I challenge you to think about your favorite book or movie. What are some characteristics that make it your favorite? How would you describe it to your friends? Is it funny, intense, intriguing? What would you say about the character development? Are the characters easy to connect with? Relatable?
In reading “The Scourge of ‘Relatability’” by Rebecca Mead, many interesting points are brought up about reliability in films and novels. According to the article, many would agree that one defining characteristic of a “good” verses a “bad” movie or book is how relatable it is. For example, critics will rave about movies that are easy to connect with, that tug on our heartstrings, such as those with romance. The article uses the example of movies based off of John Green books. Which the overall theme of young love is always present. An example from class is the movie, The Breakfast Club. Many of us have been through high school, and have seen the different groups with their specific interests. Maybe we haven’t met people from other groups while sitting in detention, but we can relate to the students and their personal stories. Many of the themes within the movie we can connect with, such as the pressure of social acceptance, the high expectations of authority figures, or the task of trying to define yourself. This movie has stood the test of time, and personally I think it is due to the relatability of the characters and their situations. Personally, I agree that many of the books and movies I enjoy are those that are in someway relatable to my life. In being able to, not only be sympathetic with the characters, but also empathetic you as the reader or viewer are able to establish a deep relationship with the characters.
This being said, Mead does present an interesting point. The characteristic of “relatability” is relatively new. The word “relate” has changed meanings over the years. Specifically, Mead brings up how during “Shakespearean time” relate meant “something that could be told” or “connected to another thing”. Recently, the meaning has been transformed into more of a personal definition. We say things are relatable when the reader or viewer can see themselves and empathize with the character or situation.
As much as we enjoy the feeling of connectedness through movies and books, aren’t there some times when we enjoy ones we don’t connect with, just as much? Mead argues that fabricating “relatability” as a criteria for some work to be “good” is very limiting. To an extent I disagree, however I do also agree with this. As an audience, we can’t always connect to the situation, but rather the circumstances may provoke us to see something in a different light, or to learn about a new experience. An illustration of this is Incidence in the Life of a Slave Girl. Jacobs writes this book with the correct notion that her audience would not be able to directly connect with her experiences. Sure, to an extent we can sympathize with her, but we will never truly know the horrendous predicaments she describes. We cannot say we have been treated maliciously as a slave, whipped, beaten, sexually abused. Despite not being able to directly relate with Jacobs, many (including myself) found this book to be “good”. Although it wasn’t “relatable” it was very thought provoking and eye opening.
Mead’s article looks at “relatability” in a completely negative way. I agree with her point, that sometimes relatability isn’t everything and that we cannot always judge the quality of a work by how much we connect with it. However, relatability is not a negative thing either. In saying this, we should be wary of how quick we are to judge a work and shouldn’t base our opinions on merely the “relatability” of it.