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Thoughts on the "Grease" phenomenon

I've had a number of things simmering on the back burners of my mind, and one of them is the "Grease" phenomenon: stories in which a socially conforming character transforms into something (supposedly) excitingly transgressive to make a romance work out--as in the musical Grease. The girl changes completely; the boy, not at all. (The genders can be reversed, though, as in stories in which a manic pixie dream girl stories transforms someone who's supposedly, or actually, stodgy or straitlaced or conventional into something marked as better or more exciting.)

It seems to me that this is obviously because in the minds of the storytellers, one character's stance is desirable and the other's isn't, and so it's right for the one with the undesirable stance to change. At one time, this led to stories where the love of a good woman converted a bad boy--she wasn't expected to become a rowdy lawbreaker; the transformation was all in him. That was equally tiresome. But by now it's switched so it's the other way around.

In any case, however the change goes, and whatever traits are favored, it bothers me when love is depicted as requiring suppression or erasure of characteristics that make a person who they are and adoption of new characteristics.

Love does change people, but stories that give me the impression that the happiness of the couple is based on one person repairing themself, while the other person changes not at all, are VERY UNSATISFYING. If two people are genuinely in love, aren't they most likely to both change in ways that make the love stronger? One partner helps the other get over timidity and learn to be more adventurous, and meanwhile the adventurous partner is learning the pleasures of close observation, which they hadn't done much of before when they'd been rushing from one adventure to the next.

That's the pattern I prefer.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2016 04:18 am (UTC)
Hear Hear! So well stated.
Thank you, it's a great reminder for me why I married THIS guy. :)
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:48 am (UTC)
I'm glad you found a winner!!
Aug. 9th, 2016 04:19 am (UTC)
Well said. :)
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:48 am (UTC)
Thank you!
Aug. 9th, 2016 04:52 am (UTC)
Yes - or the Taming of the Shrew. :( (Petruchio as manic pixie nightmare.)
I think the problem is that the other story is a long, slow one (i.e.which wouldn't fit in a movie-length). I'm trying to think of a successful example - a novel, or a very long television series, would have a better chance.

Edited at 2016-08-09 05:03 am (UTC)
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:45 am (UTC)
think the problem is that the other story is a long, slow one--Yes, I agree, and that's a whole different type of experience. You can't ask a fairy tale to do what a nineteenth-century novel can do.

With fairy tales, true fairy tales, at least the "bad" characteristics are broad enough that I don't mind seeing the change be all one sided... and actually, when I think of it, in fairy tales, characters don't change much. The simpleton stays a simpleton, but his good characteristics--kindness to strangers--earn him friends and allies who help him win the hand of a beautiful princess. The curious princess is punished for her curiosity, but she doesn't lose it, and her resourcefulness results in her saving herself and getting a prince. That's a more realistic model!
(no subject) - marycatelli - Aug. 9th, 2016 11:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 9th, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Aug. 10th, 2016 11:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 10th, 2016 11:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - amaebi - Aug. 9th, 2016 12:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heliopausa - Aug. 10th, 2016 04:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - azdak - Aug. 9th, 2016 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 9th, 2016 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - heliopausa - Aug. 10th, 2016 04:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:10 am (UTC)
I never did like the ending of Grease, for that very reason. Why should she be the one to change? Isn't there a happy middle ground? So unrealistic.
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:48 am (UTC)
Especially since they fell in love in a totally neutral situation where they didn't have to play to an audience--they know who each other are! I think the audience is supposed to see her transformation as liberating, but I liked her the way she was--and so did he, apparently--and don't like to see her having to blot her old self out.
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:10 am (UTC)
I think one of the things about this is what my father emphasized when I was a teenager: that love does change people, and that the people you love will change for other reasons, but not always in convenient directions. Too much of "this entire change is convenient for me" and the divergence from reality starts to chafe. You see a bit of this in the sorts of stories where a wild child has settled down and is now boring the spouse who thought they wanted the settling but finds they wanted the wild after all, but usually what it means is that change is only being represented on one axis, WILD VS. TAME, rather than an unconventional free spirit staying an unconventional free spirit but also becoming passionately interested in, say, pop music where their previous free spirit interests were entirely countercultural, or vice versa. One of the problems with our culture only liking to show the beginning of relationships is that the range of potential changes is not for whatever reason considered a fit topic for most stories the way that the initial rush is.
Aug. 9th, 2016 11:40 am (UTC)
One of the problems with our culture only liking to show the beginning of relationships is that the range of potential changes is not for whatever reason considered a fit topic for most stories the way that the initial rush is.

