The Importance of Strangers and the Exaggerated Sex Differential in Art

As Will Wilkinson has already written the post I was going to write, here's something else, totally data-free.

It has been pointed out quite often that art isn't a representative representation of real life. To mention only two things, Finding the Greatest Love of All and Getting Shot at are wildly overrepresented. Here's another thing: The finder-findee and shooter-shootee relationships are also misrepresented in art. But the reasons are different, I think.

In real life, if you're going to get killed within the next few months, chances are you already know your killer. That's rare in stories. If you think you'd get killed by your husband, you'd probably look for a new flat asap. Also, this is the kind of thing that you don't like thinking about. Much more plausible a stranger is going to attack you in a park!

Romantic stories typically have feature a heroine (more often than a hero) that meets a complete stranger and falls in love with him. In real life, people meet their lovers-to-be via work or friends more often than you should think on the basis of going to the movies. Why? Well, chances are that you already have a fair idea about who your friends' friends are. Mike, for example, looks really cute, but he has this annoying habit of scratching his ear when asking people questions. You'd rather meet Stephen Dorff by complete accident and run away with him than make house with Mike. In real life, you'll make house with Mike; that's why you want to see movies which feature "you" (played by Jennifer Aniston or Drew Barrymore) running away with Stephen Dorff (or Keanu Reeves or Ben Affleck).

Which brings us to my Theory of the Exaggerated Sex Differential. Romantic stories are overwhelmingly aimed at women, porn almost exclusively at men. If you were to judge women's and men's tastes on the basis of this, you might think that men care little about love and women hardly care about sex at all. Not so. But, to simplify, men already get all the romantic evenings by the fireplace that they want from their partners; women get all the sex they want. Hence, no need to watch movies in addition to that.

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