Relationships

Relationships

FROM LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT TO SOUL MATE: ROMANTIC IDEALS IN POPULAR FILMS AND THEIR ASSOCIATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE‘S BELIEFS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
BY VERONICA HEFNER
DISSERTATION
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Speech Communication in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011
Urbana, Illinois
Doctoral Committee: Professor Barbara J. Wilson, Chair Associate Professor John P. Caughlin Associate Professor Kristen Harrison Associate Professor Travis L. Dixon
ABSTRACT Romantic comedy films have been popular since motion pictures first entered the media world. Scholars have speculated why these movies remain appealing to viewers and have argued for several reasons. These movies might foster hope about real-life romance (Galician, 2004), or demonstrate that that there are no limits to how love may manifest itself (Harvey, 1998). Despite this speculation, few studies have systematically investigated the content of these movies or the effects they may have on viewers. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate that potential. In particular, I conducted two studies that explored the nature of romantic ideals in romantic comedy films and their influence on viewer endorsement of romantic beliefs. The first study was a content analysis of the themes or romantic ideals embedded in romantic comedies. The second study was a survey designed to explore whether exposure to such films encourages the learning of romantic ideals among young people. The theories of uses and gratifications, social cognitive, and cultivation served to inform this project. I first analyzed the content of over 50 top-grossing films from the romantic comedy genre. This process involved identifying the type, nature, and context of romantic ideal expressions that characters in these films make (i.e., idealization of other, soul mate/one & only, love at first sight, love conquers all), as well as the statements that contradict or challenge these ideal themes. In particular, I identified the nature of the source, the type of expression, the nature of the target, and how the expression was reinforced (e.g., rewarded, punished). In addition, the content analysis documented the overarching themes of the movies. The results showed that romantic ideals and challenges are prevalent in romantic comedy films, both as overarching themes and as relational expressions. Whereas ideals are overwhelmingly more common as the takeaway message, challenges were featured twice as
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often as ideals were at the expression level. The characters who expressed these ideals and challenges were predominantly White, adult, and heterosexual, and differed only by sex. In particular, male characters most often expressed ideals, whereas female characters most often expressed challenges. As for the context in which these ideals and challenges were expressed, ideals received mostly rewards in the plotline whereas challenges were most often punished. To investigate the impact of this content, I conducted a survey in which I asked 335 undergraduate students to report on their romantic comedy movie viewing and their beliefs about love and romance. In particular, I asked them the degree to which they endorsed beliefs about romance (i.e., idealization of other, soul mate/one & only, love at first sight, love conquers all). I also asked them how often they watched romantic comedies by giving them a list of 20 films (a subsample from the larger list used in Study 1). For the exposure variable, I weighted the films by the number of ideal expressions found in each film, as documented by Study 1. I then controlled for overall movie viewing and demographic variables, before calculating the predictive power of romantic comedy viewing on endorsement of beliefs. Results demonstrated that romantic comedy exposure significantly predicted endorsement of one of the four ideals— idealization of other. After testing for main effects, I also assessed the potential influence of a series of moderating variables: relational experience, perceived reality, watching in order to learn, perceived similarity, and sex of participant. The results of the analyses involving moderators revealed one significant association. In particular, individuals who watched these films in order to learn reported stronger endorsement of romantic ideal beliefs than did those who watched for other reasons. The implications of these results are discussed.
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Dedicated to my graduate school girls: Sarah Wilson Clabaugh Rivka Daar Nichole Evans Megan Connelly Kosovski Sheila Repeta McDaniel Laura E. Miller Cortney M. Moriarty Tracy Kmetz Murphy I would never have studied this topic if it weren‘t for you and those Wednesday nights…
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS A dissertation is the culminating project of a doctoral program of study. Although only my name appears on the cover of this ―paper,‖ a great many individuals have contributed to its creation. The words I offer here can never fully express the immense gratitude I feel towards the people who have helped me succeed. First and foremost, I must thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. During those times when I wanted to quit, He gave me the strength to persevere. During other moments when I didn‘t understand my data or I struggled with writer‘s block, He pulled me through the confusion. I am nothing without my God. The second most important person in this process is a god in the academic world—my advisor, Dr. Barb Wilson. With wisdom and patience, she guided me through the prospectus and dissertation stages and taught me the value of meticulous rigor. She completely transformed my writing; and showed me that revision is not a sign of weakness, but rather a mark of commitment to my craft. At a time in my graduate school career when I felt all might be lost, Barb was the person who believed in me, gave me a second chance, and chose to invest her valuable time in hopes of my success. I owe an inexpressible amount of gratitude to John Caughlin, a committee member and professor that I am proud to call my friend. When I had a statistics problem, JPC helped clear my bewilderment, often responding within just a few days. He was my interpersonal communication expert, and I frequently knocked on his always-open door to pick his brain about literature, methodology, or even professional development. During my graduate tenure, I also shared some personal conversations with John for which I am enormously grateful. Kris Harrison deserves a note of thanks for being a constant source of academic input
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throughout my graduate career. Everything I know about data collection, I owe to her tutelage. I am so thankful for her involvement, especially during the beginning stages of this project. Travis Dixon challenged me in delightful ways by forcing me to think critically. After each level in the process, he provided me with detailed notes that helped direct my revisions. Several key components of my dissertation were inspired by or refined based on the input of these two dear committee members, both of whom are giants in the field of media effects. I must thank my parents, Gary and Linda, for instilling into me the value of education and showing me how to teach myself. My mom was a prayer warrior throughout this journey, and deserves a vast amount of thanks for that. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my aunt and uncle, Sheryl and Jeff. As my ―second parents,‖ their support was unmatched. To my siblings—Jeremy, Josh, James, and Tracy—I say thank you for challenging me in ways that extend beyond my profession. You are funny, supportive, and a network I truly value. To my best friend Smalls, thank you for being my prayer warrior, my grad school partner-in-crime, and someone who helped revive my self-esteem during those frequent moments of insecurity. My other grad school friends put up with my mood swings and helped me unwind and relax – thank you CMOR and KDRO for that. I want to thank Mary Strum for copy editing my final draft, and helping with critical steps along the way. I must also thank Margie Salmon, Rhonda Baumgart, Susana Vazquez Weigel, and Amy Holland for providing office assistance all of these years. Thank you to Erin Green, Greta Nudel, Hannah Prince, Katie Kuhn, Ramine Nimrouzi, and Vince Vercelli for coding all of the movies in Study 1. It was a great year and I enjoyed working with all of you. Finally, to Sheesh, what can I say? One way or the other, you motivated me to finish…
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TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES ....................................................................................................................... viii LIST OF FIGURES ....................................................................................................................... ix CHAPTER 1: ROMANTIC COMEDIES AS SOCIALIZERS .......................................................1 CHAPTER 2: THE ROMANTIC IDEAL .....................................................................................20 CHAPTER 3: STUDY 1: A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF ROMANTIC IDEALS IN POPULAR FILMS ................................................................................................................................33 CHAPTER 4: STUDY 2: A SURVEY INVESTIGATING YOUNG PEOPLE‘S BELIEFS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS ..............................................................................................83 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS, IMPLICATIONS, AND FUTURE RESEARCH ...................125 CHAPTER 6: TABLES AND FIGURES ....................................................................................135 REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................184 APPENDIX A ..............................................................................................................................215 APPENDIX B ..............................................................................................................................216 CURRICULUM VITAE ..............................................................................................................226
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LIST OF TABLES Table 1 List of Coded Movies with Release Dates in order of Highest Grossing Box Office Receipts ............................................................................................................................135 Table 2 Percent Agreement for Unitizing at SET level ................................................................138 Table 3 Reliability kappas for Source Variables at SET level .....................................................139 Table 4 Reliability kappas for Target Demographics at SET level .............................................140 Table 5 Reliability kappas for SET Type of Expression, and SET Reinforcement, Film Relational Message............................................................................................................................141 Table 6 Frequencies of Demographic Information for Sources ..................................................142 Table 7 Frequencies of the Demographic Information for Targets.............................................144 Table 8 Frequencies of the Prominence of Sources and Targets ................................................146 Table 9 Descriptive Statistics of Scale Variables ........................................................................147 Table 10 Principal Components Analysis for the Romantic Beliefs Scale ..................................148 Table 11 List of Romantic Comedy Movies with Weighting Scores for Romantic Content .........149 Table 12 Bivariate Correlations for Romantic Media Exposure Variables ................................150 Table 13 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ..........................................................................................................151 Table 14 Bivariate Correlations for Romantic Belief Subscales .................................................152 Table 15 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Endorsement of the Idealization of Other Ideal .....................................................................................153 Table 16 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Endorsement of the Love Conquers All Ideal ........................................................................................154 Table 17 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Endorsement of the Love at First Sight Ideal ........................................................................................155 Table 18 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Endorsement of the Soul mate/One and Only Ideal ...............................................................................156 Table 19 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Relational Experience in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ......................................................................................................157 Table 20 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Relational Status in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ..............................................................................................................158 Table 21Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Perceived Reality in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ..........................................................................................................159 Table 22 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Viewing with a Motivation to Learn in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ....................................................................................160 Table 23 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Perceived Similarity in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ..............................................................................................................161 Table 24 Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analysis for Two-way Interaction between Romantic Comedy Exposure and Sex in Predicting Endorsement of Romantic Beliefs ..162
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LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Average rate of ideal expressions per film over time ..................................................163 Figure 2. Average rate of challenge expressions per film over time ...........................................164 Figure 3. Type of ideal expression at SET level .........................................................................165 Figure 4. Type of overall relational message at film level ..........................................................166 Figure 5. Frequencies of sex of source for expressions about relationships ...............................167 Figure 6. Frequencies of race of source for expressions about relationships ..............................168 Figure 7. Frequencies of age of source for expressions about relationships ...............................169 Figure 8. Frequencies of sexual orientation of source for expressions about relationships ........170 Figure 9. Type of expression as a function of sex of source .......................................................171 Figure 10. Frequencies of sex of target for expressions about relationships...............................172 Figure 11. Frequencies of race of target for expressions about relationships .............................173 Figure 12. Frequencies of age of target for expressions about relationships ..............................174 Figure 13. Frequencies of sexual orientation of target for expressions about relationships .......175 Figure 14. Type of expression as a function of target of expressions .........................................176 Figure 15. Frequencies of prominence of source for expressions about relationships ................177 Figure 16. Frequencies of prominence of target for expressions about relationships .................178 Figure 17. Frequencies of reinforcements of ideal expressions ..................................................179 Figure 18. Frequencies of reinforcements of specific ideal expressions .....................................180 Figure 19. Frequencies of reinforcements of challenge expressions ...........................................181 Figure 20. Form of reinforcement as a function of type of expression .......................................182
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CHAPTER 1: ROMANTIC COMEDIES AS SOCIALIZERS Romantic comedy films have been a successful movie genre ever since the cinema became popular in the early 20th century. In the late 1930s, young adults were choosing to go see romance movies over most other genres of films (Edman, 1940). In fact, romance and comedy films made up nearly half of all produced movies during that period (Edman, 1940). More recently, romantic comedy films such as Knocked Up (2007) and Sex and the City (2008) continue to be popular, each among the top 10 highest-grossing romantic comedies of all time (Box Office Mojo, 2008). In one analysis, the romantic comedy genre was the sixth highest grossing category of films between 1995 and 2010, pulling in over $10 billion in gross revenue during this 15-year period (Nash, 2010). Furthermore, a recent study about what types of media people selectively consume showed that the movies with the highest viewing average were romance-comedy films (Hall, 2005). Clearly, romantic comedies have been a thriving component of the movie industry throughout its history. Romantic movies are often referred to by the colloquial phrase, ―chick flicks,‖ in part because these films seem to target females. Indeed, statistics indicate that the movie-going audience for romantic comedies is made up primarily of females (Nielsen, 2008). Scholarly research also reveals that females report a significantly greater consumption of romantic media content than males do (e.g., Segrin & Nabi, 2002). Despite these tendencies, however, males do report watching romantic media but in smaller doses than do females (e.g., Eggermont, 2004). In fact, some men actually report liking romantic comedies, particularly because these movies often are viewed during dates (Harris et al., 2004).