I think our literature *does* talk about this, but only when it becomes a problem--and generally only in lit fic. Hence the endless parade of stories of midlife marriage problems.

I think what our culture does have a problem with the dynamism of relationships. As you say, there's a tendency to reduce everything to one, or maybe two, axes, or to talk about differences as if they were all concrete and easily articulable, rather than vague and hard to pin down. And it's not just that people change over time, but that approaches to problems change over time. It's not a matter of just internalizing "we need to remember to talk to each other" or "my partner needs space when things are difficult" [or: "my partner needs me close by when things are difficult"]--you can't relax into just one way of dealing with things. And yet self-help relationship books will tout one technique as a cure-all for ever, and dreary lit fic novels about midlife relationship doldrums will present characters finding one solution. You always should be prepared to look for new solutions, because you, both singularly and as a couple, are always changing.

... In spite of what I said earlier in the comment, I do think a lot of stories do do what you say, and focus on the initial rush, and I do empathize with this. There are some series--ones that aren't particularly oriented around romantic relationships--that I've loved the first book (or movie) of, but then lost interest in as the worldbuilding closed in around me. I liked all that open potentiality; I liked where my imagination was free to roam, but subsequent stories limited that. And I think maybe there's something of that in ending a story right at the beginning of a long-term relationship. That initial rush can be understood regardless of how the relationship is going to grow, but as it grows, it's going to be a unique thing, and will probably speak eloquently to fewer people.
(no subject) - mrissa - Aug. 9th, 2016 11:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 9th, 2016 12:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 9th, 2016 12:28 pm (UTC)
So yes.

There is a Nicole Hollander cartoon in which a suited man says something like, "I want to meet a vibrant, independent woman with her own career. And have her give it ll up for me."

Edited at 2016-08-09 12:35 pm (UTC)
Aug. 9th, 2016 03:35 pm (UTC)
I can understand the appeal of romantic gestures, including gestures of sacrifice, but those are *moments*. You can't be sustained by moments. It's like wanting all of life to be shooting stars: it's a desire that can't go anywhere because that's not what life is like. And that's before we even get to the question of why a person should find happiness in the notion of another person's abnegation.
(no subject) - amaebi - Aug. 9th, 2016 04:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 9th, 2016 01:46 pm (UTC)
I think there is a very deep need for the Beauty and the Beast trope, that is, the dangerous man tamed by the love of a good woman, and while the variations are interesting, I never found them convincing. I think I enjoy stories where people play roles, but remain essentially themselves, or changes come from within. But the Pygmalion thing: not so much.
Aug. 9th, 2016 03:30 pm (UTC)
But the Pygmalion thing: not so much.

Yeah, stories where one partner consciously changes the other, Pygmalion style, are especially chilling. What sort of egocentric universe is it in which you totally design your partner! It's making yourself, and your own imaginings of what's right and good and desirable, bigger and more important than the whole rest of the universe, which just maybe has a thing or two to show you, if you'd let it. Shudder-worthy.
(no subject) - mnfaure - Aug. 11th, 2016 08:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Aug. 12th, 2016 03:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 11th, 2016 12:11 pm (UTC)
Thinking about it slightly more, I suspect that this is a variant of mating-as-rescue, and indicates whom the writer(s) think needs rescue from what....
Aug. 11th, 2016 01:49 pm (UTC)
I completely agree.
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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