Saturday, June 27, 2020

Love Me (2014) Documentary Discussion

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Love Me
USA, 93 min.
Directed by Jonathon Narducci

       “Love Me” is a delightful documentary that follows four Western men, Travis Needham, Eric Ireton, Bobby Cannon and Ron Kirby on a painful yet hopeful quest for love...or they thought they were on a quest for love. When the interviewer asked the men at the beginning of the documentary to define love, the men at first seemed cynical and grappled with answers but soon idealistic definitions of love began to flow. One man defined love as “When you can look in each other’s eyes and just know they’re gonna- she’s gonna be there for you.” Another defined love as “It’s that feeling of I can’t live without her. Don’t want to live without her.” While another man described love as, “You wanna be with someone, take care of someone, be close with someone”. These were definitions of love that could only flourish in a utopia or with determined couples with large amount of awareness of themselves and their environment. Then I realized a secret to the success of the featured mail order bride service, A Foreign Affair with the tag line “where true love knows no boundaries”. A secret was the men’s refusal to perceive society for what it is and their ignorance of how members of society organize themselves socially. Usually these codes of organization are based on ideals which are directly opposed to idealized versions of love. In fact, much of society organize themselves on ideals more aligned with resource acquisition and status. Most importantly was the men's unyielding inability to be honest about themselves and what they are truly looking for. All of these conditions lead to the men maintaining unrealistic expectations, which in turn create the perfect conditions for A Foreign Affair to profit handsomely.

       The idealistic definitions mentioned in the beginning of the movie faded into the background the further these men were away from America. While at the location, Ukraine, where they were to find love, these idealistic definitions were ironically supplanted with the age-old pursuit of beautiful women. The men recanted with nervous excitement of their newfound access to beautiful women. The first qualities Cannon stated in his search for a bride were based on appearance. He specifications pinpointed, “women that have black hair, blue eyes.” It appeared to me that beauty, esteem, status, sexuality, fun and a big party grew to become the object of their pursuit in lieu of love for most of the men. Kirby, who was apprehensive about dancing due to his Southern Baptist upbringing, debated with the interviewer on he whether dance but when an attractive women walked by he sized her up and declared, “If I find the right one, I might,” suggesting that a beautiful woman might have the power to change his stance to dance. 

       The dating service website, A Foreign Affair, has helped to promote the idea that Ukrainian women care more about family than work and the men fed into this idea without abandon. Per usual, instead of genuinely engaging with the society in which they live, they have ignored how history has shaped how American and Ukrainian society function. For example, it is not necessarily feminism that is the cause of American women being introduced to the world of work but instead World War II. Housewives were being implored from all angles to help with the war effort. If Ukrainian women had experienced similar conditions as American women, then Ukrainian women may have organized themselves and how they express their values more similarly to American women. In addition, the economy in the Ukraine is simply not as robust as America. According to the International Monetary Fund, Ukraine is now recognized poorest country in Europe as of 2019. The GDP per capita in 2018 was $2,963. Due to the fall of communism, Ukraine’s GDP fell 61 percent between 1989–99. While Ukraine’s is economy is steadily emerging, perhaps women participate less in the workforce because they have no choice. 

       It is hard for many of these Western men to move beyond shallow stereotypes of Eastern European women because they remain uneducated about global affairs and they are not thoughtful about affairs in their own nation. Men such as Eric who “really didn’t even know what Ukraine was” is an easy target of the fantasies promoted by the dating services which continually claim that dating these women is like dating a woman from the 1950s. This claim was expertly juxtaposed with a scene of several Ukrainian women engaging in a near strip tease with one jubilant man in the background. Speaking of promoted... I wondered how Needham’s innocent search to find a romantic partner led to the scandalous hunt for a mail order bride. At first, I thought Needham may have been dishonest about how he came cross the site. But after a bit a more thought I realized that his frequent visits to dating sites may have made him a target market demographic for the seductive ads that lured him to opt for a mail order bride. 

