greenie_breizh: (<3)
[personal profile] greenie_breizh
OK this time I will spare you the ramble unless you want to look at it, so yay lj-cut! This is about Vanessa and Zac and how their story - what we see of it in public anyway - overlaps the high school sweethearts ideal of what love looks like. And just so we're clear - this is not about anything I've seen anyone or the fandom in general do, it's about the bigger picture and the kind of meanings that we as a Western society put onto relationships.

You can't possibly have missed that I've been paying more and more attention to Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens lately. Beyond my growing interest in both of them as individuals, there's something about the two of them together that's really grabbed my attention. I honestly have a difficult time understanding how people can think they don't genuinely love each other because you only need to watch them together to see it in their eyes. I'm not even being corny – there are countless of pictures out there where one is watching the other and there's pride and love on their face and demeanor to an extent that I think it'd be hard to manufacture it so often, in so many circumstances, in so many small ways. These two kids really, really, really care about each other. (I'm annoyed because I can't remember where I saw this awesome picspam of them looking at each other but this gif is a pretty good example.)

One interesting narrative about Zac and Vanessa is that they embody the perfect couple. They're rich, they're beautiful, they're successful, they've been together for four years, they started going out before they were 18. They're, of course, a heterosexual couple. They're – in appearance anyway – the very image of young love that we like to read about, that we put into movies, that we idolize, over and over again. And I struggle to find a way to express how much I love them as a couple, and how genuine they seem to be about their love and support for each other, and the fact that I have very little patience for young forever love as a cultural narrative.

I have nothing against young love per se. I think it's wonderful for two people to find each other and be happy with each other and to stay happy with each other for the rest of their life. I don't necessarily agree that you have to have lots of experiences before you settle down, that you're missing out if you only sleep with one person, etc. Sometimes it can be really stupid to settle down too fast, but basically young love is a neutral thing to me - it could wrong, it could go right. I think if you're in a committed relationship where the two partners respect and love each other and are mature about the relationship, you can grow together, you can help each other grow and you can support the other in being themselves. It doesn't have to be about disappearing and losing your individuality in the relationship. The thing is, though – it's a very rare thing for all of these elements to come together, for two people to find each other at the right time, to grow together but also in different directions without growing apart. It's extraordinary – literally – when it happens, and if it works for both partners, it's an amazing thing. But not only is it a rare occurrence, it's also not right for everyone.

What I dislike about the vision of young love that tends to dominate public discourse is that it's idealized. It's treated as something everyone should want, should wish for. It's wrapped up in ideas that we have about monogamy and commitment and true love and purity that get continually shored up as an ideal. It's often framed, consciously or not, as the better way to be. The problem with that is that not only is it ridiculous because it's so unlikely most of us could ever find that, but it also automatically diminishes other forms of pairing. It automatically makes people feel like failures when their relationship doesn't work out, or when they realize monogamy isn't for them, or when they haven't found someone to spend their lives with by the time they're 25, 30, 35. To a certain extent, it diminishes non-traditional couples, too, including same-sex couples... although interestingly enough a large part of the LGBT civil rights movement in the past decade or so has been about appropriating that dominant narrative to say, look, we're like you. We too have young love, we too have couples who have been together 50 billion years, etc. And I'm not more of a fan of that, but that's another rant.

Again, I think it's amazing when it happens – and that's partly because I personally see a lot of beauty in the ability to be a team with someone (someones), to work together and to learn how to grow with someone. But that's the thing about dominant cultural stories – I may think it's great on a personal level, but I keep feeling like every time I say it, every time I get super happy and excited about V and Z and how they are the cutest thing on earth (and they kind of are, let's face it), I'm adding my little pebble to this ridiculous mountain of promoting young heterosexual monogamous love over everything else.

Ultimately, for me, there is something inescapably different about celebrating a couple that's inherently everything society wants you to support, and celebrating the ones that are not. Just like I keep feeling that, in countries where marriage equality doesn't exist, it's not the same to call your civil partner your husband/wife depending on whether they're the same sex as you or not. If you're an opposite-sex couple, the speech act reinforces the status quo – because he/she could be your husband/wife, and nobody is going to question that. If you're a same-sex couple, that same speech act challenges the heteronormative system, it's an act of reclamation. I don't really think of same-sex marriage as the end all be all of the fight for LGBT civil rights, but it's still partially a radical act.

