Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Romantic Love and 'Getting Married': Narratives of the Wedding in and out of Cinema Texts

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Romantic Love and 'Getting Married': Narratives of the Wedding in and out of Cinema Texts

Article excerpt

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Weddings provided the central theme of many cinematic box office hits in Australia and around the world during the 1990s. An assumption of this article is that the popularity, of such films as Father of the Bride and Muriel's Wedding poses interesting sociological questions about their impact on couples planning weddings at the end of the same decade. In this article I ask two questions: first, what messages did these films present to their audiences about the relationship between 'romantic love' and 'getting married'? Second, is there evidence that such messages were passively accepted or actively resisted by couples preparing for their own wedding days?

Such questions go to the heart of a continuing debate about whether global media and culture industries deny opportunities for those who constitute 'the masses' to experience 'authentic' emotions and culture. For some theorists, the very existence of modern information technologies has resulted in an ordering of social relations that denies alternatives to the ruling-class hegemony, and 'technology and technological consciousness have themselves produced a new phenomenon in the shape of a uniform and debased "mass culture" which aborts and silences criticism' (Bottomore in Jenks, 1993: 109). For others, the media are instead viewed as vehicles for ' "reinforcing" prior dispositions, not cultivating "escapism" or passivity, but capable of satisfying a great diversity of "uses and gratifications"; not instruments of a levelling of culture, but of its democratization' (Morley, 1995: 299).

In supporting the latter argument, many important studies have examined the ways in which people use media in social contexts (e.g. Ang, 1985; Hermes, 1995; Morley, 1986). These studies have enabled greater awareness of the complexities of relationships with and roles of media in everyday lives, and have pointed to the existence of 'mass culture as a "contested terrain" ... a site where producers and receivers of cultural commodities engage from different positions and with unequal resources in a multifaceted struggle over meaning' (Traube, 1992: 4; see also Hall, 1980). However, the assertions of 'resistance' that usually accompany such accounts have been criticized for presuming activity where there is none to be found, and for identifying resistance where in fact all that can be seen is temporary avoidance that nevertheless fails to challenge the structures of inequality that continue to dominate (e.g. Seaman, 1992).

At issue here is the conceptualization of 'domination' or 'influence' on the one hand, and 'resistance' on the other. Yet on both sides of the debate, there is a continuing assumption that media texts--at least potentially--have a direct effect on their audiences, and that audiences have direct relationships with those texts. I intend to propose an alternative means of understanding the audience-text relationship. Campbell (1987: 2) has suggested that analyses of advertising have proved unable to move beyond a direct causation model in which it is assumed that ' "romantic" beliefs, aspirations and attitudes are put to work in the interests of a "consumer society" '. While Campbell (1987: 2) does not seek to deny that advertisers make use of romantic images and concepts to promote the consumption of particular products, he argues that 'the reverse relationship should also be taken seriously, with the "romantic" ingredient in culture regarded as having had a crucial part to play in the development of modern consumerism itself'. Assuming that Campbell (1987: 7) is correct in identifying phenomena such as 'fashion, romantic love, taste and the reading of fiction' as implicated in the romantic ingredient of culture that has enabled consumerism, is it possible to assert that this cultural ingredient is common to both texts and their audiences? In other words, rather than assuming that media texts influence their audiences, or that audiences resist the messages of media texts, is it possible to consider the case that both audiences and texts are subject to the influence of a cultural logic of the 'romantic'? …

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