       Then it all made sense! How will these men ever find their idealized versions of love from dating services that earn more from packaging sellable traits. But can love be packaged and sold? The business models of each dating website that the men engaged with, including A Foreign Affair, have dictated how the women interacted with them. I don’t think the men have made this connection yet. For example, Cannon was excited that ten women wrote back to him. It seemed believable to him due to the widespread stereotypes that Eastern European women are more agreeable and submissive than American women. However, he failed to recognized that for A Foreign Affair there was more profit to be earned from the women writing back because of the imposed translating fee that the site collected. Perhaps the American dating websites are more profitable where the conditions lead to the woman appearing more elusive even if these conditions were artificially created. 

       Since I doubt love can be packaged and sold by ruthless businesses, these men’s look for love may have been slyly converted into a look for a beautiful, long term sex partner without their awareness. Based on how the women were advertised, I think I might be right. When one of the men gave an inside of A Foreign Affair website, it was an influx of small sexy profiles. Their name, age, weight and height were listed like specifications on a merchandise such as a car. I believe a website like this with the hundreds of beautiful women waiting to be messaged being shown on one screen alone, could be very addictive to men. This site sells the idea of accessibility to beautiful women to increase their profit margin. A Foreign Affair gave the men more faith in Eastern European women and with more faith equals more money they are will to part with. These emotional investments, which were made before meeting the women, allowed the men to stay in a fantasy land. While Ron became disenchanted with the American based dating websites because the dates only last five minutes, it is easier for a dating service to drain money in a situation where the men do not meet the women for a while and can maintain the mental image of a fault free mail order bride. 

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

       One man, Bobby Cannon, exemplified a target demographic for such a site. He was in a deep pursuit of a woman named Julia, that he claimed looked like Angelina Jolie. On his featured Romance Tour, he was left standing alone and seemingly unwanted with a thoughtful gift in the midst of happy, partying matches. To add to the pain, he had emotionally and financially invested with daily letters over several months which costed $9,854. The mail order service bestowed a lot of hope but somehow managed to recreate the same disappointingly rejection he had in America which will most likely deepen his feelings of undesirability and sink him deeper in the financial hole. The site most likely wanted to continue his mental fantasy and kept Julia elusive. However, in the end A Foreign Affair finally set up the date. As described by the man, the Julia seemed disconnected from him and did not recognize any of the photos of the life events he discussed in the letters which made it obvious to me that she probably never wrote the letters. Despite the potential that she never read the letters or wrote back he rushed in a proposal for marriage to which she accepted with nervous excitement. The confusing interaction ended with a hasty engagement. He remains in denial of the site but even worse he remains in denial of himself and his own aims. He does not want to confront the reality that his feelings of affection and that the fact that he "cannot get this girl out his mind" probably does not derive from the emotional connection from the questionable letters. Ultimately the engagement was broken when Julia was unable to provide personal details about herself and his demands for answers caused a schism in the supposed relationship. I suspect that a translator was writing and reading all the letters to drain more money from Cannon despite the claim from John Adams, the president of A Foreign Affair that this is a “very real process”. 

       After the engagement was broken, he suffered from what he described as a depressed state. This depressed state created the perfect conditions for the dating service to continue to profit from him since after the depressed state he became hooked on the website again. He of course had another sexualized photo of an attractive brunette, Vita, to boost his esteem after such a humiliating endeavor with Julia. The cycle continues but this time the site has fined tuned how to extract more money out of Cannon and is more attuned to his desire for personable letters. The interviewer asked if he was writing to a photo and after pondering a bit, Cannon said yes. The melancholy expression in his eyes shows that he has sadly accepted this circumstance as a part of his online “dating” life. The ending scene returns back to the question of defining of love with  interviewer directing the question to the wife of the president of A Foreign Affair, Tanya Adams. Adams cried while offering her heartfelt and idealistic definition of love, “Love is when you can say that I will just give my life for somebody,” which of course is full contradiction to the ideals promoted by the very dating site she earns a living from. 
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