I realize that it's different, by the way, if you're talking personal life. Aka I don't feel conflicted about being extremely happy about my straight friends finding a partner they love and are happy with. Z and V is a different story to me because it's not just personal – their story, for better and for worse, is partially lived out in public and as such it plays into the construction of a broader public discourse. They're publicized and for the most part admired in a way that no non-heterosexual, non-monogamous long-term celebrity young couple is. Nor, I think, could be. (Who knows if there is even such a thing out there, but I think we would be surprised.)

It's not like I refrain from gushing about them a lot, a number of you know that. It's not that I think it's wrong to gush and love/admire them. I just feel ambivalent sometimes about loving such a straight couple, in every sense of the word and making it known, because I'm aware it's not just about me liking to see these two kids who are deeply in love with each other, it's about power dynamics and cultural meanings.

That's partly why I love every time one of them comes out and says they're not thinking about kids, marriage, any of that. I love that there is no doubt in anyone's mind that they've been sleeping together for a while (those in doubt, watch this video at 3:10 when Monique says they - the cast, of course - had a lot of firsts together). To the extent that it was something she did in private and should not have ever been shared publicly, I even like that Vanessa sent sexy pictures of herself - not that I think all girls should do that, but I like the obvious way that it jams the narrative of pure hetero perfection. And btw - I think the ridiculous amount of criticism and hate and shame that others put onto her for doing that is not unrelated to the way in which these photos destabilize the image of young love as immaculate commitment. I mean calling her a slut considering she's been with the same boy for over 4 years is really funny (in a headdesk kind of way) when you think about it, because it makes no sense, so there's obviously a more subtle version of the slut discourse at work here. Similarly Zac's quote about not wanting to get married before he's 40 (which sometimes I think means forever for him, lol) makes me happy because it is what society frames as the necessary next step to show that you are really in love and committed. But that's crap because you don't actually need the institution of marriage to be in love and committed.

My point is that I like that for all that their story is so perfect in so many respects, in some ways they're also resisting some of the cultural discourses around them and their story as perfect young love. That's also why I like that they don't talk about their relationship much, that there's none of that purity ring bullshit, that they don't comment on being each other's forever. They might be, and they might believe it, and they might tell each other that, but that's all pretty irrelevant at this point. What I like is that in public, they appear to be in love, but it's all in looks and gestures, they're not actually feeding the narrative of young forever love. It's their story, their personal private journey, and I can respect a whole lot that they try to keep it that as much as is possible when they're both under so much public scrutiny.

I'm not sure where I was going with this, to be honest, but these thoughts have been floating around in my head and I wanted to try and order them somewhat. I have a lot of growing respect and admiration for these two young adults, and part of that is how they've handled their relationship. Four years is a long time for most of us, and I can't imagine doing it with cameras following me everywhere, with people ready to start rumors at any occasion. There is undoubtedly something to be said about the way they have stuck with each other through so much, through the rise to fame, through the end of their teenage years, through Vanessa's nude scandal (insert eyeroll), and through much more that we don't know about. I just want to say that without incidentally making it about how this is what we should all dream of, about how this, an exact version of that, is what we want for our kids. It's one beautiful story, but there are many, many others out there, most of which we never hear about. And what we really should wish for our kids is for them to be happy, whatever that means for them.

As much as I hope that they continue to be happy together for a long time (as it seems to be what makes them happy), I think if they ever break up it won't diminish for one second what they had. It won't diminish their relationship, and it won't touch the way they smile at each other, look at each other, support each other, and love each other today. It won't make it any less beautiful or any less amazing. I wish we would think more about how the important thing is to be happy – to look back at a relationship, whether you're still in it or not, and be able to say, yeah, I was happy. I had an amazing time. How long it lasted, how many people were involved, what gender they were, what the rules were – that's not as important, or rather it's going to work differently for different people. But being happy, whatever that looks like for the people around us, I think maybe that's something we can strive for and hope for, and something that doesn't have to involuntarily reinforce dominant ideals of what happiness looks like.

And maybe ultimately that's really what I love about Z and V, far beyond anything else. They make each other happy.
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November 2011

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