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The popularity of these movies has led some scholars to speculate about why such films are appealing. One common argument for why viewers are drawn to these romantic comedy movies is because they depict relationships as relatively easy and full of possibilities (Galician, 2004). Consequently, these movies can foster hope about real-life romance. For example, Galician (2004), author of a critical analysis of romantic media, argues that people seek romantic content in the media in order to see relationships that appear to work despite all obstacles. Similarly, Harvey (1998), author of a historical critique of romantic comedy films, asserts that these movies demonstrate that there are no limits to how love may manifest itself. In short, both of these authors argue that the appeal of the romantic genre is that it gives viewers a sense of optimism about love because it features examples of relationships that survive the difficulties. Another reason individuals may be attracted to romantic media is because they provide lessons about love and intimacy. For instance, Wood, Senn, Desmarais, Park and Verberg (2002) posited that adolescents seek out romantic content in television and other media in order to better understand how romantic relationships work. Similarly, Winn (2007) chose to analyze the relational scripts (i.e., the events that occur in ―most‖ relationships) in several romantic comedies because she believed that these scripts could influence relational expectations among viewers. In support of this idea, one study found that men, in particular, choose to watch reality dating programs because they are sources of information about dating and romance (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). It is quite possible that viewers seek out romantic comedies for a similar purpose. Despite these arguments about the messages one could learn from romantic media, few systematic analyses of such content exist. Instead, most of the studies, especially those involving romantic films, involve interpretive analyses of particular movies. For example, Rios and Reyes
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(2007) provided an in-depth analysis of a single film, Maid in Manhattan. Natharius (2007) analyzed two romantic films starring Helen Hunt, pointing out that both movies featured the stereotype that men do not understand women. Johnson (2007) examined 13 popular wedding films and identified a number of romantic myths in those movies, such as the idea of ―love at first sight.‖ Interpretive studies like these provide rich information about the themes embedded in certain films, but they do not allow us to generalize to the entire genre of romance movies. To date, only one published study could be found that involved a systematic content analysis of a large number of films. Johnson and Holmes (2009) assessed 40 top-grossing romantic comedies, coding over 100 romantic behaviors enacted by various characters in these films. The study provides a starting point because it demonstrates that there are indeed consistent patterns in such films. The researchers also made claims about overall themes in the films, but the analysis itself focused closely on behaviors and did not systematically assess the broader, embedded messages. To their credit, Johnson and Holmes (2009) attempted to assess the presence of two romantic ideal themes—―love at first sight‖ and ―one and only soul mate‖—but had difficulty obtaining reliability on those variables. Although admittedly more challenging to code, these larger themes may be the important ―take-away‖ message for viewers. The purpose of the present dissertation is to further this line of research. In particular, I will conduct two studies that explore the nature of romantic movies and their potential impact on viewers‘ perceptions. The first study will be a systematic content analysis of the themes or romantic ideals embedded in romantic comedies. The second study will consist of a survey to explore whether exposure to such films encourages the learning of romantic ideals in young people.
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Screen Media as a Socializing Agent There is plenty of evidence that youth can learn about various aspects of their world from exposure to screen media (e.g., Dill & Thill, 2007; Furnham & Mak, 1999; Hurtz & Durkin, 2004). For example, children can learn about gender roles by watching television. Dozens of content analyses show that television portrays men and women in consistent and genderstereotypical ways (e.g., Kaufman, 1999; Signorielli & Bacue, 1999; Signorielli & Kahlenberg, 2001). Moreover, a number of surveys and experiments have documented that exposure to sexstereotyped television is associated with the endorsement of stereotypical attitudes (e.g., Fung & Ma, 2000; Lauzen, Dozier, & Horan, 2008; Signorielli & Lears, 1992; Ward & Friedman, 2006) and an increased likelihood of performing sex-typed behaviors (Ruble, Balaban, & Cooper, 1981). One experiment demonstrated that exposure to gender-stereotypical commercials led to women expressing educational and vocational interest in masculine-oriented domains like math and science (Davies, Spencer, Quinn, & Gerhardstein, 2002). These patterns hold up in survey research even after controlling for a variety of demographic variables such as age and parental education. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 30 studies involving over 13,000 participants revealed a consistent and positive relationship between exposure to sex-role stereotypes on television and the possession of sexist attitudes (Herrett-Skjellum & Allen, 1996). Young people also can learn about race and ethnicity from the media. A number of content analyses reveal that the portrayal of minority racial groups on television historically has been stereotypical and derogatory (Baptista-Fernandez & Greenberg, 1980; Mastro, 2000). It should be no surprise, then, that in survey research among college students, heavy television viewing has been linked to the possession of negative racial stereotypes (Lee, Bichard, Irey, Walt, & Carlson, 2009). In addition, experimental research has demonstrated that when Whites
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are exposed to comedic, stereotypical portrayals of African Americans, they are more likely than those in a control group to rate Blacks as guilty of crimes (Ford, 1997). Beyond fictional portrayals, there is also evidence that watching television news can impact viewer perceptions of minorities. For example, Dixon (2008) found that exposure to network news was positively associated with racial prejudice, such as perceiving African Americans as poor and intimidating. This pattern held up even after controlling for demographics and for individuals‘ political ideology. Furthermore, in an experiment, Gilliam and Iyengar (2000) found that Caucasian residents in Los Angeles who were exposed to news reports about Black perpetrators reported more racist attitudes towards African Americans than did those exposed to White perpetrators. Thus, a variety of different types of television content can influence and activate viewers‘ social judgments about racial minorities. In addition to learning about social groups, young people can find out about occupations from screen media. Signorielli and Kahlenberg (2001) content analyzed segments of prime-time television from 1990-1998 and reported that, when compared with U.S. labor statistics, managerial and service worker positions were under-portrayed, whereas law enforcement jobs were over-represented. Research suggests that such biased portrayals can impact young viewers. For example, Wright et al. (1995) interviewed elementary students and found that heavy viewers of television were more likely than lighter viewers to have job aspirations that matched the glamour and stereotypes of professions shown on television. Furthermore, these heavy viewers‘ schemata of police officers and nurses overlooked the real-life negative aspects associated with such occupations (Wright et al., 1995). Media also can teach young people about the nature of families and family life. Greenberg, Hines, Buerkel-Rothfuss, and Atkin (1980) content analyzed 96 prime-time
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television shows and found that the most common type of family interaction was positive and constructive (e.g., shows concern). Research has demonstrated that such portrayals can influence viewers. In one study, for example, children‘s exposure to family-oriented television was significantly associated with their belief that real-life families regularly exhibit affiliative behaviors such as support and compliance (Buerkel-Rothfuss, Greenberg, Atkin, & Neuendorf, 1982). This pattern held up even when controlling for demographic variables and total television viewing. Taken together, each of these examples supports the argument that media portrayals can influence viewer perceptions about a variety of topics. From stereotypes about race and gender to beliefs about family and professions, the literature indicates there is a consistent link between media exposure and distorted perceptions of the social world. One topic that has not received much attention, however, is the media‘s potential impact on viewers‘ beliefs about romance and intimacy. Several theoretical perspectives that are relevant to this question will be discussed in the next section. Can Viewers Learn from Romantic Comedies? If viewers can learn about families and occupations from the media, it stands to reason that they can also learn about intimate relationships. This type of learning is most likely to occur if there are a plethora of messages in the media about love and romance. Clearly, romance is the topic of a great deal of media content. Popular magazines such as Seventeen often feature stories about relationships, giving readers information about how to balance their love life with the stresses of everyday events (Carpenter, 1998). For those who like to read, there is an entire genre devoted to love, called ―romance novels.‖ Television programming, and in particular soap operas, also features portrayals of romantic love. More recently, reality shows such as The
