Recently, I was asked about the movie, The Princess Bride. A co-worker – who had never seen the 1987 film which has been included in lists of the top 100 movies of all time – wondered if this was a “chick flick.”
To quote one internet reviewer, “The Princess Bride is a chick flick in the same way that Mount Everest is a hillock.”
While I found it “Inconceivable!” (inside joke for Bride fans) that this person hadn’t seen the Mount Everest of movies, I was more bothered by the automatic and rather dismissive categorization of the film.
Yes, the co-worker was a man. But we all do it. Our brains are designed to quickly assess things in our path, put them into what we think are appropriate categories, and either file them away for consideration later, or turf them as mental spam. It’s how we decide what’s important to us. And what should be remembered.
However, the answer to my co-worker’s question wasn’t a simple yes or no. Sure, Bride has a romance and a princess. So on first blush, it could be somewhat within the “chick” category. But you could say the same about Game of Thrones.
In the early days of television, shows were pretty cut-and-dry. You had your game shows, your comedies, and your primetime and daytime dramas, each with its own formula.
But as audiences became more sophisticated, the shows became more nuanced and less obvious. Archie Bunker wasn’t just a racist jerk. And Charlie’s Angels weren’t just bikini-clad detectives.
Okay, they were. But there were more layers. And today, the shows are even more complex. So does categorizing programs really make sense anymore?
Nineties comedy Murphy Brown went political and took on Dan Quayle’s comments about family values. Fellow sit-com Will & Grace highlighted the LGBTQ2 community on television. Meanwhile, Law & Order: SVU discuss multiple sides of numerous current social issues.
So now there are more specific labels: police drama, courtroom drama, LGBTQ2-friendly, graphic novel, superhero, family comedy, sci-fi, and the like. But do they aptly describe their shows?
For 15 seasons, Supernatural has been promoted as “fantasy horror.” I don’t even like horror. Or fantasy for that matter. Yet, I’m a devoted fan because of their mix of history and mythology. But mostly because many episodes were more comedy than anything else. Had I relied on the label, I’d have missed out, for example, on the episode where Dean mind-melded with a dog and started yelling through the window at a mailman and repeatedly retrieving a balled-up wrapper Sam tossed away.
Our descriptive categories certainly help people wade through the hundreds of options on television and streaming platforms. And changing labels isn’t necessarily the answer. They could re-label The Walking Dead franchise as a “Resuscitated Second Amendment Fantasy” and I still wouldn’t watch it.
But if we hold on to our old ideas about labelling our entertainment into basic categories, we’re limiting our viewing pleasure before we even turn on the TV.