Thursday, August 27, 2009

Popular Culture Association Romance Area Call for Papers!

It's that time of year again! The Popular Culture Association is gearing up for its annual conference, this time in St. Louis, MO, March 31-April 3, 2010.

The Call For Papers for the Romance Area is changed this year. We're not just looking for Romance Fiction--we're looking for discussions of ANY representations of romance in popular culture, anywhere, anywhen, any media, any genre.

The official CFP:

PCA/ACA 2010 National Conference
St. Louis, Missouri, March 31 - April 3, 2010
Call For Papers: Romance Area

Conference info

Deadline for submission: November 30, 2009

We are interested in any and all topics about or related to popular romance: all genres, all media, all countries, all kinds, and all eras. All representations of romance in popular culture (fiction, stage, screen—large or small, commercial, advertising, music, song, dance, online, real life, etc.), from anywhere and anywhen, are welcome topics of discussion.

We are considering proposals for individual papers, sessions organized around a theme, and special panels. Sessions are scheduled in one-hour slots, ideally with four papers or speakers per standard session.

If you are involved in the creative industry of popular romance (romance author/editor, film director/producer, singer/songwriter, etc.) and are interested in speaking on your own work or on developments in the representations of popular romance, please contact us!

Some possible topics (although we are by no means limited to these):
  • Popular Romance on the World Stage (texts in translation, Western and non-Western media, local and comparative approaches)
  • Romance Across the Media: crossover texts and the relationships between romance fiction and romantic films, music, art, drama, etc.; also the paratexts and contexts of popular romance
  • Romance High and Low: texts that fall between “high” and “low” culture, or that complicate the distinctions between these critical categories
  • Romance Then and Now: representations of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Modern, Postmodern love
  • Romancing the Marketplace: romantic love in advertising, marketing, and consumer culture
  • Queering the Romance: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender romance, and representations of same-sex love within predominantly heterosexual texts
  • BDSM Romance and representations of romantic/erotic power exchange
  • Romance communities
  • New Critical Approaches, such as readings informed by critical race theory, queer theory, postcolonial studies, or empirical science (e.g., the neurobiology of love)
  • The Politics of Romance, and romantic love in political discourse (revolutionary, reactionary, colonial / anti-colonial, etc.)
  • Individual Creative Producers or Texts of Popular Romance (novels, authors, film, directors, writers, songwriters, actors, composers, dancers, etc.)
  • Gender-Bending and Gender-Crossing / Genre-Bending and Genre-Crossing / Media-Bending and Media-Crossing Popular Romance
  • African-American, Latina, Asian, and other Multicultural romance
  • Young Adult Romance
  • History of/in Popular Romance
  • Romance and Region: places, histories, mythologies, traditions
  • Definitions and Theoretical Models of Popular Romance: it’s not all just happily ever after

As we did for the past two years, the Romance area will meet in a special Open Forum to discuss upcoming conferences, work in progress, and the future of the field of Popular Romance Studies. Of particular interest this year: the new International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) with its affiliated annual conferences and scholarly publication, Journal of Popular Romance Studies (JPRS).

Presenters are encouraged to make use of the new array of romance scholarship resources online, including the romance bibliography, the RomanceScholar listserv and the open Forums at the webpage of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance.

Submit a one-page (200-300 words) proposal or abstract (via regular mail or e-mail) by November 30, 2009, to the Area Chairs in Romance:

Sarah S. G. Frantz
Department of English and Foreign Languages
Fayetteville State University
1200 Murchison Road
Fayetteville, NC 28301
(910) 672-1438

Darcy Martin
Women's Studies
East Tennessee State University
P.O. Box 70571
Johnson City, TN 37614
(423) 439-6311

If you have any questions as all, please contact one or both of the area chairs. Please feel free to forward, cross-post, or link to this call for papers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Escape into Sensation

The senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are all represented in Giuseppe Recco's Still-life with the Five Senses. Mary Reed McCall suggests using all of them when writing romance:
One of the best ways to bring a scene to life is to employ the six senses. And yes, there are six! All too often, authors seem to focus on the two most common of these - sight and sound. Perhaps this happens because most of us tend to rely on our eyes and ears most in our own lives. But what about taste, touch, smell - and instinct? [...] The use of sense powerfully ties readers to your characters, because it is what allows them to empathize - to "remember" those same experiences through the perspective of your character.
Laura DeVries has written that she
heard a best-selling author admit she doesn’t consider a scene complete until she’s included at least a mention of all five senses. She has gone so far as to write the words see, touch, hear, taste and smell above her computer screen. I know another writer who found herself stuck on a particular scene until she decided to try to write it with her eyes closed. The technique worked. By closing off the most over-used and familiar sense - sight - she had opened her imagination to the other four. What she learned was that by restricting herself to the visual representation, she had been missing the other sensual aspects important to that scene. The richness those other sensations added to her writing astonished and delighted her.
Evidently many romance writers make a particular effort to engage their readers' senses. But how do readers respond?