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Bachelor (2009) and The Pick-Up Artist (2008) are devoted entirely to the quest of finding the right relational partner. Finally, movies have long featured romance and love, especially within the genre called the romantic comedy. Because of the widespread availability of romance in media, it stands to reason that consumers may be affected by such content. One question we might ask is: what sorts of lessons are viewers taking away from the romantic comedies that continue to be so popular among young people? There are three major theoretical perspectives that can be used to illustrate how viewers might learn from such films: uses and gratifications, cultivation, and social cognitive theory. Uses and Gratifications Uses and gratifications is a perspective that focuses on why individuals seek out particular types of media content (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1974). The idea is that people bring diverse characteristics to a media encounter and make different choices about what media to consume, therefore exercising control over their media consumption (Katz et al., 1974). Rubin (2002) summarized five assumptions on which this theoretical perspective is based: (1) The use of media is purposive and functional; (2) People choose content based on the ways in which they feel it will satisfy current desires or needs; (3) People bring certain predispositions to their interactions with mass media, which inevitably shape their expectations about the content; (4) Social and psychological conditions, such as interpersonal interactions, tend to help determine how effective media are in satisfying needs and desires; and (5) The reasons people choose media dictate the effects of that use. As a theoretical perspective, uses and gratifications emphasizes audience activity and choice, meaning that people exercise control over their interactions with media. Instead of looking at what media do to individuals, this perspective
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focuses on what individuals do with media (Klapper, 1963). There are a number of different motivations that scholars have identified as reasons why people use media. Some of those include: habit, arousal, escapism, learning, interpersonal activity, relaxation, entertainment, reality exploration of personal identity, and a way to pass time (Bryant & Thompson, 2002; Rubin, 2002). Although these gratifications are most often applied to general media consumption, there is evidence that some of these reasons also can explain romantic media use. For example, both men and women report watching romantic dating programs for entertainment purposes (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). In another survey, researchers found that individuals who cheated on their romantic partners and felt regret for doing so were more likely than those who had no regret to express interest in viewing television programs that feature cheating storylines (Nabi, Finnerty, Domschke, & Hull, 2006). In accordance with uses and gratifications, these individuals presumably were interested in watching that type of content because it offered a way for them to explore vicariously facets of their personal identity, in hopes of reducing their feelings of regret. Further evidence of motivated use of romantic media comes from another, more recent study by Knobloch-Westerwick, Hastall, and Rossmann (2009). The researchers assessed selective exposure patterns among partnered and single individuals to determine what types of reading topics were most appealing for these two groups. Reading choices were tracked while the participants ostensibly browsed a new online magazine, with headlines such as ―Relationship & Marriage,‖ ―Health,‖ ―Travel,‖ or ―College & Job.‖ The researchers found that partnered individuals who were unhappy with their romantic relationships spent the least amount of time reading romantic content. The opposite was true for unhappy single respondents: they spent the most time reading about romance. Knobloch-Westerwick and her colleagues concluded that
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individuals‘ consumption of romantic media was based on their need to deal with their current romantic situations--unhappy partnered individuals wanted escape, whereas unhappy single people wanted hope. In line with uses and gratifications, these findings reflect two of the primary motivations for media exposure: escape and exploration of personal identity (e.g., hope for their future relationships). Another motivation for consuming romantic media may be the desire to learn. Young people generally do not have much experience in relationships, and they often have questions about what norms exist for courtship and romantic love. Thus, they may be especially eager to process romantic messages in the media. In support of this idea, one study found that adolescents often seek out magazine content to learn about romance and love issues (Steele, 1999). Similarly, a study of undergraduate students mentioned previously found that men more so than women, choose to watch reality dating programs because these shows provide information about dating and romance (Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). It stands to reason, then, that young people may seek out romantic movies for the purpose of understanding more about relationships. Particularly for those who are motivated to learn, exposure to these types of films could play a significant role in shaping young people‘s beliefs about relational norms and practices. I turn next to the theoretical perspectives that focus on learning. Social Cognitive Theory According to social cognitive theory (SCT), individuals can learn by watching others (Bandura, 1986). This social learning can occur in face-to-face interactions, but it can also happen within the context of the media. That is, individuals can learn new behaviors by watching models perform these actions on the screen.
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Social cognitive theory has its roots in social learning theory, which was concerned primarily with the conditions under which children imitated others (Bandura, 1977). Criticisms of the early theory as being too behavioristic led Bandura (1986) to revise his approach so as to incorporate certain cognitive processes in social learning: attention, retention, production, and motivation. In order to learn a behavior, the observer needs to pay close attention to a model‘s activities. Attention is partly dependent on the observer‘s cognitive ability, but it is also influenced by characteristics of the model such as how salient the model is (Bandura, 2002). Retention refers to the process of recoding observed information into a way that the observer can successfully remember the modeled event. Retention is enhanced when the observer is able to remember the modeled event by restructuring the information into accessible memory codes (Bandura, 2002). As for production, Bandura (1986) argued that individuals must be able to transform the observed activity from a mental conception into a behavior. The final step of this process, motivation, refers to the idea that observers do not perform or imitate everything they learn. Certain features can increase or decrease motivation, such as self-reinforcements as well as the reinforcements that an observed model receives for performing the particular behavior (Bandura, 2002). Over the years, research by Bandura and others has documented that there are certain factors that enhance social learning. For example, both children and adults are more likely to pay attention to and imitate models that are perceived as attractive (Bandura, Ross, & Ross, 1963; Hicks, 1965). In addition, individuals are more likely to imitate models that are similar to the self (Bandura, 1986). In one experiment on the effectiveness of anti-alcohol magazine messages, researchers placed college students in groups and asked them to read stories that varied the protagonists‘ level of alcohol consumption (Andsager, Bemker, Choi, & Torwel,
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2006). Andsager and colleagues (2006) found that identification with the protagonists in the stories, such as perceived similarity and same level of self-reported alcohol consumption, was positively associated with message effectiveness, or a reported desire not to drink. Another factor that enhances learning is vicarious reinforcements (Bandura, 1986). Viewers are more likely to learn and subsequently be motivated to perform a behavior when that activity is positively reinforced or rewarded than when it is punished (Bandura, 1965). In fact, one of Bandura‘s well-known Bobo doll experiments documented that children would imitate a behavior on screen so long as it was not overtly punished (Bandura, 1965), suggesting that the absence of punishment can sometimes function as a tacit reward. Although these features of SCT could help researchers understand the connection between media exposure and romantic beliefs, there is little research that investigates that potential link. One study, however, suggests that social cognitive theory has merit in this arena. Using in-depth interviews, Bachen and Illouz (1996) talked with young people ranging in age from 8 to 17 years of age to determine whether the media teach children and adolescents about love. The researchers showed participants various magazine photos of couples in dating settings and asked them to indicate which represented ―typical‖ and ―ideal‖ descriptions of romance (Bachen & Illouz, 1996). The participants were consistent in their descriptions, suggesting that there is a cultural model of romance in this country. Moreover, when asked to describe how they learned about love, 90% of the young people said they ―often‖ or ―sometimes‖ encountered love stories in movies. The researchers noted that, ―for them, media and romance are packaged together‖ (p. 292, Bachen & Illouz, 1996), and concluded that a major way young people learn norms about romance is from the images and storylines found in media.
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This dissertation is designed to further explore the link between media and romance by looking at the specific themes embedded within romantic comedies and by assessing whether young viewers can acquire beliefs similar to those themes. As a first step, the content analysis will assess various features in romantic films that should enhance viewer learning, according to social cognitive theory. For example, I will examine various attributes of the main characters in the films, such as demographic characteristics. Social cognitive theory predicts that characters with whom the audience can identify should increase viewer attention as well as motivation for learning. Coders also will assess the extent to which expressions of romantic themes or ideas are reinforced in the plot. For example, a character could react to a romantic theme or behavior in a positive way, by laughing or expressing verbal affirmation, or in a negative way, by showing disgust or even challenging the romantic overture. According to social cognitive theory, a romantic theme that is positively rewarded is a more potent message for viewers (Bandura, 2002). In my study, coders will record character reactions and reinforcements to the expressions of relationship beliefs or themes. In turn, I expect that the survey will show that viewers are more apt to endorse beliefs that are consistently and positively reinforced in movies. Social cognitive theory also points to what types of viewers may be most predisposed to learning, which has further implications for the survey. My prediction is that viewers who are demographically most similar to the majority of characters in these films should endorse beliefs that are consistent with the ones expressed in romantic comedies. For example, if most of the romantic themes are expressed by female characters, then I would predict stronger social learning for young women than for young men.
