Sexual Tension as Plot Device

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Ta-Nehisi's tired of sexual tension as a plot device in television and movies. I agree that boy-meets-girl stories are kind of tired. But given the role that looking for love and for sex or maintaining relationships or marriages plays in most of our lives, I don't think it's really a question of proportionality in basic subject matter. A lot of shows and movies are about matters of the heart and groin, because a lot of our lives are.


But I think it's a matter of arc, intensity and balance. Not all flirtations end in consummation, much less a relationship or marriage. Desire colors inflection in the way we talk to people, the way we move around an office, and shape our days and weeks. Flames can flicker and die in days, or weeks, or burn on a low grade for months or years. Attraction can color friendships without ever being acknowledged or acted upon. In other words, sexual tension shapes our characters and relationships without being the sum total of them.

I actually think that's one of the main reasons long-running unconsummated romances, especially workplace ones, get audiences in such a lather. In real life, we refuse to acknowledge or speak aloud a lot of the things we feel, because we're scared, uncertain, married, confused. When characters consummate those attractions successfully, when the long-running risk turns out to be worth it, they're living out fantasies we've all had. They validate the idea that sometimes we'll be brave, and lucky.
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Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture writer with The Washington Post.

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