- by Eileen Dreyer
Man Romances and the Myth of LIT-rature
I finally saw Benjamin Button last night, and I have to tell you, it pissed me off. Again. Just how many times were we going to watch man romance movies and be told that they’re great art? Let’s put this into context. I write romances for women. ‘Pulp fiction. Purple prose. Smut.’ Whereas when a man writes romances like Cold Mountain, Message in a Bottle, Horse Whisperer and, yes, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, they’re considered art. Deathless prose. LIT-rature.
Bollocks. What they are are man romances(and yes. There will be spoilers).
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s simple. In a man romance, there is a woman. Lonely, not really living, needing SOMETHING. Yes, along comes our hero, who wakens her to life and cataclysmic sex, makes her a real woman, yada yada yada. Then, when the inevitable consequence of all that great awakening happens–the need to take responsibility of any kind or God forbid, make a commitment, et voila! The hero has to leave. He’ll even go so far as to die to keep from having to raise his child, or take care of their farm or actually support the woman he claims a deathless love for. Let me tell you. If I’d written Cold Mountain, that guy would have stuck around to plant real fence posts.
And then, on a plain all its own, comes Benjamin Button.
Up for countless awards, best movie of the year, best actor, actress etc. Amazing concept. Timeless. Life-altering. Uh huh. Let’s see. How is Benjamin Button a man romance? Well, Benjamin spends his early life being taken care of by a selfless woman who sees him for the ‘special’ child his is. And so, when he’s old enough to take care of her back, he bolts like a second story thief.
But wait. There’s more. There’s the girl he grew up with, whom he finds again just in time to be old enough to have sex with. So he does. With her. Constantly, living in that kind of Vaseline-lensed world that only exists in movies. And here’s the best part. It’s not enough that when his great love actually gets pregnant he leaves before he has to provide, oh, I don’t know. Adult guidance. Compassion. Patience. Commitment. He says to her, being, of course, terribly noble, “No, no (yes. I’m paraphrasing). I can’t stay. I’m getting younger all the time (the concept is that he ages backwards). How can I make you care for two children at the same time?” (I guess he’s never heard of the concept of twins). So, when she’s asleep(because he’s so heroic he doesn’t even have the chops to face her and leave), he sneaks out and goes back to living a perfectly selfish life. Not really accomplishing anything. I mean, he doesn’t leave her to save orphans in China or join the freedom fighters to overthrow tyranny or write symphonies. Nope, he joins a tramp steamer and spends his years pretty aimlessly wandering the world, never so much as contacting his child, much less supporting it.
When does he come back? When he grows young enough(old enough) that he once again needs complete care. And guess who he expects to take care of him?
“WHAT?” I screamed at the TV. “You’re going to take him back? I don’t care of you love him. Drop-kick his little toddler butt into the next county!”
What happened to all that altruism? All that compassion and selfless love? Guess it only lasts until you need your diaper changed. Fah!
So next time there’s the book of the year or the movie of the decade, and the hero manages to disappear before he is made to take responsibility for any of his actions, will you do me a favor? Don’t call it LIT-rature or art. Call it what it is. Man romance. I’ll be a lot happier about it.