A model that stresses the fact that people in a generally bad mood or situation will seek out pro-social behaviors, i.e. To help others to make him or herself feel better. (Berkowitz 185) Though this theory has often been contested, not simply because it tends to negate altruism but because people in bad moods tend not to seek out the doing of good deeds, (Berkowitz 186) these two examples of pro-social behavior in this film are both realistic and examples of the negative state relief model of action.
The first example is when Rob agrees to help two skater slackers and frequent shoplifters at his store to produce a record. Rob does not have a record label but it is a logical extension of his love of music and of human progress. He walks into the store, where Barry and Dick are listening to a demo tape of Vince and Justin, which is actually really good. All of them are collectively amazed. Rob almost immediately walks back out the door to return to a scene where just before he entered the record store one of the skaters had run over his foot. He asks the group where Justin and Vince are, they point he walks over to them and tells them that he will produce their music. They ask what they will get out of it and he tells them a percentage after he recovers costs. Then they ask him what his label is called and he on the spur of the moment names it "Top 5 records" a play on the fact that he is constantly making lists of the top five of everything from breakups to songs to dream jobs, all of which are significant in the film.
Rob's idea to help two punks that he previously disdained, both or whom he only recently chased from his store for shoplifting simply because their music doesn't suck is an example of his attempt to better himself and break his own misery by helping an unlikely pair. He gains from the situation because he is bettering himself, moving toward the future, the complaint that Laura has of him from the beginning, i.e. not thinking of the future. When he and Laura rekindle their relationship as a result of her grief over the death of her father she actually gets on board and throws Rob a surprise record release party, which shows her acknowledging the change in him. The death of Laura's father and her grief over it lead her to relinquish her split up with Rob, because she is "to tired not to be with him." This may seem like backpedaling for Laura, but as it turns out the act is productive, as Rob has begun to change and to allow others to change.
The other act of pro-social behavior that emphasizes the negative-state relief model is Rob's marriage proposal to Laura. When he speaks to his/her words are not romantic, he says he is sick of thinking about the misery of his past relationships, can't imagine ever getting sick of her and he wants to think about something else, i.e. growing up and moving on with his life, which will likely include self-development and real creativity. He knows that what Laura wants is a relationship that progresses and the ultimate progression is marriage and commitment, something that has clearly eluded him before. The lack of commitment has been mutual, he cheats on her she aborts his baby without telling him she is pregnant, but Laura is convinced that her reluctance to commit is a response to Rob's inability to progress and be happy, in anything. The marriage proposal is a direct example of the negative-state relief model because ultimately Rob is trying to do the one sure thing that will allow him to stop wallowing in the self-pity of implied rejection. Though Laura does not agree to marry him, the proposal and his thought processes cause him to rethink the way in which he approaches life, seeking out the "fantasy" looking for the thrill of new love, including his current attempt to woo a cute music critic by making her a mixed tape, and actually making one for Laura.
The mixed tape making session is the closing monologue of the film. He is sitting in his house making a tape, the viewer does not know if the tape is for the music critic or not, until Rob says he is making the tape for Laura and the tape will include songs that she likes, rather than songs that he likes or songs he thinks will persuade her to do things for him or to love him more. He has finally figured out how to think about her happiness and says, "For the first time I can finally see how that's done. The act of making the mixed tape for Laura is probably the pro-social behavior that is the least like the negative-state relief model, supporting its critics, who claim that people in a bad mood are not likely to do nice things. Rob is actually in the best mental state he has been in since the beginning of the film, and yet he is doing something nice for Laura. I suppose though one could argue he does it to tell his/her choice was not to make the mixed tape for the cute "other woman" but to make it for her and about her and her likes and dislikes, thus a further closer analysis is that he does it to relieve his negative mood regarding his propensity to seek out a fantasy and stray from what is real. (Berkowitz 186)
Applying social psychology theory to the viewing of this film advanced my knowledge of the film and also analyzing the film advanced my understanding of these social psychology concepts. Like I said before the interpersonal attraction between Rob and Laura is clearly in accordance with social exchange theory. The analysis also supported and interested me in other ways to as I came to better understand issues of gender miscommunication and values the two genders place on the exchange rewards and costs. This allowed me to more deeply understand the message of the film, than I ever would have prior to this viewing.
I also contend that the incidents of aggression, between Rob and Ian explain the frustration aggression theory. Which supports the idea that frustration and more importantly the helplessness that often causes frustration in interpersonal and other social relationships is reflective of why people aggress. The relationship is very much a causal one, where helplessness/frustration support the natural tendency to be poised to be aggressive and even violent toward others.
Then it will finally discuss three examples of pro-social behavior, when Rob asks Laura to marry him, when he agrees to help Vince and Justin produce a record and when he makes a mixed tape for Laura at the end of the film and to describe how they are examples of pro-social behavior of the negative-state relief model. Even in the last of the three examples, which initially I discussed as a detractor from the negative-state relief model turned out to be the character's attempt to prove that he has changed, i.e. taking him out of the negative state in Laura's eyes and brining him to a place where he can show his love for her without her fearing he is slipping into his old patterns.
Most importantly a more careful viewing of this film, while thinking about social psychology theory helped me really understand the basic brilliance of the film and enjoy it much more than I did the first time I saw it. I assumed the first time I watched the film that it was a dark comedy associated with limitations of the human condition, and it is, but it is also so much more! It is a well reasoned coming of age story that really attacks the issues from every possible angle, something rarely seen in such films. The film tackles issues of generation, personal growth, sexuality, reasoning, gender and of course aggression, attraction and pro-social behaviors.
Berkowitz, Leonard. Causes and Consequences of Feelings. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Geen, Russell G. Human Aggression. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2001.
Heath, Robert L., and Jennings Bryant. Human Communication Theory and Research: Concepts, Contexts, and Challenges. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ:…