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In short, positive or negative reactions to expressions of ideals, as well as observer similarity with characters, could encourage learning among romantic comedy viewers. However, the theoretical assumptions of SCT point to short-term effects only. According to the theory, a young viewer who sees a model express a particular ideal about love in a movie may learn a matching belief or related attitude. In other words, the theory is beneficial in establishing a connection between exposure to specific types of portrayals and the acquisition of corresponding beliefs. Yet SCT does not fully explain the effects of long-term, repeated viewing of homogeneous content such as that featured in romantic comedies. A theory that can help tease out the complexities associated with this type of long-term socialization is cultivation, which I turn to next. Cultivation According to cultivation theory, heavy viewers of television are more likely than lighter viewers to see the ―real world‖ as similar to the one depicted on television (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, Signorielli, & Shanahan, 2002). Over a long period of time, viewers with heavy exposure will form conceptions of the world that mirror television‘s reality (Gerbner, 1969). Moreover, cultivation theory posits that individuals who have limited real-life experience are more susceptible to media influence than are those with greater real-world familiarity (Gerbner et al., 2002). For instance, some scholars have argued that the effects of television exposure on children‘s perceptions of the world may be especially potent because their limited real-life experience does not equip them with counter examples to media portrayals (Van Evra, 2006). Most of the research that supports cultivation theory has focused on media violence (see Potter, 1993, for a review). In this context, heavy viewers of television have been found to perceive more violent crime in society (Shanahan & Morgan, 1999) and are more fearful of
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being a victim of that crime (Shrum & Bischak, 2001) compared to light viewers. However, research suggests that the media can cultivate young people‘s beliefs about topics other than violence, such as sexual beliefs and attitudes (Ward & Friedman, 2006) as well as beliefs about body image and size (Gentles & Harrison, 2006). Despite the growing body of evidence in support of cultivation (e.g., Hetsroni, 2008; Rivadeneyra & Lebo, 2008; Roskos-Ewoldsen & Monahan, 2007), scholars have lodged criticisms of the theory. One concern is that the theory is too simplistic and does not explain how cultivation occurs (Hirsch, 1981). In response to this critique, several scholars have attempted to specify the psychological or cognitive processes involved in cultivation (e.g., Hawkins & Pingree, 1990). Most notably, Shrum (2001) has offered a heuristic processing model of cultivation effects. He posits that heavy viewers of television will develop and store cognitive exemplars related to television portrayals. The more they watch television, the more accessible these exemplars become. Consequently, heavy viewers routinely use these TV-based exemplars to interpret and make decisions about related issues in real life. According to this perspective, young people who watch a lot of romantic comedy films will be exposed to certain themes about romantic relationships. When these young people are faced with real-life romantic situations, they will access these movie relationship examples to help them process information and make decisions. Through this pattern of heuristic processing, heavy viewers should cultivate perceptions of love and relationships that are correlated with how romantic relationships are portrayed in movies. Another criticism of cultivation theory concerns Gerbner‘s (1969) assumption that perceptions of reality are cultivated by watching heavy amounts of television, regardless of the content. Yet research indicates that television content is not so formulaic and indeed differs
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greatly by channel (Lampman et al., 2002) and program (Eyal, Metzger, Lingsweiler, Mahood, & Yao, 2006). For example, certain television genres such as situation comedies almost always contain some type of sexual talk or behavior, whereas other genres such as children‘s cartoons rarely contain sexual content (Fisher, Hill, Grube, & Gruber, 2004). In line with these content differences, research indicates that exposure to particular types of programming, such as television news, results in stronger cultivation effects than does overall television viewing (for a review, see Huesmann & Taylor, 2006). For example, Romer, Jamieson, and Aday (2003) analyzed secondary data from two recent large-scale surveys about perceived risk. They found that, even after controlling for local crime rates, heavy viewing of television news in particular was linked to a greater fear and concern about the risk of crime than was overall television consumption. This work has helped scholars refine cultivation to include the effects of specific content rather than television as a whole (e.g., Perse, Ferguson, & McLeod, 1994; Segrin & Nabi, 2002). Consistent with the idea that content matters, several scholars have tested whether romantic media in particular can cultivate certain types of social beliefs among viewers (e.g., Perse, 1986; Woo & Dominick, 2001). For example, Alexander (1985) found that male adolescents who viewed soap operas were more likely than nonviewers to believe in the delicate nature of relationships and the importance of talk when handling relational issues. In another study, researchers found that heavy exposure to talk shows was associated with a tendency to overestimate the percentage of Americans who participate in certain relational behaviors, such as premarital sex and infidelity (Woo & Dominick, 2001). More recently, Rivadeneyra and Lebo (2008) surveyed high school students and found that heavy viewers of romantic reality television were more likely than light viewers to hold traditional dating role attitudes, such as the belief that
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men should be in charge and women should follow their lead while on dates. Clearly, there is evidence that screen media can contribute to people‘s normative beliefs about relationships. Several studies also indicate that the media may cultivate idealistic beliefs about relationships and love, often termed ―romantic ideals.‖ In one survey, researchers found that heavy exposure to romantic media, such as novels and films, was associated with unrealistic beliefs about intimate relationships, such as the idea that ―mindreading is expected‖ and that ―disagreement is destructive‖ (Shapiro & Kroeger, 1991). Similarly, Segrin and Nabi (2002) surveyed 285 unmarried undergraduates and found that heavy viewers of relationship genre media were more likely than light viewers to agree with statements such as ―you should know each other‘s inner feelings‖ and partners ―should be able to talk open and freely about everything.‖ This pattern held even when controlling for age and sex. More recently, Holmes (2007) surveyed undergraduates and reported that a preference for romance-oriented media was linked to an idealistic belief in the existence of predestined soul mates. All three of these surveys point to the ability of romantic media to cultivate idealistic or even unrealistic beliefs. Yet each study combined a number of different types of screen media content (i.e., soap operas, romantic reality programs, talk shows) into a single variable, and did not assess the impact of romantic movies independently. There are several reasons why movies in particular deserve close attention. First, as mentioned previously, romantic comedies are widely consumed (Hall, 2005) and commonly cited by youth when they describe their ideas of relationships (Bachen & Illouz, 1996). Second, much of the critical scholarship that has examined romantic ideals in media has focused on romantic films (e.g., Winn, 2007; Johnson, 2007). Yet there has been no systematic empirical assessment of the content of these films, despite the fact that some scholars suggest that idealistic messages are rampant in romantic
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movies (Harris et al., 2004). Third, unlike other forms of romantic media, romantic movies offer stories that trace relationships from the beginning to the end in one packaged narrative. That is, characters in romantic comedy films initiate, experience, and formalize their relationships within a two-hour time period. In addition, these condensed and presumably potent messages typically are viewed in a single sitting, which could boost the impact of their content on attentive viewers. In stark contrast, soap operas and reality programs on television often prolong the relationship arc; romantic relationships typically take several episodes, or even seasons, to develop fully. Moreover, romance is often couched in other subplots in such programming, as opposed to being the primary storyline, which could detract from the romantic themes. According to the tenets of cultivation theory, we should expect the strongest effects with media messages that are highly formulaic and have consistent themes about love and romance. Nevertheless, I located only one empirical study—an unpublished dissertation—that looked specifically and exclusively at the influence of romantic comedy movies. Edison (2006) asked 140 undergraduates about their romantic comedy exposure as well as their perceptions of romantic relationships. She found that compared to light viewers, heavy viewers of these films were less likely to believe they would ever get divorced and more likely to believe they would find love and be happily married. However, this pattern held true only if these heavy consumers of romantic comedies also viewed a segment of a romantic comedy film immediately prior to answering this battery of questions about normative beliefs. In other words, the cultivation effect was only present among heavy viewers who had been primed or activated by exposure to a romantic film. In addition to assessing normative beliefs, Edison included items in her study that measured idealistic expectations, such as ―My partner would do anything to win my heart.‖ However, she found no evidence of a relationship between movie exposure and these idealistic
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beliefs about relationships. Edison‘s (2006) study certainly suggests that romantic comedies deserve closer attention. However, there are several limitations with the study that could account for the modest effects observed. One limitation concerns Edison‘s (2006) exposure measure. Participants were asked to indicate how often they watched 15 different movie genres each month, of which romantic comedies was one genre. In other words, exposure to romance films was assessed with a single item. The problem with this method is that it forces people to try to summarize information about multiple instances of movie viewing. It also relies on memory of media behaviors over an extended period of time. Hence, Edison‘s measure of romantic comedy exposure may not be the most valid way to identify heavy viewers of such films. A better approach would be to present participants with a list of particular romantic films and ask how often they have seen each one. This approach, which has been used in other studies about the effects of movie viewing on beliefs and behaviors (e.g., Sargent, Wills, Stoolmiller, Gibson, & Gibbons, 2006; Song, Ling, Neilands, & Glantz, 2007), would also permit an assessment of repeated viewing of individual movies. A more sensitive measure of exposure to such films presumably would increase the variance in the exposure measure, and would more accurately capture true levels of exposure and attraction to these films. A second limitation is that Edison (2006) did not take into account that even among heavy viewers, individuals may respond differently to these types of movies. The uses and gratifications perspective, for example, suggests that people bring diverse characteristics to a media encounter and have different motives for watching (Katz et al., 1974). For instance, viewers who watch movies for entertainment show different effects from exposure than do viewers who watch in order to learn (Rubin, 2002). In addition, cultivation theory predicts that
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the strongest effects should occur among those individuals who have limited real-life experience with a particular topic. It stands to reason that individuals who have never been in a romantic relationship will be more affected by exposure to romantic comedies. In other words, the inclusion of such modifying variables would permit a more sensitive assessment of the cultivation power of these films. A third limitation concerns Edison‘s (2006) measure of romantic beliefs. Most of her items referred to normative beliefs, which are not the focus of this study. However, she did include five items that she labeled ―idealistic expectations.‖ Examples included: ―My ideal partner would do anything to please me,‖ and ―My ideal partner would be very romantic.‖ She found no relationship between exposure and this measure. However, these items are fairly narrow in that they refer only to one‘s ideal partner and they were devised by Edison herself. In fact, Edison (2006) acknowledged that her limited findings could have been due to the fact that the ideals embedded in romantic movies may not match those that she measured in her scale. Clearly, more attention needs to be paid to how media researchers should assess idealistic beliefs about romance. As it turns out, there are scholars outside the media realm who have paid considerable attention to people‘s idealistic beliefs about love. Indeed, there is a body of research that has defined and measured such conceptions of romance, often collectively termed ―the romantic ideal construct‖ (Montgomery, 2005; Sprecher & Metts, 1989; Sprecher & Metts, 1999). This construct may be a useful foundation on which to orient this project. In the next section, I will describe the romantic ideal construct more fully.
