500 Days of Media Misrepresentation
500 Days of Summer, a 2004 film by Marc Webb, may first appear similar to every other romance movie. However, as the narrator points out in the introduction, “This is a story of boy meets girl, but you should know upfront, this is not a love story.” This film presents an interesting balance between your typical love story and a counter-message which contradicts the generic portrayal of love in the media. As Louis Giannetti states in Understanding Movies, “Virtually every movie presents us with role models, ideal ways of behaving, negative traits, and an implied morality based on the filmmaker’s sense of right and wrong” (Giannetti 403). 500 Days of Summer contains the typical message that love means everything, but also presents a theme of independence.
Zooey Deschanel’s character, Summer, does not fit the “damsel in distress” mold of most female characters in romances. She states “I just don't feel comfortable being anyone's girlfriend. I don't actually feel comfortable being anyone's anything.” Throughout the film, she attempts to maintain a “casual” yet intimate relationship with Tom. In addition, Tom’s little sister responds to his affinity for Summer with, “Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate.” Statements such as these counteract the typical message that finding love is the most important task in life.
On the other hand, 500 Days of Summer contains many of the common stereotypes found in romance movies. Tom, convinced that he can’t be happy until he finds love, states that Summer makes him feel “like anything's possible, or like life is worth it.” Even Summer, after refusing to commit to a relationship with Tom, ends up finding happiness in another man.
500 Days of Summer includes elements that counter-act the concept of love equating to happiness. However, according to The Representations Project’s test, the film only contains a “C” level of representation. The film receives only two points in the category for “women” and none in the sections for “People with Disabilities” and “LGBT People.” With a total of 6 points from all of the sections, 500 Days of Summer receives a representation score of a “C.”
500 Days of Summer definitely suffers in the “Women” section. The protagonist is a man, and Summer is made into the antagonist for not wanting a boyfriend. The film includes a women of color briefly in several scenes, but she is not a main character. Additionally, the film does not pass the Bechdel test. Two women never speak to each other about anything besides a man. In fact, two women do not interact at all throughout the entire movie. Summer only speaks to men.
On the other hand, 500 Days of Summer successfully represents diversity in men. The film does not glorify violent men, but encourages creativity and intelligence. Additionally, it does not perpetuate unhealthy body ideals for men, and includes characters of color in a speaking role. However, the movie does not contain any men in non-stereotypical roles such as a caregiver.
Although 500 Days of Summer avoids entertaining offensive racial, ethnic, or cultural stereotypes, it contains no representation for LGBT people or people with disabilities. As far as I could tell, none of the characters are LGBT or have a disability. In addition, the film was both written and directed by white males.
With the points for each section combined, 500 Days of Summer receives a representation score of a C. In my opinion, the film deserved this low score due to its lack of diversity. As Louis Giannetti says in Understanding Movies, “Since ancient times, critics have discussed art as having a double function: to teach and to provide with pleasure” (Giannetti 403). Although 500 Days of Summer provides an entertaining story, it fails to teach the qualities of acceptance and justice. Instead, it reinforces the already skewed views of society by excluding women, LGBT people, and people with disabilities.
500 Days of Summer lacks representation mainly in the category of women. This absence of representation, combined with the film’s subliminal message that a person can’t be happy until they find love, create a dangerous concept. 500 Days of Summer sends the message that a women’s value lies in her ability to fall in love with a man and make him happy, and that she can only find happiness through love. As Lisa Ling states in the movie Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Kimberlee Acquaro, “As a culture, women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure and always looking for the time when that knight on a horse will come and rescue us or provide for us.” Although cute and entertaining, 500 Days of Summer reinforces this concept. According to Katie Couric in Miss Representation, “The media can be an instrument of change, it can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds.” Unfortunately, 500 Days of Summer falls into the category of maintaining the status quo. In regards to it’s lack of representation, I give the film two out of five pickles.