Thursday, September 6, 2012

Possession of ideals

What is it about the couples on television and film that always makes them the subject of scrutiny and comparison to real life? It's not any resemblance to a true reality nor is it anything intrinsically fascinating about love stories that play out in a fictional world rather than a real one.

When I think about it, it deals with this issue that we all - especially me - face: the concoction of ideals that force us to want something we cannot have.

I got the news that season four of Parks and Recreation has just appeared on Netflix earlier this evening.  As someone who spent a couple weeks of her summer running through the first three seasons with incredible attentiveness and newfound love for the show, I reacted to this news with hearty enthusiasm. Now I have more material to work with. More Parks and Rec to watch.

This could be chalked up to an undying love for the television show. And in a way it is. But I think deep down it also has something to do with a little topic that comes up a lot in television and film and music and theater and really any art ever: Love. And not just love, but love that works and means something.

Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Ben (Adam Scott) on the Parks and Rec set.
By the start of season three, a relationship started developing between Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. The former is an incredibly upbeat and hardworking employee in the City of Pawnee Parks and Recreation department. The latter is a state auditor who has been sent by Indiana (along with Chris Traeger) to try and lower the budget of the Parks department. As the story progresses, the relationship between Leslie and Ben suggests this sense of turmoil between the two of them due to conflicting career agendas. Because Ben's co-worker Chris, doesn't want interoffice dating, they also grow apart due to a separation that is outside their control.

But once they get together, Leslie and Ben are two of the most wonderfully paired off television characters in all of history. It's like the Ross and Rachel of the NBC Thursday Night Line-Up.

I don't know if this is a problem I share with no one, but I've always taken issue with my own expectations that what I see in the media might become reality for me somehow someday. As if clicking my heels together enough will make me Dorothy Gale and send me back to Kansas again, I confuse what's desirable with what's logical. Love doesn't always fit both of these categories (take Twilight as an example).

But then there's Leslie and Ben. They enjoy each other for more than physical attraction and desire. They are intellectually fascinated with one another. They are silly and cute together. They are friends. They are private about private matters. They make sense.

It's normal to make ideals, and to look to role models as an example of how things might work.

But is it destructive to look at television relationships in the same way?

Sadly I don't know the answer to this exactly, mostly because I've never quite understood how to avoid thinking of my life within the context of the entertainment industry. But in all honesty I'd say that the positivity of fictional relationships like this has given me unrealistic expectations of relationships in general.

They say that the Disney Princes give undue positivity (unrealistic expectations of men), but what about television? Why is this a medium we're so happy to accept without scrutiny?

Lately I've grown to accept that things will never be as hunky-dory as they may seem on television. If they were, then we would all be robots.

Still, though, I have faith in these characters and their stories. Not exactly to the point of taking their experience as advice for my own, but on a smaller scale perhaps. Because certain ideals are, in fact, just ideals, it's important to distinguish between what is accomplishable and what is a lost cause.

This is true of relationships portrayed on the screen. There's so much information that falls through the cracks in these portrayals that misconceptions multiply like rabbits.

There must be balance, though. Between accepting and coveting the interactions of romantic leads in a movie, as well as looking at these stories with an air of scrutiny, we allow ourselves to possess our ideals without letting them possess us.

In my life, I let my expectations and my reality coexist, because otherwise I'd never feel happy about anything. So in some way that's an answer to the first question about why people get so enamored by fake relationships on film. A relationship on screen is a point of reference in a world that is fairly unintelligible and unkind. If we don't accept what is fake, then we may not be open enough for what is real. At this point, I just resolve to watch with love and scrutiny. That's good enough for me.

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