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CHAPTER 2: THE ROMANTIC IDEAL The ideal of romantic love has existed for centuries within the realm of Western culture. In fact, the word romance dates back to the 12th century when stories about love were disseminated by troubadours in France (Stone, 1988). The word romans is French for ―stories‖ and is the foundation for the word romance because it was first coupled with literature about courtly love (Stone, 1988). Today, the pairing of romance with stories continues to be a popular part of entertainment culture. For example, there is an entire genre of films that focuses exclusively on stories of romance—namely, romantic comedies. Some have argued that the one consistent feature of romantic stories in both literature and film is this presence of a romantic ideal (e.g., Galician, 2004). Indeed, the very term ―romance‖ is often defined in idealist terms in today‘s lexicon. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) defines romance with descriptions such as, ―that class of literature which consists of love stories‖ and ―idealistic character or quality in a love affair.‖ This definition suggests that the very essence of romance necessarily includes an element of fantastical invention or unrealistic love. The implication is that the term ―romantic ideal‖ is redundant, as all romance can be defined as ideal in some form. Nevertheless, scholars have grappled with how to define this construct. There are two predominant ways that researchers have approached the study of the romantic ideal. According to one conceptualization, romantic ideals refer to the types of traits that exemplify what constitutes the perfect partner and relationship (e.g., Markey & Markey, 2007). Researchers working within this realm typically ask participants to use a Likert scale and rate their ideal partner as well as their current partner on a list of descriptive adjectives, and then look to see if
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discrepancies exist between these two ratings (Campbell, Simpson, Kashy, & Fletcher, 2001; Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, & Giles, 1999; Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996). These discrepancies are often compared with certain outcome variables such as relational satisfaction or longevity. According to this approach, there is no a priori group of adjectives that is always considered ideal by researchers or participants. Rather, the definition of a romantically ideal partner or relationship is unique to each individual. In this sense, it is a definition of the romantic ideal construct with loose boundaries. Furthermore, this conceptualization pertains only to issues related to specific partners and relationships instead of to love, romance, and the relationship process more broadly. Thus, this first conceptualization is somewhat limited in scope. The second way in which scholars have defined romantic ideals is a more comprehensive conceptualization, as it is a collection of expectations about relationships and love that extends beyond individual partners. Here, the romantic ideal refers to a set of beliefs about what constitutes a perfect relationship (Bell, 1975; Knox & Sporakowski, 1968; Lantz, Schmitt, Britton, & Snyder, 1968; Sprecher & Metts, 1989; Walster, 1976). Instead of using descriptors to characterize a partner, the romantic ideal in this sense is a set of beliefs about the power of love and the perfection of romance. More specifically, it is a set of expectations for how a model relationship should form, develop, function, and be maintained. Examples of such beliefs include the following: love can overlook flaws; love can seek out that one perfect mate; love can happen instantaneously; and love can overcome all obstacles (Bell, 1975; Knox & Sporakowski, 1968; Lantz et al., 1968; Sprecher & Metts, 1989). This broader conceptualization of the construct is more pertinent to the present study because it pertains to shared beliefs that exist in a culture and that extend beyond individual preferences. Such shared beliefs develop and get
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reinforced by cultural institutions such as schools, churches, and of course, the media. Romantic Ideals in Western Culture Most would agree that romantic ideals are contextually situated. For example, the ideals for how a relationship should form and unfold depend heavily upon the culture. In Western countries, the ideals we hold are very much rooted in choice, passion, and destiny. In contrast, in Eastern societies, relational beliefs and norms are very different, often based on tradition and familial ties. An illustration of this contrast can be found in the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). In this movie, a traditional Greek woman and an American man wish to get married. The film revolves around the obstacles they face in uniting their two cultures because each of their families has different conceptions of love and marriage. Ultimately, the two marry for love and Western cultural ideals win out over Eastern tradition. My dissertation project focuses on the romantic ideal construct as it exists in Western culture. Past research has identified four main themes that comprise the romantic ideal in western societies: Idealization of partner, soul mate/one and only, love at first sight, and love conquers all (Bell, 1975; Knox & Sporakowski, 1968; Lantz et al., 1968; Sprecher & Metts, 1989). The following subsections define each of these themes in greater detail. Idealization of partner. When a person believes that his/her romantic partner is perfect, this individual is said to have idealized his/her romantic interest (Bell, 1975). Idealizing a partner means that an individual typically chooses to focus only on the good qualities, often exaggerating those characteristics, and ignores the parts that make a partner human (Bell, 1975). An individual who embraces this ideal typically feels adoration, fondness, liking, tenderness, and intense sentimentality toward a partner (Aron & Aron, 1986). Consequently, this person believes
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the partner is flawless. Romantic movies often feature this ideal. An early example can be found in the 1953 movie, How to Marry a Millionaire. In one scene, a female character tells another person about a man she likes: ―Oh, and he‘s a doll. A perfect doll.‖ In this case, the character believes her love interest is perfect, a clear example of the idealization of partner. More recently, in (500) Days of Summer (2009), the main character describes his girlfriend in the following way: ―I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how one eye is higher up on her face than the other eye. I love the scar on her neck from this operation she had as a kid. I love how she looks in my Clash T-shirt. I love how she looks when she‘s sleeping. I love the sound of her laugh. I love how she makes me feel. Like anything‘s possible. Like, I don‘t know…like life is worth it.‖
This example demonstrates the emphatic feelings a character can express when idealizing a partner. Soul mate/one and only. This theme of the romantic ideal refers to the notion that there is only one perfect love for each individual (Franiuk, Cohen, & Pomerantz, 2002). It is the idea that real love comes only once, can only be experienced with one person, and that fate and destiny work in tandem to connect true lovers (Bell, 1975; Peplau & Gordon, 1985; Sprecher & Metts, 1989). It is a reassuring belief for those feeling ―in love‖ because it rules out other potential possibilities and reinforces the thought that nobody else could make them as happy as their soul mate (Bell, 1975). There are several good examples of this ideal in popular romance films. In Jerry Maguire (1996), the main male character says to the female character at a pivotal moment when he is trying to win her back: ―You complete me.‖ The suggestion is that no one else could be capable of being the appropriately perfect fit for her. Another film, Return to Me (2000), features a man whose beloved wife dies in an automobile crash at the beginning of the film. 23
Throughout the course of the plot, he falls in love with another woman who coincidently is alive only because she received a heart transplant from his deceased wife. The film reinforces the idea that there is only one ―heart‖ or person for this man, and he is destined to love the woman who provides the bodily home for that heart. Each of these examples demonstrates how movies can perpetuate the ideal that there is just one perfect partner that each person is supposed to love. Love at first sight. The third major theme of the romantic ideal construct is a belief that a romantic relationship can blossom after a one-time meeting (Bell, 1975). According to this theme, it can take just a mere glance or a short conversation for individuals to fall into love. Consequently, this type of love is characterized by flamboyant passion and fast-paced relational movement (Sprecher & Metts, 1989). People who believe in this ideal think that it is perfectly acceptable for physical intimacy and long-term commitment to happen sooner than what might be considered socially normative or appropriate. Movies often feature the love-at-first-sight romantic ideal. In fact, a recent content analysis revealed that nearly 80% the romantic relationships portrayed in animated Disney films have love-at-first-sight beginnings and are depicted as easily maintained (Tanner, Haddock, Zimmerman, & Lund, 2003). This theme also can be found in romantic comedies. In Sleepless in Seattle (1993), the two main characters are strangers until they finally meet at the end of the film, at which point they look at each other once and instantly fall in love before ever speaking a word. In another film, Imagine Me & You (2005), a lesbian and a straight woman are portrayed as immediately and unexpectedly connected to one another by sharing intimate glances and emotional undertones at their initial meeting and during subsequent conversations. One character muses about love: ―I think you know immediately. As soon as your eyes [meet]...then everything that happens from then on just proves that you have been right in that first moment.‖
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This ideal is reinforced at the conclusion of the film when one character reassures her parents that she has known the other woman long enough to feel true love, saying, ―I knew after three seconds.‖ Each of these examples illustrates the ways in which the ideal of love at first sight can be featured in films. Love conquers all. The fourth theme of the romantic ideal is that love will overcome everything. According to this ideal, different values and interests are not pertinent, and financial, social, and geographical concerns are irrelevant. Indeed, conflict in the relationship does not matter for this ideal, because it is the belief that love will somehow find a way (Bell, 1975; Peplau & Gordon, 1985). The key to this theme, however, is the way in which partners believe conflicts are resolved. Instead of working through the issues and developing real solutions, the belief is that a couple ultimately can ignore problems and instead resort only to love as the mechanism for overcoming obstacles. This theme is the foundation of many of the storylines in many romance novels (e.g., Lee, 2008). For example, one content analysis of these books revealed that most of the stories trivialize the importance of safe sex to the point that the characters often explicitly tell each other that true love means never having to be careful (Diekman, McDonald, & Gardner, 2000). In other words, their love alone is expected to overcome the issues and concerns that arise from practicing unsafe sex. There are examples of this theme in romantic comedies as well. In the film Before Sunrise (1995), the two main characters live in different countries—the man is from the United States and the woman is from France. The couple meets on a train and spends one night together. Yet the film concludes with the lovers believing that their passion will win out over the fact that they live in opposite hemispheres. In Pretty Woman (1990), the main character is a wealthy businessman who is too busy for relationships. He meets a Los Angeles prostitute
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and hires her to be his companion for a week. Despite their obvious differences in background, the movie ends with the partners ignoring their social status issues and choosing to love one another as they forge ahead with their relationship. Notting Hill (1999) features a famous American actress who accidentally ends up in the home of a British bookshop owner after he spills orange juice on her. As they struggle to figure out their challenging relationship, she says in one scene, ―I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.‖ In her mind, none of the social status or location issues matter; instead, she believes their love will overcome all concerns and conflicts. Romantic comedies often use this insurmountable-odds motif in order to heighten the entertainment aspect and prolong the romantic adventure. The Impact of Holding Romantic Ideals The four themes that comprise the romantic ideal construct reflect an idealistic view of love. For the past 20 years, researchers typically have used a standardized scale developed by Sprecher and Metts (1989) to assess people‘s endorsement of such beliefs. The Romantic Beliefs Scale (RBS) has been assessed for reliability and validity (Sprecher & Metts, 1989; Weaver & Ganong, 2004) and used in a number of studies (e.g., Sprecher & Metts, 1999; Montgomery, 2005). In this section, I will review the research that has explored the belief in romantic ideals, including which ideals are most commonly endorsed, what types of people are most likely to hold these beliefs, and what impact these beliefs have on individuals who endorse them. Research indicates that certain themes that comprise the romantic ideal construct tend to be endorsed more strongly than others are. When participants indicate the degree to which they agree with each belief, the theme with the highest reported mean on a 7-point scale is love conquers all (M = 4.96), and the theme with the lowest level of endorsement is love at first sight
