Or is it that journalists are desperate for material? Either way, there's been a spate of urgent verbiage lately both online and in hard copy, about how 20-somethings (because really, who cares about the rest of us) aren't dating the way we all used to.
I know - Stop the presses (No, really: stop them!). But things are different for young people here in the 21st century, right? Actually, even this premise has been thoughtfully questioned in a recent New Yorker piece by Nathan Heller, but anyway: The New York Times just announced "The End of Courtship", and this comes right on the heels of an Atlantic article positing that committed relationships, or whatever may be left of them, have been just about totalled by the prevalence of online dating sites and social media.
There are already some great pithy rebuttals to these pieces online. But I'm bringing all of this up in the context of yet another pundit informing us that the romantic comedy is on life support. Hogwash (as I pointed out a few weeks ago). Are you writing a romantic comedy? Then boy, is your glass half-full.
Because Dan Slater's piece (the Atlantic link, above) about how online romance is threatening monogamy is loaded with potential story ideas. Say... What happens when a guy with dating ADD, due to the constant flow of Availables already lined up on his iPhone, finally meets his match - but she has the same issue? Or in Alex Williams' "Courtship" piece, say she's a girl from the "dating" crowd, and he's a guy from the "hookup" group, and high jinks ensue when they cross those boundaries to...
You get the idea. Girls doesn't have to be the only show that's presently mining the ostensible confusion that's reigning on the contemporary dating front. Or rather, just because the small screen seems to have a monopoly on this material (see New Girl, and Girls with Curls Who Hurl, et al) doesn't mean you can't take advantage of what feels like a cultural WTF? moment for your rom-com feature-in-progress.
Gone are the days when a viable rom-com spec could plug in a "bad date montage" and consider itself relevant. We're in new territory now. What all these journalists are poking at is a sense that the age-old paradigm of date, marry and mate is no longer a universal given that involves traditional modes of behavior. Which means that the alert rom-com writer has a number of intriguing new wrinkles to unravel.
What is contemporary, in a romantic comedy? Well, a few lines from Silver Lining Playbook (congrats on the Globe, J-Law!) can serve as one example. Here's an exchange between Him and Her on their first date that's not your grandparents' banter:
Tiffany: What meds are you on?
Pat: I used to be on Lithium and Seroquel and Abilify, but I don't take them anymore, no. They make me foggy and they also make me bloated.
Tiffany: Yeah, I was on Xanax and Effexor, but I agree, I wasn't as sharp, so I stopped.
Pat: You ever take Klonopin?
Tiffany: Klonopin? (Chuckling) Yeah.
Meanwhile, there's definitely a Tempest in Teapot vibe to the prevalent punditry. After all, not long ago the New York Times felt compelled to publish an article on what contemporary non-married spouses supposedly call each other. So there may not be anything genuinely zeitgeist-shifting about these supposed disturbances in the romantic force.
But if you are working on a romantic comedy spec right now, you might want to lift your head out of your draft and see what's going on like, out there. Because even if it's in a great big circle, the culture is moving, and it's your job to keep up with the curve.