The Oppression of Single People and Couple Privilege
I recently watched the film ‘Lobster’ which stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weiss. It’s an oddball romantic comedy which raises some interesting points about what it means to be single in a world where single status, and therefore single people, are routinely devalued. Although the world represented in the film is very different to ours, the commonly held views on singleness within it are similar to those found in our society. The movie intelligently demonstrates a point which I’ve long felt aware of: single people are part of an oppressed group. Although this is by no means a perfect film (it becomes somewhat tedious and unfocussed in the second half after a funny and imaginative start), I think it is worth watching for its critique of modern relationships and attitudes towards being single.
Farrell plays the main character in the movie, who finds himself newly single when his partner leaves him for another lover. This means he must go and stay in a hotel where he has to find a new partner in approximately one month or he will be turned into an animal of his choice. His personal preference, if his endeavours to partner-up fail, is that he is turned into a lobster (because he likes the sea and lobsters are very fertile amongst some other carefully thought out reasons). Although this premise may seem absurd it immediately highlights some truths about being single, one being that you are only given a small window of time where it will be viewed as acceptable for you to remain single after the loss of a partner (regardless of how this loss occurs). Whilst in reality the time frame is longer than a month there is no denying that that there is stigma attached to staying single past a certain stretch of time. For most people this amount of time is probably more realistically a few months, at the most a year.
The fact that people in the film are turned into an animal if they haven’t found a new love after a month or so has elapsed, accurately symbolises how single people are othered and dehumanised for not following societal norms and coupling up. It might sound a bit strong to say single people are dehumanized but after spending some significant time overall being single in my life, I’d say that it’s a fair description. All oppressions work on the premise that some people, based on a particular aspect of their identity, are seen as less human than others and therefore less worthy. People from oppressed groups are often compared to animals and this forms the basis of their oppression. Single people are seen as ‘less human’ because not being part of a couple is often seen as a personal failure and a sign that something must be amiss with you. You must be ‘damaged goods’, inferior and/ or somehow undesirable. If it’s your personal choice to be single that doesn’t make the situation any better. In my personal experience people have always really struggled to accept it if I have said that I enjoyed being single, or that it was what I thought I needed. To say that being single is your preference is frequently viewed in modern society as deviant, particularly for women whom many assume are entirely relationship-focussed all of the time. The bottom line is that being a single person is often not viewed as normal or acceptable and therefore is seen as non-human. The stigma increases with age.
Farrell’s character in the film soon realises his chances of meeting a beneficial match are slim, so he decides to attempt to form a relationship with a woman who is well-known for being heartless. He feels this is better than being turned into an animal. He will pretend to be like her and to get along with her in order to save himself. Again this happens in reality where people enter relationships that are not right for them in order to ‘save themselves’ from the lack of social status that comes with being single. The pressure to be part of a couple does mean at times that people end up in relationships they don’t really want or need. In order to avoid societal stigma some people feel compelled to make bad relationship choices. If there was less stigma about being single, people would be able to decide with a clearer mind whether they were in relationships for the right reasons.
Whilst staying at the hotel, all the single guests in the film are expected to go on hunting sessions where they can hunt other single people who have rebelled against enforced coupledom and are, as a result, living in the wild. This activity helps the single hotel guests to gain more time to find a partner, depending on how well they perform. It also encourages their hatred and fear of being single. This part of the film reminds us of how oppressed groups can come to internalize oppression for survival and as a result turn on other people from the same oppressed group. Yes, even single people do at times police each other’s relationship statuses and oppress one another.
Other hotel activities in the film involve presentations on the dangers of single life (you are safer in a couple, for example your partner could save you if were choking on some food), dances, sports and other leisure activities, which are inevitably fraught with anxiety due to the pressure to quickly find love. Once guests find a partner they have to prove that their new relationships are real, then they will access a range of privileges including a yacht.
Whilst I’m not trying to say being in a relationship doesn’t come with its own disadvantages and burdens, arguably an array of privileges do open up for people who move from single to couple status in real-life. These are couple privileges and it’s not just single people who are excluded from these privileges. People in polyamory relationships or any kind of relationship which is not socially approved are also exempt from these privileges as well. They mainly manifest in legal, financial and social advantages.
Here are a few examples of couple privilege:
- Your relationship status is seen as more valid and important than other types, and as a result you personally will be seen as more important
- You’ll find better and more varied representation of people of your relationship status in the media
- Your family and friends are more likely to be uncritical of your relationship status
- You can be open about your relationship status without fearing ridicule or shaming
- You won’t have to justify your relationship status to people all the time
Let me know if you can think of any examples of couple privilege. It’s a new concept for me and I couldn’t find much writing on it. I’d love to hear your feedback.
I won’t describe any more of the film as I don’t want to give too much of it away for the people who may watch it. It is certainly unlike anything else I have seen for a while and a very original idea. I remember several laugh out loud moments. Farrell overall is excellent, while Weiss left little impression on me as his love interest. Other good turns are provided by Olivia Coman, Ben Wishaw and Ashley Jenson. The film reminded me of Wes Anderson’s works so if you enjoy his movies ‘Lobster’ may well appeal to you.
Lobster is written by Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos, and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. 2015, (Rated 15: 118 minutes).
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