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Toxicity Sold as Love: How the Media Affects Perceptions of Love

While romantic comedies may be a favorite for many, they do not always portray love in an accurate or healthy way. According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), of the 118 movies that they counted from major studios, 18.6% of the movies contained someone that identified as LGBTQ.  

Many popular films follow and promote stereotypical ideas that define both the male and female leads.  

“From the male perspective, there is that the love interest is one a love interest, so she doesn’t really do anything outside of being a love interest. It’s very much the idea of being an object of desire,” Chair of the Theatre department Raimondo Genna said. “[The female’s perspective] is struggling to have it all and make work her life, but she is unfulfilled or unhappy. But that’s her focus. Then some guy comes in, and it’s, ‘oh, no, I’m not going to have that, because I’m focused on my thing,’ and then she feels unfulfilled, and her being in a relationship with the guy fulfills her.” 

Unfortunately, this can cause viewers to distort their own personal image and feelings of self-worth.  

“Women then see themselves, and that their value is based on their looks or how attractive they are. But it also teaches men how to think about them, and creates toxic masculinity, where they feel like, ‘I am in a privileged position and therefore you serve me,’ as opposed to having a partnership,” Genna said. “The continuance of that thinking because of how relationships have been portrayed and how we’ve been conditioned to think about relationships, not only through the media but also through other social normative behavior that is part of the media, and it just reinforces itself.” 

Furthermore, most films only highlight typical heteronormative relationships, oftentimes leaving out the LGBTQ+ community.  

“It’s really focused on male-female relationships, as opposed to any other types of relationships that there can be. It still is kind of like the dominant narrative of how we think relationships are, and this is what we’re conditioned to believe in,” Genna said. “If we don’t fall in that aspect, we feel like there’s something wrong with us as we’re growing up, or we were told that there’s something wrong with us if we don’t fit in those boxes.” 

With the rise of movies like “365 Days” and “50 Shades of Grey,” it is important to know that many of these movies do not show healthy relationships.  Genna said that “50 Shades of Grey” is a good example of a toxic relationship and distorts experiences. Other movies, such as “Twilight,” also romanticize toxic behaviors.  

“That kind of that level of passion … I think this is where the idea of moms wanting that kind of passionate life (comes from). There’s something that is unfulfilled,” Genna said. “You can have passion and also mutual respect. They’re not mutually exclusive. But again, it’s about this idea of not passion, but it’s really that power. Power is sold as passion.” 

Luckily for viewers, the cycle can be broken, and the romanticization of toxic relationships can be avoided or ended. When the rose-colored glasses are removed, one can see the relationships in films for what they are: inaccurate and oftentimes unhealthy.  

“As we mature and begin to really question, ‘what is it that we’re being told and is that what we really want?’” Genna said. “Because we’re being taught and told a lot of different things that we just accept and never really question. And I think that questioning is really, really important.”