Tuesday, January 22, 2013

UndieGirl talks Tropes: Fake/Pretend Relationships

Remember when Patrick Dempsey couldn’t get a date so he blackmailed a popular girl (Amanda Peterson) into pretending to go out with him (Can’t Buy Me Love). What about when Nick desperately asked Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes after his ex turned up unexpectedly (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist).  Or even when Easy A’s Brandon was so desperate to stay in the closet that he begged Olive to fake a sexual encounter... That, ladies and gentlemen is the fake/pretend relationship trope. There are a million other examples I could give but all that would do is reveal the absolutely ridiculous amount of knowledge I have about romantic comedy’s and romance novels besdies I think you get the gist.

This trope is excessively common in the romance genre but strangely enough it’s also found in the crime and spy genres. While it’s pretty cliché and often exceedingly obvious it can actually be a useful trope when employed well… if I’m honest though, I love this trope whether or not it’s done well. Come on there’s just something incredibly satisfying about watching two people be so oblivious to what we the viewers are well aware of – there is absolutely nothing fake about their relationship. Of course they don’t always end up together, if the trope is found in the spy or crime genres then things are just as likely to end in tragedy.

Basically what usually happens is that two people – that barely tolerate each other – are forced to pretend to be in a romantic relationship for some ridiculous reason or another. Maybe they’re undercover trying to catch criminals or one of them desperately needs a date to their ex’s wedding whatever the reason these two people that would never ever date (at least that’s what they tell themselves) are placed into a situation where they must act as though they are intimately attached. As you can imagine, hilarity ensues.

Over the time they spend together the fake couple learn more about each other, realizing that maybe they don’t hate each other as much as they once thought. At some stage they will be forced to kiss. The kiss will start out chased but then deepen passionately in a way that makes them both rethink their life choices. But the course of true love never did run smooth, because even after they have the “love epiphany” both parties are always sure that the other is still faking the whole thing. Eventually (hopefully just in time) they realize that no one can pretend that well, they kiss and live happily ever after… unless it’s a spy/crime in which case one of them will be evil and/or die (and let’s not even talk about the ones that involve actually prostitutes because I’m pretty sure that’s only ever worked out well once – Pretty Woman).

Of course it doesn’t always have to be romantic, sometimes the fake relationship is used to force the real romantic interest into action (nothing motivates a ‘love epiphany’ like jealousy). At other times they are covering for another relationship. Then there is the time honoured tradition of The Beard for all those guys and girls that are not yet ready to be outed – as seen in the example from Easy A mentioned above. Or maybe they are legitimately undercover law enforcement officers and not just a tired will/they won’t/they partnership. Whatever the cause or the outcome the premise is the same – two people are forced into a fake romantic relationship with someone they would probably not want to date (as far as they know anyway).

I’ve already admitted that I have a soft spot for this particular trope but that doesn’t mean it’s without fault. Although tropes can be fun, and they can be done well, it’s important to remember that most audiences are genre savvy enough to pick up on exactly what’s going on. That’s okay of course, we all love to watch or read predicable stories sometimes, it fills our insides with warm and fuzzies and makes us feel superior and safe… it’s a good thing – just not all the time. Of course you can also play with peoples expectations (that can be fun too).

Right so there are places I want to find this trope but others where it just doesn’t belong. For instance I’ll never say no to a rom com that employs this trope and it can be fun in cop/detective dramas (if used sparingly) and of course you can write me as many fan fictions as possible using this trope (seriously write it for me, it’s like crack). On the other hand this trope can be overused to the point where it’s just super annoying – I’m talking about things like those procedural cop shows that are built around the sexual tension between the two leads, where this trope is usually employed at least one a season.

The worst is when the powers-that-be use this trope to queerbait (or just to get a sweeps kiss if it’s two girls). Those fangirls sure do like those two cis white guys let’s have them pretend to be a couple only to have them scream NO HOMO at the end of the episode. They will only kiss if a same-sex pairing is both female and the kiss will be used to titillate one of the male cast members… which, as much as I love to watch the ladies kissing, is just not cool.

Then there are the implications of prostitution that are almost always laughed off as a joke if the one pimping themselves out is a male but if it’s a girl the implications are either ignored or have negative consequences (usually a reputation – I mean what kind of girl would degrade herself in that way). It’s these assumptions that mean that any girl who is offering her services as a fake date is clearly in need of rescuing (either that or she needs to realize that she actually wanted the ‘nice guy’ all along).

Also the reasons for faking a relationship differ depending on whether it’s a guy or a girl in need (there are exceptions of course). A girl almost always needs a fake date in order to save face because she’s still in love with her ex, (except not any more). Guys on the other hand generally have to have more practical reasons… it’s bad but it’s hardly any worse that all the other inconsistencies between the ways that the sexes are depicted in popular media. The good thing about this trope is that you don’t have to be sexist to employ it; there are plenty of stupid reasons for people to pretend to date that don’t degrade either gender. Let’s see more of that please.

I think I’ll leave you with one of my favourite examples of this trope. Before Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and the much anticipated The World’s End, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost teamed up for a little television show called Spaced.  Spaced was writted by co-stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson and directed by Wright. The premise is simple, Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson) both need a place to live but the only flat that seems remotely livable is advertised as for couples only. Despite the fact that they barely know each other the pair decides to pose as a couple to secure the apartment. Naturally hilarity ensues. While the entire series does not revolve around their fake relationship it is the catalyst for their friendship and the threat of being found out is a constant (at least through the first series anyway). Spaced is a perfect example of how to use a cliché trope well. Sure it’s been done but it’s still funny you just shouldn’t rely on it as the sole reason for the couples interaction.  

Well kids, that’s all for another bit of tropey fun. Do you like this trope or not? Do you have any examples (good or bad) of this trope? Let me know in the comments or on the Facebook page.