Cougar Town is Not the First Comedy About Older Women and Younger Men

Cougars are all the rage now. There are constant stories in the media about cougar events, celebrity cougars, cougar characteristics. And of course there’s the popular sitcom Cougar Town, starring Courtney Cox.

You could easily be forgiven for thinking that they are a completely new social phenomenon. But this is simply not the case. While the term “cougar” is certainly pretty new, the archetype of the sexually experienced and assertive older woman has been featured in popular culture many times before.

Take these well known movies:

Class. This movie was made in 1983. It stars Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and Jacqueline Bisset. It’s a lighthearted comedy about two friends in prep school, Jonathan (McCarthy) and Skip (Lowe). The plot revolves around Jonathon’s involvement with a seductive older woman called Ellen (Bisset). The twist is that she turns out to be Skip’s mother.

The Graduate. This 1967 comedy-drama is probably the definitive film with a cougar character. It was hugely successful – pretty much launching Dustin Hoffman’s career – and featured a memorable soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.

In it, Dustin Hoffman is Benjamin Braddock, and Anne Bancroft plays the notorious Mrs Robinson. The 21 year old Ben has just graduated from college, and is seduced by Mrs Robinson after his “homecoming” party. She is the wife of his father’s business partner, which puts Ben in a highly awkward position. The two have an affair over summer, but then he ends up falling in love with Mrs Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross). Not surprisingly, Mrs Robinson is angry that he is pursuing her own daughter.

Mr and Mrs Robinson ban Ben from making contact with their daughter, and she ends up becoming engaged to someone else that they approve of more. But Ben won’t give up, and actually crashes the wedding, running away with Elaine.

Interestingly, both these films are comedies. And much of their humor results from the sense that the older woman and the younger man are breaking some major taboo. The younger man in particular is a figure of fun, because he seems so out of his depth. Cougar Town takes a similar approach – although it probably makes a bit more fun of the cougar herself!

Clearly, these unorthodox relationships have long been going on, which is why we have been telling stories about them. And although we are much more sexually liberated than several decades ago, we must still feel a little bit uncomfortable about the whole idea, since we continue to make light of it.