Romance in media

Over this past reading period, I was in Providence, RI with KidsGive presenting at a student organization at Brown University. My mother drove down from Massachusetts and we go to spend much of Sunday together. She loves André Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name, so we decided to see the new movie adaption. I thought that the film was visually sublime and woven through with sensuality. The sonic landscape of the movie matched the visuals and narrative perfectly. What I am saying is, I loved it. It was also really exciting as an American Jewish man to encounter such a deep meditation of identity and connection between two men with similar positionality. Both main characters are American Jewish men living in Italy. After coming back to campus, I have torn through the book in a matter of days.

At first, the similarities between myself and the characters helped me better immerse myself in the narrative, but after completing the book, I realized that the connection between these characters is rich, deep and compelling in ways most depictions of fictional romances are not. It seems to me that a common trope for romantic literature is that the more different the protagonists are from the hegemonic norm, the less the book is about the romance and the more it becomes social commentary. The same is certainly true for movies.

In this modern age, belief in true and deep romantic love has become almost as judged of an utterance as belief in angels or ghosts. Part of this is because despite all the media we are consuming, the narratives we are receiving are not about true and deep romantic love, and when we do get authentic narratives like in cases such as Call Me By Your Name, they are between bisexual, white men in Europe.

None of this is to discredit the film nor the novel. All I am suggesting is that as a society we start questioning how few authentic narratives about love and connection we see reflecting our lives in our media culture. I think much of this has to do with racism and cisheteropatriarchy, but also it has to do with money making. If as a society, we make it clear to media producers that we want diverse, authentic narratives about ourselves and each other then we can start to have popular art that reflects this kind of authenticity. If we will pay for it, we can only hope someone can make it.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with a shallow rom-com, but we live in a world filled with moral and spiritual bankruptcy. If we want a world with genuine ethical courage, then we need to start teaching young people about the importance of deep connection and the parsing of one’s own identity. This kind of authenticity in our artistic representation will hopefully lead to better societal values. Valentine’s Day will have just recently passed when this article is published. Tell those who you love that you do and why, and how it makes you feel— the best part is you don’t even have to pay Hallmark to do it.