Gary King, The World’s End - An 18-year-old stuck in the body of a booze-soaked 40-year-old. Photo: Laurie Sparham
As epiphanies go, the ones you have over a head-sized bucket of popcorn don’t tend to seem as profound or noble as those that occur in the therapist’s office or over a beaker of life-saving medical research, but nonetheless I was hit by a “EUREKA!”-style thunderbolt when I was tucked away in a cinema recently.
I was watching The World’s End, and found myself doing the love-heart-eyes emoji face at Simon Pegg’s character, Gary King. If you’ve not seen the film, Gary is a hopeless man-child in a Sisters Of Mercy tour t-shirt who also happens to be a raging alcoholic and compulsive liar. This is significant because I realised upon exiting the theatre that Gary was a stand-in for many of the terrible choices I’d made, romantically speaking, based on having been bewitched by idealised on-screen versions of men who are terrible boyfriend material in the real world.
It helps (or maybe, doesn’t) that I’ve had a thing for Pegg since I was 17, but that’s beside the point; some weeks after watching The World’s End, I found myself dealing with Gary’s real-life counterpart. He was a binge-drinking British chap who’d expressed his desire to run away with me while lying about some significant details (i.e. the existence of his GIRLFRIEND), and who’d never quite got over Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. And while OMD is not quite Sisters Of Mercy, the rest was there, and it was a disaster.
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Given my obscure taste in men it’s unlikely that the success of The World’s End will see an uptick in single women searching for beer-swilling goth manbabies, but the internet (not to mention the scrapbooks and diaries of the past five decades) are filled with glowing love letters to characters who’d make appallingly bad romantic partners in real life.
There have been countless papers written about how on-screen romance has adversely affected the way in which we expect relationships to unfold, and of course we all know about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but nobody seems to be funding the research into why we continue to fall head over heels for film and TV dudes who are most unsuitable partners. (Countdown to a Men’s Rights Activist sounding off in the comments about how this is at the root of the Nice Guy’s plight starts in 5, 4, 3…)
Perhaps it’s because the on-screen blokes who would make good real-life BFs just seem a bit much: yes, ideally, we should be going after guys like About Time’s Domhnall Gleeson, but where are you really going to find a man who’d be willing to travel back in time repeatedly just to get you to go on a date with him?
Look, I’ve got no answers for you, other than to return to what relationship counsellor Andrew Marshall said about on-screen crushes: “The thing about celebrities is that they are a perfect focus for a fantasy and tend to fit into archetypes. A celebrity crush is a safe way of exploring the options you didn't take in life”.
Now I just have to work on that whole “not taking that option in real life” angle. Just give me a moment while I go put my Gary King poster in the recycle bin, I’ll be right back...