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(M = 3.19; Sprecher & Metts, 1989). This pattern has been replicated over time (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). Research also reveals individual differences in the endorsement of such beliefs. For example, studies consistently show that males hold significantly stronger romantic ideals than do females (Sharp & Ganong, 2000; Sprecher & Metts, 1999; Weaver & Ganong, 2004). In particular, men are more likely to idealize their partner and relationship, and to believe that love can overcome obstacles and can happen at first sight (Sprecher & Metts, 1989). At first glance, these sex differences appear to be at odds with the popular notion that females are more interested in romance than males are. Yet there is evidence that men are also more likely to behave in accord with such ideals. When compared to women, for example, men are more likely to end a relationship that appears ill fated (Rubin, Peplau, & Hill, 1981) and more likely to sacrifice a career in order to have a romantic relationship (Mosher & Danoff-Burg, 2007). Several scholars have proposed an evolutionary perspective for these sex differences (Ellis, 1995). They argue that men endorse ideals more strongly than women do because men historically have not had to worry about practical matters in relationships, whereas women traditionally have relied on men to provide food and shelter (Sharp & Ganong, 2000). As a result, women have had to base relationship decisions on logistical concerns rather than on ideals about love. In addition to sex, age seems to make a difference. One study found that middle school adolescents tend to endorse the ideals more strongly than do older high school students, even after controlling for ethnicity (Montgomery, 2005). Research investigating older participants has not reported any significant differences with respect to age; however, nearly all of the research has used college-age samples (e.g., Sprecher & Metts, 1989; Weaver & Ganong, 2004). To date,
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no one has explored how romantic ideal beliefs might change over the life course for adults. In terms of race, one study reported that Blacks and Whites tend to believe in the overall construct of the romantic ideal with similar levels of strength (Weaver & Ganong, 2004). Moreover, factor analyses produced the same four beliefs across both groups. However, individual items loaded differently on these four ideals. For example, among Whites, the statement, ―The person I love will make a perfect romantic partner; for example, he/she will be completely accepting, loving, and understanding‖ loaded on the factor of ―idealization of other.‖ Conversely, among Blacks, this belief loaded with the ―love conquers all‖ subscale. In summary, although both Whites and Blacks endorsed romantic beliefs generally, they differed in how they perceived those beliefs in terms of themes or patterns. Thus, the belief in the romantic ideal construct appears to fluctuate slightly by race and to differ greatly by sex and age. So why does it matter if people endorse romantic ideals? One reason to pay attention to these beliefs is that despite such idealism, we have a tremendous number of relational failures in our society. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there is a 20% chance that a first marriage will end in divorce or separation within 5 years (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002). The same report also indicated that 33% of marriages lasting more than 10 years will result in separation or divorce (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002). Overall, close to one out of every two marriages in the U.S. will end in divorce, according to a New York Times expert analysis of the National Center of Health Statistics on marriage and divorce (Hurley, 2005). Obviously, love does not always conquer all. Moreover, the cost of these relational break-ups is extensive. Divorce in the United States is an industry that generates $28 billion annually, with the average marital breakup costing $20,000 in legal fees (McDonald, 2009). One report showed that some divorces can cost up to
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$100,000 in legal bills (Dorning, 2007). There are substantial psychological costs related to relational breakdowns as well. One study estimated that adults spend a total of almost $30,000 in counseling and therapy as the result of a single divorce (Schramm, 2006). Another study compared married individuals with divorced persons and found that divorce was related to increased depression and anxiety as well as a greater propensity to engage in alcohol abuse (Richards, Hardy, & Wadsworth, 1997). This pattern held up even after controlling for education, parental divorce, childhood neuroticism and aggression, age at marriage, current financial hardships, and level of social contact with friends and family (Richards et al., 1997). In addition, children often suffer as a result of relational failures. Children of divorce are more likely to experience depression, increased anxiety, and antisocial behavior than are children from intact homes, even when controlling for a number of variables such as child age and gender, as well as parental education and income (Strohschein, 2005). Other work indicates that children of divorce are also at higher risk for poorer academic performance and physical health, and disruptive behavior problems (Taylor & Andrews, 2009). The cost of divorce, alone, on our society stretches from emotional to financial. Because these relational failures are costly to our society, any solution that may serve to reduce the number of failures would be a welcome find. For example, it may be useful to explore how holding idealistic beliefs about romance may serve to hinder or help keep relationships intact. As it turns out, research suggests that the beliefs people hold about relationships do have some connection to relational development and maintenance (Montgomery, 2005; Sprecher & Metts, 1989; Sprecher & Metts, 1999). Although the results are mixed, most research indicates a positive impact. For example, one study found that single adolescents who believed strongly in the romantic ideal construct also reported a greater openness to the idea of developing closeness
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and intimacy in their future romantic relationships (Montgomery, 2005). Thus, romantic ideals may help teens prepare and plan for relational life. Young adults also seem positively influenced by these beliefs. In a longitudinal study of 100 dating couples, researchers found that endorsement of beliefs were associated with several positive outcome variables. For example, at Time 1, beliefs consistent with the romantic ideal construct were positively correlated with feelings of satisfaction, love, and commitment in the relationship (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). With this type of correlational data, causality is impossible to determine. However, this same study also tracked these couples over time, and the results were similar. For instance, a strong endorsement of romanticism at Time 1 predicted a high commitment to the relationship at Time 2, even when controlling for commitment at Time 1 (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). However, this pattern held true only for men and not for women. This finding is consistent with the evolutionary perspective that suggests men put a greater emphasis on romantic qualities than do women, who tend to be more realistic and pragmatic than men are. Thus, romanticism often precedes feelings of commitment for men. Furthermore, the dating relationship was not likely to terminate when the woman believed in the soul mate/one and only theme, even when controlling for the man‘s strength of belief in this theme and the length of their relationship (Sprecher & Metts, 1999). Finally, for older individuals, this positive influence has also been demonstrated. For example, Murray et al. (1996) surveyed married and partnered people, and found that positive idealization in romantic relationships was associated with higher levels of relational satisfaction, in part because individuals often projected their idealistic beliefs onto their current relationships. Although most research suggests that these ideals are indicators of positive relational functioning, not every study supports this assertion. That is, there is some evidence that
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romantic beliefs can lead to negative outcomes. For example, discrepancy between a person‘s ideals and his/her actual partner can pose problems. In one study of couples, larger discrepancies are associated with lower relationship satisfaction (Fletcher et al., 1999; Ruvolo & Veroff, 1997; Sternberg & Barnes, 1985). In terms of the belief in soul mates, one longitudinal study found that a belief in growth, or the idea that relationships take work to be maintained, tended to be a precursor to a long-term and more committed approach to relationships than did a belief in destiny, or the idea that certain people are made for each other (Knee, 1998). In other words, it was a belief in the more realistic features of a relationship that tended to predict commitment over the long term. Another study found an even more nuanced result. Franiuk and colleagues (2002) asked college students currently in romantic relationships whether they believed in soul mates or in the idea that partners have to put in effort to make a relationship succeed. Belief in the existence of soul mates was positively associated with relational durability and satisfaction, but only when participants viewed their partners as their matching soul mates. All of this somewhat conflicting research means that there is an impact of believing in the romantic ideal construct, but the precise effects and parameters of those effects have not been consistently demonstrated with previous work. In fact, there could be other outcomes associated with believing in the romantic ideal. It could be that holding these beliefs leads some people to stay too long in unsafe and unsatisfying relationships because they use romanticism to overlook dangerous flaws in their partner, such as verbal or physical abuse (e.g., Kulkarni, 2007; Lloyd, 1991). Or, it could be that the influence of these beliefs changes over the life course of a relationship. For example, one four-year longitudinal study of newly married individuals indicated that positive thoughts about the partner and relationship were associated with higher levels of satisfaction in the short term, but tended to
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predict more severe problems over the long term because they masked the real nature of the relationship (McNulty, O‘Mara, & Karney, 2008). Clearly, more research is needed. Taken together, much of the research indicates that people‘s belief in romantic ideals is linked with positive indicators of relationship functioning (e.g., Montgomery, 2005; Murray et al., 1996; Sprecher & Metts, 1999). However, some studies find that under certain circumstances, such as when there is a discrepancy between ideals and actual partners, there may be negative implications (e.g., Fletcher et al., 1999; Knee, 1998). It could be that believing in the existence of ideals can help people think positively about their partner and relationship (e.g., Murray et al., 1996), or it could help individuals believe that they will marry just once, until death parts (e.g., Segrin & Nabi, 2002). Despite these conflicting findings, one overarching conclusion can be drawn—many people believe in romantic ideals and these beliefs do seem to predict facets of real-life relationships. Hence, it seems important to ascertain from where such beliefs might come. Although some scholars have suggested that romantic movies are a significant source for acquiring these beliefs (e.g., Sharp & Ganong, 2000), there is little previous work that has linked these films with an effects study. Are expressions of these romantic ideal themes present in these movies? Does viewing these films lead one to form romantic ideal beliefs? This dissertation seeks to answer these questions with two studies, and the following two chapters explain those studies in more detail.
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CHAPTER 3: STUDY 1: A CONTENT ANALYSIS OF ROMANTIC IDEALS IN POPULAR FILMS Study 1 of my dissertation is a content analysis of the themes featured in romantic comedies from the past 10 years. Previous analyses of romantic comedies have been mostly interpretive in methodology and limited in the content that was assessed (Johnson, 2007; Johnson & Holmes, 2009; Natharius, 2007; Nowlan, 2006; Rios & Reyes, 2007; Winn, 2007). Interpretive studies can provide rich information about the themes embedded in particular romantic comedy films, but they do not allow us to make generalizations about the entire romantic film genre. Thus, there remains a need for a systematic, quantitative analysis that specifically investigates the presence of the romantic ideal construct in movies. As noted previously, only one published study could be found that involved a systematic content analysis of a large number of films. Johnson and Holmes (2009) assessed 40 topgrossing romantic comedies, and used grounded theory methodology to identify relationshiporiented behaviors. Grounded theory is an inductive methodology by which researchers analyze content and develop conceptual categories, which in turn lead to the development of theoretical explanation (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). In their study, Johnson and Holmes (2009) systematically analyzed the 40 films, then developed 16 categories of discrete behaviors, and finally determined that these movies do feature consistent patterns of romance. In particular, they found that romantic comedies depict relationships as exciting, novel, and emotionally meaningful. In their analysis, Johnson and Holmes (2009) coded several behaviors that they argued perpetuate two idealistic themes – ―soul mates‖ and ―love at first sight.‖ However, they were unable to reach acceptable intercoder reliability kappa scores on those variables: .59 and .56, respectively.
