Babe Ex Machina
July 13, 2007 7:29 PM   Subscribe

So a common subplot in a lot of movies is that the protagonist has a dull life and suddenly a romantic partner sweeps in and changes EVERYTHING. It spans genres from The Mask to Stranger Than Fiction (and of course the romantic comedy / chick flick industry would go broke without it.) I guess Cinderalla is the archetypal story here. I'm sort of curious about what larger connections there are to this thematic convention—like has anyone written about it, maybe focused more on Cinderalla and gender studies or psychology etc.

(My only real thought on the general convention so far is that I think it's a bit of a conceit. Like when Trent Reznor goes "help me become somebody else"—if person X is miserable in every regard and person Y is totally spectacular I have no idea why person Y would fall for X and waste time on filling X's life with rainbows and honey.)
posted by Firas to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think you are missing the key factor; the Fairy Godmother. Or, in the case of the mask, the mask. There has to be some magical, mystical element to "change everything."

See also the Magical Negro archetype.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:37 PM on July 13, 2007

Everybody is looking for fulfillment at every step no matter where it comes from. Person "Y" may not feel spectacular until person "X" appreciates what they are doing... thus making what they do spectacular. Its a reductionist argument and that is probably all there is to it.
posted by pwally at 7:40 PM on July 13, 2007

Best answer: I think the essence of what you're talking about is the Apollonian and Dionysian literary concept, which stretches back about as far as you can really go. The concept is that you have a "normal" world that is invaded by something unusual and external that changes the status quo. You see it in every genre, from romantic comedies to tragedies like Macbeth and Hamlet, and even to horror (in fact, I actually first read about the concept in Stephen King's Danse Macabre).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 PM on July 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jesus and the Apostles?
posted by Good Brain at 12:05 AM on July 14, 2007

Best answer: You mean "Cinderella".

"The tradition of a deadened, lethargic woman aroused from her numbness by a man's call was well under way in the nineteenth century: suffice it to recall Kundry from Wagner's Parsifal who, at the begginning of Act II and Act III, is awakened from a catatonic sleep(first through Klingsor's rude summons, then Gurnemanz's kind care), or - from 'real life' - the unique figure of Jane Morris, wife of William Morris and mistress of Dante Gabriel Rosetti. The famous photo of Jane Morris from 1865 presents a depressive woman, deeply absorbed in her thoughts, who seems to await a man's stimulation to pull her out of her lethargy."

Slavoj Žižek, The Metastases of Enjoyment

Also, apparently you don't seem to know what love is.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 3:00 AM on July 14, 2007

Response by poster: Lucia, that's unfair. The reason I'm skeptical of the notion is that regardless of how head-over-heels I've been, I've never actually changed my character in the process, which is what happens in these tales.

Also, if Cinderella's 'beauty' is the instigator of full-throated fairy-tale love, I'm not sure that that's a better way (in terms of values) to predict 'real love'.

I maintain that nobody falls in love with someone they consider a complete wretch. My problem here is that a lot of times the protagonist gets along with the 'Babe Ex Machina' by almost complete accident (see ex. the dorky guy in 'Wild Hogs', etc.)

posted by Firas at 3:29 AM on July 14, 2007

Firas, I think you're working under the assumption that people are either completely desirable or completely undesirable. No one is perfect. The babe may be lacking something that the outcast can provide, or there is something within the outcast that the babe absolutely likes.
posted by divabat at 4:26 AM on July 14, 2007

Best answer: Ah. But fairy tales are as much about real love as fables are about talking animals.

Bruno Bettelheim wrote about the effects on the development of personality and building of a value system which are produced by reading fairy tales to children (Uses of Enchantment : The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales). Also, most fairy tales, as the Zizek excerpt I pasted illustrates in a slightly different context, portray the passive woman - with nothing much going for her other than beauty - waiting for the valiant prince to come and rescue from her wretched life since she lacks the power or wits to change anything.

Do you think this could perpetuate the story of the girl "saved " by the boy in movies? Which could also account for men falling in love with "wretches" so that they can feel like valiant princes?

Or the other way around. Women as being more insightful than men since they do fall in love with wretches - frogs and beasts (showing that beauty in men doesn't really matter as long as they have fine personalities)?

I love this quote by Milan Kundera: "Love is by definition an unmerited gift: being loved without meriting it is the proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you're intelligent, because you're decent, because you buy me gifts, because you don't chase other women, because you do the dishes then I'm disappointed. Such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer it is to hear: I'm crazy about you even though you're neither intelligent or decent, even though you're a liar, an egotist, a bastard."
posted by lucia__is__dada at 5:12 AM on July 14, 2007

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