Jessica's got a very interesting post up
about "escape" in the context of the romance genre in which she describes the reading process:
reading a novel requires the exercise of imagination. Your mind has to take authors’ descriptions of smells and tastes and places and people, and work them up into something real. Together, readers and writers create a unique sensory journey with every book.
Given that Tumperkin, writing about Sherry Thomas's Delicious, said that
I know that I've read food descriptions and references galore in other novels - but unless it's woven into the emotional heart of the story, I don't think it makes more than a passing impact on me.
it seems that perhaps some readers respond more strongly and more frequently to descriptions involving the senses than others do. Some of us may not respond to them much at all. It wasn't until I got to secondary school that I realised that for some people the phrase "the mind's eye" actually had some meaning, and was a good way of describing the way in which they could visualise images which were not directly in front of them. Some people can hear music playing in their heads, even when there's no external source of music to listen to. Yet others can recreate the tastes of food they've sampled, long after the meal has been digested. I haven't yet met anyone who can imagine smells, but perhaps, given what she's written, Jessica can.

I don't escape, via books, into a world of colour, sights, smells, sounds or tastes. I wonder how this shapes my reading experiences. I'm sure it must do, at least to some extent. How do you feel (and see, smell, etc) about the reading process?


Edited to add: At her own blog Jessica's written about the sense of smell in particular and she has some advice for romance authors:
When I started reading romance, I used to be very jarred by the keen senses of smell our heroes and heroines possess. Apparently, every lover has a bouquet, and our h/hs are always — always – connoisseurs. [...] Some smells are overused (sandalwood, I’m smelling at you), and some are just lazy (”man”, “woman”. I’m waiting for the truly liberated romance h/h who thinks, “Hmmm. Smells like person!” Or even more inclusively, “Smells like living organic matter!”).

But here’s where I draw the line: the trend of h/h’s being able to smell psychic states. I don’t care how in love or turned on you are. You can not smell states of mind.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stranger than Fiction?

Sometimes a true story will make me wonder if it's stranger than fiction, and that was particularly so in this case, because I'd only just read a fictional version of a very similar situation, written by Jenna Bayley-Burke and posted online in 2007 at The Long and the Short of It.

[They've got a lot of short stories in their archives (from 2007, 2008 and 2009.) As I was reading through them, I came across a couple which reminded me of Sarah's tweets (you'll have to scroll down a bit to read them) about Sandra Barletta's paper at the 2009 IASPR conference, on “A First Kiss is Still A First Kiss: Ageism, Romance Heroines and the Mid-Life Romance Reader.”]

The picture of the one ring came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

International Romance: A Summary

Sarah's just got back from the IASPR conference and has made a few observations about it over at Romancing the Blog. I'll copy a few of them over here, too, though, because I think they're worth sharing:
The conference, with presenters from India, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Italy, China, the US, and of course, Australia, taught us that Popular Romance Studies is and should be a truly international pursuit. In learning the universality of popular romance, though, it teaches us to be very specific about the historical, social, and national culture of the text under consideration. (For example, the book I will be writing for the next few years is about the power, appeal, and history of the modern American romance hero, not the romance hero in general.)

The conference also taught us to be aware of cultural definitions of romance. The American middle-class definition requires a happy ending, but other cultural versions of romance might not. It is important to be conscious of our own historical, social, and national cultures, as well as aware of those in the texts we study.

The map of the world's time zones came from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Georgette Heyer Links

This is a compilation of links about Georgette Heyer, sparked by the Smart Bitches' latest contest. As they observe,
This week marks the 107th anniversary of her birth (16 August), and to celebrate, we’re hosting a giveaway of rather epic proportions.
Even if you don't win the books they're giving away, there are a few works by Heyer available free online:

The Black Moth
"Pursuit" - a short story.
"A Proposal to Cicely" - another short story, currently being serialised via Twitter, with the tweets then being archived at the site I've linked to.

A short biography of Heyer can be found in The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. And for anyone who might be able to be in the Cambridge area in November there's:

  • Jennifer Kloester: ‘The Life of Georgette Heyer’
  • Jay Dixon: ‘Heyer and Place’
  • Laura Vivanco: ‘”So educational!”, she said. “And quite unexceptionable.” The Nonesuch as Didactic Love Fiction.’
  • Mary Joannou: ‘Heyer and Austen’
  • Sam Rayner: ‘Publishing Heyer: Representing the Regency in Historical Romance’
  • Kerstin Frank: ‘The Thermodynamics of Georgette Heyer: Variations on the Quest for Revitalisation’
  • Catherine Johns: ‘Class and Breeding’
  • Sarah Annes Brown: ‘Lady of Quality and Homosexual Panic’
  • K. Elizabeth Spillman: ‘Cross Dressing and Disguise in Heyer’s Historical Romances’

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Love is "Woman's Whole Existence"?