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The Johnson and Holmes (2009) study provides a useful starting point because it demonstrates that there are consistent patterns in romantic movies. However, there are several ways in which my study improves upon their research. First, my content analysis includes data about the presence of overarching romantic ideal themes in films. Instead of focusing on particular behaviors, I chose to analyze broader themes that arguably are more relevant to the takeaway messages for viewers. Second, my study also assesses messages that challenge or contradict the romantic ideal themes. The inclusion of these counter messages provides a comparison point, or frame of reference, that more fully captures the diverse messages pertaining to romantic ideal themes expressed in these films. Third, my content analysis includes variables that measure the context in which these romantic ideals are expressed. It could be, for example, that romantic ideals themes are very common in romantic comedies, but that they are routinely condemned in the plot (i.e., punished). It could also be the case that romantic ideals are expressed primarily by female characters or even by secondary characters in the plotline. All of these contextual features in the story can influence viewer‘s social learning from such films. Finally, instead of first watching these films and then inductively developing a list of common romantic behaviors and themes, I developed my coding scheme in advance, based on existing interpersonal research on what people commonly believe about romance (Sprecher & Metts, 1989). I also utilized major theoretical perspectives pertaining to media effects—cultivation and social cognitive theory--to develop my coding scheme. Cultivation theory posits that media content often contains themes or formulaic messages that can influence people‘s perceptions of reality (Gerbner et al., 2002). In particular, heavy viewers of such content are expected to possess beliefs that mirror the content featured in the media, which is often at odds with real life. According to this theory, exposure to romantic
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comedy films may influence viewers to develop beliefs consistent with the themes portrayed in such movies. Hence, the first step in my content analysis is to ascertain what messages are predominant in the media content. Thus, the following research question was proposed: RQ1: How often are romantic ideals featured in popular romantic comedy films? To assess pervasiveness, I examined romantic ideals at two levels of analysis. First, characters‘ individual expressions of ideal themes were coded each time they occurred throughout the film. This level of analysis provided an exhaustive assessment of every ideal conveyed in a film, no matter how subtle or brief. Second, the dominant or overall romantic theme portrayed in the film was assessed. This level of analysis required the coder to take into account the entire film rather than momentary expressions in individual scenes. Collectively, these two levels allowed me to assess which themes are expressed at the micro level as well as at the macro level. In addition to assessing the pervasiveness of romantic ideals, I also examined how often counter messages were conveyed. It is possible, for example, that these films feature realistic or anti-ideal messages more prevalently than they do romantic ideals. Therefore, I measured how often challenges to ideals are expressed. A similar approach was used in the National Television Violence Study to ascertain whether alternative messages about violence were portrayed in entertainment television (Wilson et al., 2002). In that study, the researchers found that a high proportion of television programs contained violence (60%) but that very few of these shows (less than 4%) featured an anti-violence theme. To assess counter-messages about romance, I conceptualized challenges as any message that portrays romantic relationships as contradictory to a romantic ideal. For example, the statement, ―There are plenty of fish in the sea for you to love‖ is a direct challenge to the ―one
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and only‖ ideal. At the film level, a storyline that depicts a couple choosing to separate instead of relying on love to conquer their problems is an alternative message to the ideal of love conquering all. In short, a challenge consists of a more realistic, pragmatic expression about relationships, or a statement that directly contradicts a romantic ideal theme. To capture this type of phenomenon, the following research question was advanced: RQ2: How often are challenges to romantic ideals featured in popular romantic comedies? Given that the romantic ideal construct is comprised of four distinct types of beliefs in Western culture (Sprecher & Metts, 1999), my analysis also coded the specific types of ideals portrayed in movies. It may be that romantic comedies feature one of the ideals over others, or it may be that all four of the themes show up with relatively equal frequency. The latter pattern would help to substantiate the idea that romantic films are an important contributor in popular culture to the romantic ideal construct as a whole. In order to explore this issue, the following research question was proposed: RQ3: Which romantic ideal themes are most commonly portrayed in these films? Knowing which themes are most common is a useful starting point, but there are theoretical reasons for assessing how these messages are portrayed. According to social cognitive theory, observational learning is more likely to occur when certain contextual features are present to heighten viewer attention and retention (Bandura, 2002). For example, viewers are more likely to imitate a model that is attractive in nature (Hoffner & Buchanan, 2005). In addition, research indicates that social learning is heightened when the model is similar in nature to the viewer (Andsager et al., 2006). As such, I assessed the demographics of every character (i.e., sex, age, race) that expressed any type of ideal or challenge in each film. If, for example,
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younger characters are more likely to express ideals in such films than older characters are, we would expect that younger viewers would be more susceptible to learning romantic ideals. Thus, the following research question was posed: RQ4: What types of characters express statements about relationships in these movies? Viewers also may form expectations from such films based on who the targets of such statements are. If the recipients of ideal expressions are typically female, for example, then women who are heavy viewers of such films may come to expect their romantic partners to express such ideals as a normal part of the relationship. Thus, I proposed the following research question: RQ5: What types of characters are the targets for statements about relationships in these movies? In addition to demographics, I also assessed the prominence of the characters that expressed and received the statements about relationships. The primary characters in romantic comedies are the main couple in the plot. These characters have main billing in the movie and are used to attract viewers to the film. Hence, they typically are well-known movie stars who are highly attractive. In contrast, secondary characters are less famous and their physical attributes often are downplayed. For example, Zach Galifianakis is a comedian who plays a supporting role to Ashton Kutcher in What Happens in Vegas (2008). A portly man with a full beard, Galifianakis is meant to be the antithesis of Kutcher‘s clean-cut leading man character. Galifianakis‘ primary role is to be comedic and not romantic. In fact, he periodically makes comments about his desire to pursue Cameron Diaz‘ leading lady character, but his statements clearly are meant to be humorous, in part because his physical features presumably preclude him from being attractive to Diaz. Because of these differences in popularity and physical
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attractiveness, viewers are likely to pay more attention to primary characters than to secondary characters in the plotline, which has implications for social learning. Thus, the following research questions were advanced: RQ6: Are statements about relationships expressed more often by primary or by secondary characters in the storyline? RQ7: Are statements about relationships targeted more often to primary or to secondary characters in the storyline? Social cognitive theory also suggests that viewers are more likely to learn or imitate a behavior when it is rewarded than when it is punished (Bandura, 1965). For example, a character may tell his love interest, ―You are my soul mate,‖ and she may respond by kissing him. This positive reinforcement to the ideal expression can be construed as a reward and is likely to encourage viewers to learn the ideal. On the other hand, if a character says, ―We can make this relationship work, no matter what,‖ and her partner responds with a negative or punishing comment such as, ―Don‘t be ridiculous,‖ a viewer might be discouraged from believing that love can conquer all obstacles. Thus, the degree to which expressions of romantic ideal themes are rewarded or punished was assessed. Accordingly, I proposed the following research question: RQ8: How often are romantic ideals rewarded or punished in romantic comedy films? Similarly, I assessed positive and negative reinforcements associated with challenges. Accordingly, the final research question was proposed: RQ9: How often are romantic challenges rewarded or punished in romantic comedy films?
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Method This project is a systematic content analysis of popular romantic comedy films. The following sections outline the sampling procedure, units of analyses, variables, coder selection and training, and measures of reliability. Sample The top 52 highest-grossing romantic comedy movies from the recent decade (19982008) were selected for this study (Box Office Mojo, 2008). The use of top-grossing movies is a common approach among other researchers who have analyzed films, because it ensures that the sample is comprised of movies most watched by the American public (Behm-Morawitz & Mastro, 2008; Johnson & Holmes, 2009; Monk-Turner et al., 2004). I selected movies from the recent decade because Study 2 of this project involved surveying undergraduates, who presumably have not seen many romantic comedy films produced over 10 years ago. Using these criteria, the initial sample included 50 films; however, I added an extra week of reliability tests during the coding period, which resulted in an additional two films in the final sample. The list of movies included romantic comedies such as What Women Want (2000), Hitch (2005), and What Happens in Vegas (2008). For a complete list of films, see Table 1. Units of Analysis Expressions of ideals and challenges were coded at two levels of analysis: the SET and the film. In devising my approach, I relied heavily on methodology developed for the National Television Violence Study (NTVS; Wilson et al., 1997). SET level. The most basic unit of analysis for this project was each expression of an ideal or challenge. The unit was labeled SET, referring to the source (S) or character who conveyed the message, the expression (E) about love/relationships, and the target (T) to whom the source
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directs the expression. My approach is similar to that used in the NTVS, whereby violence was unitized according to the PAT: perpetrator (P), aggressive act (A), and target (T). Similar to the PAT approach, in this study a new SET or unit was identified every time one of the SET components changed. For example, if a character tells a friend that he fell in love with his partner at first sight, coders would identify this expression as a SET. The source is the character, the expression is the ideal of love at first sight, and the target is the friend. If the same character then expresses the soul mate ideal, a new SET would be coded because the type of expression has changed. I decided to focus this study on expressions that were explicit and easy to detect by viewers. Hence, coders were instructed to focus on verbal statements about relationships. It is certainly possible to convey messages about relationships through nonverbal cues. For example, a partner could spend most of the movie gazing adoringly into her lover‘s eyes, which could convey a message of idealization of the partner. Yet this type of subtle message may go unnoticed by a young viewer or could be misinterpreted. Also, including more subtle messages runs the risk of ―overcounting‖ expressions of ideals. Thus, I decided to code only those messages that were clearly and explicitly expressed in words by the characters in the films. However, I did make one exception to this for one of the ideals. In particular, the love at first sight ideal is often expressed via nonverbal cues in romantic films. For example, characters may enter the room, spot each other from afar, and engage in long glances toward one another, often with romantic or dramatic music in the background to underscore their strong and immediate attraction. In such instances, no words may be exchanged at all. Because this convention is quite common in romantic movies, I made an exception for this one ideal and instructed coders to look at both verbal and nonverbal cues in order to identify the expression of love at first sight.
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Film level. The macro-level unit of analysis in this study was the entire film. At this level, coders took into account content across the complete plot. Collecting information at this level approximates the overall message that viewers are likely to take away from the entire film. It is possible that the overall message differs from expressions conveyed in individual scenes in a film. For example, a movie may feature numerous challenge expressions about relationships at different points in the plot, but the film could still emphasize a love conquering all ideal because the two partners make a commitment to one another in the end. By collecting information at the film level, in which the coders make decisions about the entire plotline, my study is designed to tap the dominant, overarching themes in these movies. SET-Level Variables Nature of source. Each source or character that expressed an ideal was coded for demographic qualities. In particular, sex, race, age, and sexuality of character were coded. For race, coders selected from the following categories: Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Mixed, or other. For age, coders identified each character as one of the following: child (0-12 years), teen (13-17 years), adult (18-64 years), elderly (65 years or older), or ―can‘t tell.‖ For sexual orientation, characters were assigned one of the following: heterosexual, gay, or other (e.g., bisexual). Coders made their judgments for demographic variables based on the characters‘ visual appearance, mannerisms, names, clothing, and/or dialogue. The prominence of the source also was assessed. Each romantic comedy film features a main or primary couple around which the plotline is centered. Characters that expressed ideals/challenges were coded as primary if they were part of that main couple or secondary if they were not. For example, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts make up the main romantic dyad, or primary characters, in Notting Hill (1999). All of their friends and business acquaintances make
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up the secondary characters. In some cases, a film may have more than one romantic couple featured in the plot. In those rare instances, coders were instructed to choose the couple with the most on-screen time as the primary characters. As an example, there are four romantic couples featured in the film, Sex and the City (2008), but Carrie and Big (i.e., Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth) would qualify as the primary couple based on my criteria. Type of expression. Expressions about love and romance were coded as either ideals or challenges. An ideal expression was defined as any statement that perpetuated love and romance as powerful and perfect. These expressions offered a conception of love and romance as hopeful and idyllic, even in the face of adversity. A challenge was defined as any statement that contradicted an ideal or offered a more realistic conception of romance and relationships. Challenges typically conveyed a more practical or pragmatic view of relationships that is grounded in the realities of everyday life. For instance, a challenge would be identified if a character said, ―There are plenty of fish in the sea,‖ because this statement constitutes a direct contradiction to the ideal that there are soul mates. Challenges also could involve statements indicating that relationships are difficult or require hard work. For example, a character might state, ―Marriage isn‘t easy,‖ or ―If a guy doesn‘t call you, it‘s because he‘s not that into you.‖ Once coders decided that an ideal (rather than a challenge) had occurred, they were asked to judge the type or nature of that ideal. Ideals were coded into one of four categories: a) idealization of other, b) love at first sight, c) soul mate/one and only, or d) love conquers all. The development of these categories was based largely on the work of Sprecher and Metts (1989), who compiled relevant literature on the romantic ideal construct and developed a scale to measure the extent to which individuals believe in these ideals.
