Despite all of the pain abusive relationships can cause, popular culture has not yet taken a strong stance on how to cope with such a trying issue. In certain films it is sweet when a woman can be “saved” by leaving one man for another, assuming the new love interest solves her problem for her. In other films, the women finds “street justice” by taking matters into her own hands and harming her abuser (often resulting in the man’s death). While these situations, in a sense, resolve the problem of abuse, neither are healthy or realistic options for the teens, women, and even men that find themselves in an abusive relationship. Moreover, popular culture has failed in terms of providing children with the tools they need to understand abusive parents, grandparents, or siblings and how they can seek help. It goes without saying that victims can be silenced. Victims are the prisoners of their abusers and unless they can find the will to overcome their abuse intrinsically, there needs to be a voice that can help them. Let’s examine a few poor examples, and perhaps some that require an extra thought or two, of how to handle an abusive relationship.
1.) Twilight Series by Stefenie Meyer
The Twilight saga follows what appears to be a romantic relationship where a man will do all that he can to protect the woman he loves. However, in both text and film, the message to young adults is that being overly obsessive, stalking, and having other people follow you is just his way of making sure you are “safe”. The message is that all of these enormous red flags are not meant to alarm anyone, but are actually endearing examples of a love so profound that he would literally die for her. I won’t claim to be an expert in relationships or psychology, but telling young adults to stay with someone they are admittedly afraid seems like the wrong message. At one point, Bella, the main protagonist, even says that following:
“About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him-and I didn’t know how potent that part might be-that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.”
To paraphrase, I knew there was an exceptionally dangerous part of this person and that he wanted to harm me, but I love him so it’s no big deal. In fact, our relationship is even stronger because I’m willing to stay despite the ever-present harm and fear.
2.) Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
I am not to say I don’t enjoy Robin Williams and I am certainly in no position to turn down any original films ideas. Nonetheless, Mrs. Doubtfire does send an odd message to children (and perhaps people in a romantic relationship) about how to leave a relationship that is harmful to you. In the film, Robin Williams really is an irresponsible, childish parents that constantly puts Sally Field in the position of being a villain. Williams makes the job of raising three children infinitely more difficult by undermining rules, losing his job, and continually offering fake sympathies and ensuring Field that he will get his act together. Fast forward. Williams has not gotten a job, has not truly apologized for his behavior, has not attempted to work out an adult resolve to a divorce. Instead, the grand plan is to deceive his entire family and the government in the hopes that he can stalk Sally Field and spend time as a total stranger with his children. Perhaps I’m missing something, but the point of this film doesn’t read the way it was intended. Instead of watching the film about an endearing and down-on-his-luck father, this is a about a man who refuses to accept responsibilities and lies to everyone who is desperately trying to give him a second (or third or fourth or fifth) chance. Not to mention that the big reveal will ultimately scar the kids irreversibly and likely result in deep, deep trust issues for the rest of their lives.
3.) The Social Network (2010)
There is no mystery that social media platforms have opened the flood gates to every misguided and deplorable sector of society to voice their opinions. Unfortunately, the target is often marginalized groups. Whether they are calling out the LGBTQ community, immigrants, refugees, women, or even just people with different opinions, the conversation is anything but academic and constructive. Even businesses get on board with telling women what they should be doing, how to behave, and reinforcing their “role” as subservient.
While I recognize that these are both from Twitter, not Facebook, I appreciate that Twitter caps stupidity and sexism at 140 characters.
The film “The Social Network” may seem harmless at it’s base, but the reality is that it shows the glorious rise of one of the world’s richest men through anger, revenge, and degradation. In the film Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind Facebook. Facebook is a fine way to “stay connected”, but the film’s portrayal of female characters is a little off the rails. Not only are women used as interchangeable objects, but the entire idea for Zuckerberg’s master plan came from a breakup. After a breakup, he gets an idea to create a site that compares women at his college with farm animals. Ultimately, his poorly handled emotions lead to the creation of a site solely designed to put women down; women who had nothing to do with his situation. Additionally, his girlfriend in the film is depicted as such a monster that she attempts to burn his house down.
The argument can be made that “well that’s how it really happened”, but the problem isn’t with the story being accurate. The problem is that the story provides little resolve for the issues. The director never even offers a moment (whether it happened or not) where a friend says “Hey, you probably shouldn’t have done that”. The film glorifies the dangerous and immature things that happened and in the end, Zuckerberg will be in Forbe’s 25 wealthiest.