de Beauvoir’s opinion in The Second Sex. In this relationship, the young woman does not seem to express her inner thoughts and feelings to the man, she is passive. Maybe she is receiving tutoring from the man, which would put her at even more of a disadvantage. Although it is an uplifting thought that a woman is trying to better her situation, it proves that there is no escape from the accomplished and educated man. As the inferior in the binary of men and woman, the woman is submissive to the man, which makes it difficult for there to be equality between the sexes. Or possibly their relationship is similar to that of Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. However if they were really having a secret affair, it is highly unlikely that they would spend hours out in public places.

Despite the first couple mentioned, most people at Panera showed some extent of independence. In our culture, it is not common for someone go to out on their own and sit by themselves at restaurant. Although this is not a fancy restaurant, it is a restaurant nonetheless. It takes a certain air of confidence to be comfortable sitting alone in a public place. People often feel inferior or lonely when they have to sit without the company of their friends. It seems the the current technology makes it easier for people to sit alone. They are preoccupied with what they are doing and don’t really worry about what is going around them. This is the computer age, which is gradually making relationships between humans less intimate. Cell phones, text messages, Facebook, and AIM. All of these advances in technology take people further and further away from each other, transforming the way we view life.

On the other hand, this lack of intimacy between humans was defied by they two young men that sat and talked to each other for over an hour with nothing else to distract them. Whether they are best friends, lovers, or acquaintances, it is impossible to tell just by observing them at Panera Bread for one afternoon. The uncommon bond that these two men seemed to share implies that they have a special relationship, whether or not it is romantic. They are almost like Brick and Skipper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the way that they had something real, true, and pure between them. Two good friends that could have something more between them. There is a chance that their relationship could be “dirty”, but once again, only through close and thorough observations could a justifiable conclusion be made.

There was a lack of radical romance at Panera Bread during my observations, but the lack of it in one setting does not imply that romance is un-radical in its totality.