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The first category, idealization of other, was defined as any expression that indicated that a mate or partner was perfect, flawless, and wonderful in the romantic sense. If a character idealized another, he or she typically focused only on the good qualities of the partner or love object, often exaggerating those characteristics. Statements about idolizing another character, describing a love interest as ideal, or dismissing any negative qualities were classified as idealization of other. Other examples included: ―He is the most wonderful man I have ever met,‖ and ―Our relationship is perfect!‖ The second category, soul mate/one and only, was defined as any expression that suggested there was only one perfect love for a particular character. Coders looked for statements consistent with the idea that real love comes only once, that love can only be experienced with one person, or that fate and destiny work in tandem to connect true lovers. Examples included: ―You are the only person who could make me happy,‖ ―Things like this don‘t just happen,‖ or ―We are meant to be together.‖ The third ideal category, love at first sight, was defined as any expression that suggested that love happens immediately after meeting and develops quickly. For example, a character might state: ―I knew I loved you the moment our eyes met,‖ or ―I‘ve loved you since that first day you walked into my office.‖ For this one category, coders were instructed to consider not only verbal statements but also nonverbal expressions. In some romantic comedies, love at first sight is signaled by intense music and long and dramatic glances of attraction between two characters when they first meet. Yet words are never expressed. Thus, coders paid attention to both verbal and nonverbal clues when identifying this category of ideals. The last category, love conquers all, was defined as any expression that conveyed that love was the only thing needed to deal with obstacles in a relationship. According to this ideal,
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different values and interests are not pertinent, and financial, social, and geographical concerns are irrelevant. Instead of working through the issues and developing real solutions, a couple can ignore problems and instead resort to love as the mechanism for overcoming obstacles. As an example of this type of ideal, a character might state: ―None of that matters, I love you and that‘s the only thing we need to know right now,‖ or ―If we love each other, then that other stuff will just work itself out.‖ If a challenge rather than an ideal was expressed in a given SET, coders originally were asked to classify those challenges into one of two categories: 1) realistic statement, or 2) antiideal statement. A realistic statement was defined as a pragmatic expression about the practicalities of relationships. An anti-ideal was defined as any expression that directly contradicted an ideal. However, the coders had difficulty during training distinguishing realistic statements from anti-ideal statements. Whereas the coders could reliably identify that a challenge expression had occurred, they were unable to agree on which specific category of challenge was expressed. As a result, classifying challenges into discrete types or categories was eliminated from the coding scheme. Nature of target. Each target or character to which a relationship expression was directed was assessed for demographic qualities. Coders coded the same demographic variables for the target as they did for the source (i.e., sex, race, age, sexuality, and prominence). In some cases, the source expressed an ideal or challenge to multiple characters at one time. Coders were instructed to select the target that most clearly responded to the expression. In rare cases, a source was alone when he or she expressed an ideal or challenge, so coders were instructed to choose ―no target‖ for these SETs.
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Reinforcements of expressions. Each relational expression was assessed in terms of positive and negative reinforcements. Positive reinforcement was defined as any type of reward or endorsement that occurred in response to the expression. Examples included praise from another character, agreement from another character, a positive display of emotion from another character, such as happiness or excitement, and/or the delivery of physical (e.g., hug) or verbal intimacy (e.g., ―I love you) in response to the expression. Negative reinforcement was defined as any type of punishment that was delivered in response to the expression. Examples of punishments included rejection of the source (e.g., turning away), disagreement (―No, that is incorrect.‖), physically leaving (e.g., storming out of the room), anger, sadness, and/or physical aggression toward the source. To qualify as a reinforcement, these types of behaviors and actions (either positive or negative) had to be a direct response to the source‘s expression. In other words, the reinforcement needed to be in close proximity to the expression, typically occurring either during or immediately after the ideal or challenge was expressed. Reactions to an ideal or a challenge that occurred later in the plot were not coded as reinforcements. One important distinction needs to be made here. Simple agreements and disagreements by other characters generally were coded as reinforcements unless they were elaborated to the point that they became a new relational expression or SET. For example, if a character declared to his girlfriend that ―you are my soul mate‖ and the girlfriend yelled ―no, I‘m not,‖ the response is a simple disagreement and would qualify as a negative reinforcement (i.e., punishment). If, on the other hand, the girlfriend said, ―I don‘t believe in soul mates,‖ this statement would be coded as a new SET, a challenge statement, rather than a simple disagreement. In general, the degree of elaboration helped coders distinguish between reinforcements involving
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agreement/disagreement and expressions of new SETs. A nod, shaking of the head, or simple statement of agreement or disagreement was classified as a reinforcement, whereas the advancement of an alternative ideal or challenge was coded as a new SET. For each expression, coders chose one of four options: rewarded, punished, neutral (e.g., neither rewarded nor punished), or mixed (e.g., multiple characters present in scene who expressed conflicting reinforcements). Film-Level Variable At the film level, coders were asked to judge the overall relational message of the movie. Coders were instructed to take into account all scenes and contextual clues to make the determination, including verbiage, plotline details, and emotional portrayals. Coders considered all of the romantic couples in a film when making a decision about the overall message, while keeping in mind that the primary characters (i.e., main couple dyad) should hold the most weight when deciding about the general theme. Films were coded into one of five overall categories: idealization of other theme, soul mate/one and only theme, love at first sight theme, love conquers all theme, challenge theme, or none. In cases where more than one ideal was repeated throughout the film, coders were instructed to focus on which theme was the most prominent or focal message throughout the entire movie. Training and Reliability Six undergraduate students (four females, two males) served as coders for this project. The coders met twice a week for 22 weeks to learn protocol for analyzing the films, to familiarize themselves with the codebook, and to practice coding romantic comedy films not included in the final sample. Coders worked approximately 9 hours per week during the training
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process. Throughout this time, the codebook was adapted and edited as needed. Training of coders continued until they reached 80% agreement on judgments of practice movies for two consecutive weeks on the majority of variables. The choice to set the threshold of agreement at 80% is a consistent with established practices in content analysis research (e.g., Neuendorf, 2002; Popping, 1988; Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999). During the coding process, coders independently watched each film on DVD in a quiet room on a computer. Every DVD is broken into time chunks that generally reflect natural segments of the film‘s storyline, and these segments are called chapters. To identify SETs, coders were instructed to watch each chapter twice before moving to the next chapter. This process ensured that coders paid close attention to all statements made during short segments of the plot so as not to miss any SETs. After watching the entire movie, essentially twice, coders made a judgment about the film-level variable. On average, it took coders approximately 5 hours to complete the coding for one film. All coders used the same computer software (i.e., VLC, VideoLAN Client) to view the DVD movies so that the time stamps for identification of SETs would be uniform. Coding took place over a 10-week period. On average, coders coded two movies per week. Initially, I randomly selected 10 movies, or 20% of the sample, to be used for reliability testing. Unexpectedly, the first week of reliability coding did not produce acceptable kappa levels for a single but critical variable – the film variable— so I made the decision to add another week of reliability tests. As a result, I added two more films to the overall sample and redid the random selection of films to be used in the reliability pool. The final reliability kappa coefficient scores are based on tests from 12 movies (i.e., the 2 films from the first week of reliability tests plus the 10 films that were randomly selected from the final sample).
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Reliability was assessed at two levels. First, coders needed to establish reliability on the identification of units or SETs. Following a unitizing procedure similar to the one outlined by Cissna and Garvin (1990), coders recorded the precise minute in the film that marked the beginning utterance of each SET they identified. Reliability for this unitizing was assessed by calculating percent agreement. Each time a unit was identified by a coder, it counted toward the number of possible units on which the coders could agree. In order to create the percent agreement, the total number of times coders actually agreed was divided by the total number of possible times they could have agreed. For example, if five coders agreed that a SET occurred at minute 47 and six coders agreed that another SET occurred at minute 53 of a film, the total number of times they could have agreed was 12 (i.e., six coders multiplied by two SETs) and the actual number of times they did agree was 11. By dividing 11 by 12, the percent agreement in this example is 92%. For this study, the percent agreement for identification of SETs was 75% across all 12 films. See Table 2. Once the coders agreed on the unitizing, their consistency in choosing the same values for each variable was calculated. To assess agreement among coders, I calculated inter-coder reliability using Fleiss‘ Kappa, which is an extension of Cohen‘s Kappa that allows for more than two coders and corrects for agreements based on chance (Fleiss, 1971; Riffe, Lacy, & Fico., 2005). Across the 12 films, the reliability coefficients were as follows: source sex (.94), source race (1.0), source age (.98), source sexuality (1.0), source prominence (.95), expression type (.90), target sex (.88), target race (.97), target age (.94), target sexuality (.99), target prominence (.84), and reinforcement (.80). Reliability at the film level was also assessed using Fleiss‘ Kappa. The reliability coefficient across 12 tests for the take-away message variable was .72.
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See Tables 3-5 for a complete list of reliability kappa coefficients across each film and every variable. In accordance with scientific conventions (e.g., Neuendorf, 2002; Popping, 1988; Potter & Levine-Donnerstein, 1999), all but one of the mean reliability coefficients across films were above .80. Results Analysis Plan The results of this chapter are organized by research questions. The first set of questions pertains to the prevalence of ideals and challenges in romantic comedy films. The second set concerns the specific nature of the ideals and challenges. The third set deals with the context surrounding the portrayals of these ideals and challenges in romantic comedy films. Most of the analyses involved frequency comparisons on the amount and nature of romantic expressions across films. When appropriate, I used chi-square goodness of fit tests to ascertain if there were differences among categories within a single variable. Then, when looking at differences across variables, I used Pearson chi-square tests

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