Romantic comedies — commonly referred to as chick flicks and rom coms — entertain audiences with fun, lighthearted humor. The plotlines follow the stereotypical "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back again" sequence. Fairy-tale-style, happily-ever-after resolutions are practically mandatory.
Chick flicks are steeped in the message that "true love" does exist, offering a young girl hope that there's someone out there just for her. These films imply that she can be the leading lady in a romantic tale, overcoming all obstacles to get what she wants. And therein lies the attraction.
Although these movies are entertaining, and oftentimes inspirational, romantic comedies paint an unrealistic picture of love. Chick flicks give girls the notion that a strong feeling of physical attraction is the primary indicator that a person is in love. According to romantic comedies, infatuation equals love. And therein lies the problem.
Bill Johnson, a Hollywood scriptwriter, explains that romantic comedies offer a sense of what is sophisticated and current about romance. They serve as both a "herald of change and a subtle instigator of change," Johnson says. Rom coms present "fresh" ideas that come across as the latest (and most effective) means of attaining relationship success. The stories not only entertain; they define what a girl should want and how she can get it.
Shifts in the storyline
Historically, chick flicks inspired viewers to cling to the hope of finding romance in their own lives; over the years the message has shifted. Today's rom coms champion sex outside of marriage. They push the idea that romantic feelings will naturally lead to sex — usually right after the first kiss.
This message is problematic for Christian teens because it blatantly promotes behavior that contradicts biblical standards. Equally as troubling is a more recent rom-com storyline that having casual sex is the prerequisite to finding true love.
That's the message of No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits. Both films were 2011 nominees for Teen Choice Awards — an annual awards show that honors the year's biggest movies and actors, as voted on by teens ages 13-19. These movies suggest that sex is the initial step in a relationship, rather than an intermediate or consummating step.
Dealing with the chick flick
Does your daughter understand the difference between Hollywood's messages and God's design for true love? Here are a few suggestions for helping her grapple with the unhealthy messages presented in romantic comedies:
1. Counter the illusion with reality.
Statistics don't support the idea that the Hollywood model of romance produces success in relationships. Research indicates that premarital sex decreases the chance of having a successful and satisfying marriage. In addition, premarital sex has been linked to emotional risks in teens such as heartache, stress and depression.
2. Talk about God's plan for sex and marriage.
God created sex and marriage to represent the truth that covenant comes before union. Sex seals the deal of a marriage covenant and should not take place outside of that context (Hebrews 13:4). The order is important — marriage comes before sex.
3. Define true love.
Love may involve romantic feelings, but its sum is far greater than that. True love is based on sacrifice and commitment (1 Corinthians 13). It's a choice of will, not a whim of emotion. Point your daughter to Scripture as her guide for defining true love.
4. Model discernment.
Ask your daughter, "What is this movie really saying?" Help her analyze the underlying message by cutting through the emotional appeal and getting to the core ideology. It's also important to help her discern if the movie and message should have been avoided altogether.
While finding true love is the desire of most teen girls, the lives of untold numbers demonstrate that following the plotlines of modern-day romantic comedies can lead to disappointment and pain. Chick flicks come across as light and funny, but their potential impact on real life is no laughing matter.Mary Kassian is professor of women's studies at Southern Baptist Seminary and the author of Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild.