My TV and movie selections for the majority of my life have tended to be relatively juvenile. I love corny romantic comedies, Disney movies and basically any shows with 20-to-30-something actors playing high school students (Glee, One Tree Hill, or The O.C. to name a few). Recently, I've been making an effort to watch "real people movies" and "grown-up shows," a transition that was partially forced upon me by my boyfriend, who wants to hear me talk about/sing anything but the Tangled and Frozen soundtracks.
Through this personal cinematic transformation, I've noticed a trend in the shows and films I've been introduced to. It's not anything novel; in fact, it's so prevalent that I doubt viewers think twice about it. But I can't help being a bit bothered by the constant infidelity weaved through nearly every plot and the lack of discussion surrounding the topic of cheating.
Now, I don't want to seem naive. I've done my research. Infidelity is one of the most cited causes of divorce. According to research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, though roughly one-third of men and one-quarter of women report engaging in extradyadic relationships at least once in their lives, the numbers are likely higher due to the negative connotations of cheating.
Cheating is everywhere. There are dating sites, phone applications and many, many movies and TV shows dedicated to it. When I was growing up, I saw and overheard my friends' parents go through it. And now, I watch my own friends fall victim to it. And as a 20-something in a relatively serious relationship, this scares the shit out of me.
I recently sat in the movie theater with my boyfriend when a trailer for the upcoming comedy film The Other Woman began to play. Aside from the three women the male antagonist juggles (and Kate Upton's Baywatch-worthy bikini jog tastefully thrown in), my main takeaway wasn't the notion that cheating is wrong and immoral. Instead, I felt a strong desire to see a movie where three very different women get screwed over (literally) by the same guy, and they bond and become gal pals because of it.
Cameron Diaz recently commented:
"Everybody has been cheated on, everyone will be cheated on. I can't fix that, I don't know how, I don't have any judgement on anybody, I don't know how to fix the problem.
We are human beings, we are complicated -- you cannot go through life without tallying up a few scars, you cannot go through life unscathed, it's just what it is. It's all meant to happen, take your lessons, figure it out, move on."
I get it -- and I know it's all just a tool of show business. Being cheated on places someone at their most vulnerable, which is a very easy way for writers to garner sympathy for their characters. My issue isn't necessarily how common infidelity is portrayed in entertainment. It isn't even how frequently it's used as a tool to rally viewers behind a character. My issue lies in what seems to be missing from the dozens of films and shows that weave in cheating plot lines: a realistic portrayal of the repercussions such selfish acts induce.
Since then I've seen the movie. Three women were cheated on, and the movie still finishes with a feel-good ending where each one finds her own personal "happily-ever after." It left me relatively unsettled. They completely disregarded the pain, helplessness and irreversible damage that comes with an affair -- let alone three.
House of Cards. Scandal. Mad Men. Wolf of Wall Street. American Hustle. All buzz-worthy films and TV shows that allow us to indulge in a romanticized version of extramarital affairs. Yet there seems to be little to no consequences for the cheaters. This casual nature of such serious actions teaches viewers (many who are young and inexperienced in relationships) either a) that cheating is forgivable and not that big of a deal or b) that it's easy to get away with. By withholding some of the ugly truth about infidelity, we're allowing unmarried or uncommitted people to alter their idea of commitment and have a more fluid concept of marriage or monogamous relationships.
All I ask is to drop the taboo around the topic -- openly discussing it can be a stepping stone to avoiding pain or future mistakes. Maybe we need to accept a new, evolving view on marriage, but for now I'm still rooting for "til death do us part."