I recently came across some blog posts about polyamory at Feministe. In one of these Eleanor Sauvage stated that "The problem with many of our contemporary relationships is that we’re meant to be everything to another person: to fulfill all and every need" and in another linked post, Frau Sally Benz elaborated on this:
at the heart of nonmonogamy is we believe it’s impractical to assume that one person can be everything for another person. I personally think a lot of relationships have problems when you expect your partner to completely fulfill you mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, and spiritually. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think a lot of the time, people view love as their search for The One – the person who is 100% compatible with you, your perfect match.
Judging by what Julia writes in Byron's Don Juan, the idea that a romantic relationship should fill one's life to the exclusion of all else is hardly new, at least not for women:
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence; man may range
The court, camp, church, the vessel, and the mart;
Sword, gown, gain, glory, offer in exchange
Pride, fame, ambition, to fill up his heart,
And few there are whom these cannot estrange;
Men have all these resources, we but one,
To love again, and be again undone. (Canto I, verse CXCIV)
I'd like to look very briefly at what the romance genre has to say about monogamy and the idea that a romantic relationship could or should form a "woman's whole existence."
According to the RWA's definition of romance one of the two basic elements which make up every romance is "A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work." This element, as defined by the RWA, can, I think, be broken down into various parts
  • "two individuals" - Admittedly there are some more recent romances which include more than two individuals in the central relationship, but those are relatively rare in the genre as a whole.
  • "falling in love" - It may sound like stating the obvious, but these novels deal with a particular kind of love, the kind one "falls" into. The central couple are not two people who fall into friendship with each other, nor is the "central love story" in a romance going to be about the love of a parent for a newborn baby. Romances deal with relationships that have a sexual component, even if the sexual attraction between the individuals is never expressed explicitly in physical terms during the course of the novel.
  • "struggling to" - The struggle may be the result of external factors which keep the central couple apart, but perhaps one may also get the impression from this wording that all relationships require some adjustment of the part of the individuals involved. The path of true love tends not to run smooth for both external and internal reasons.
  • "make the relationship work" - This is very closely related to the previous point, but the wording does, it seems to me, hint that relationships require something to make them "work."
So how many people can there be in the central relationship in a romance? What is it that distinguishes their love from other kinds of love? Does the love between the individuals in the central relationship exclude other kinds of love and relationships? Why do they need to struggle? Do relationships require work? And, finally, does the romance genre present monogamous relationships as completely fulfilling the protagonists, "mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, and spiritually"?

Those are far too many questions for me to attempt to answer in just one blog post, so I'll just take a quick look at the last one. It has been argued that some secular romances presented readers with a heroine who
is set in a social limbo: her family is dead or invisible, her friends are few or none, her occupational milieu is only vaguely filled in. As a result, her meeting with the hero occurs in a private realm which excludes all concerns but their mutual attraction; the rest of the world drops away except as a backdrop. (Jones 198)
In a romance of this type, it probably would be fair to say that the hero meets almost all of the heroine's mental, emotional, sexual, physical and spiritual needs. He may care for her, feed her, understand her sexual needs better than she does herself and provide a focus for her intellectual life (since she spends much of her time trying to understand him). It should be noted, however, that Jones was writing only about a small number of Mills & Boon romances from the early 1980s, and that she herself found some which seemed to open up the heroine's world to give her horizons which stretched beyond the hero.

As far as sexual needs are concerned, however, it's probably uncontroversial to state that in most romances, past and present, the central couple would be expected to find fulfillment for all of their sexual needs within their monogamous relationship. The situation is rather different when one looks at other needs.

As far as spirituality is concerned, Barrett states that "in Christian romance novels [...] God enter[s] this union, making it, for Christian women, ideal. This triad—God, man, and woman—forms the Christian marriage." Inspirational romances, then, present marriage as a relationship involving three individuals, two of whom are in a sexual relationship, and the third of whom supports the other two mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Sexual monogamy does not preclude the creation of a "triad" to fulfill other needs.

Many modern romance heroines and heroes have family and friends who provide emotional and mental support, and although many romance heroines still seem to have a rather magical ability to heal the hero's emotional trauma, in some novels, including Janice Kay Johnson's Snowbound, someone else may help to meet these needs.

Heroines, as well as heroes, often have careers and hobbies which provide intellectual stimulation that the central relationship cannot provide. AAR's Jean Wan recently commented that
Art is possessive and artists are obsessive and for many of them, love and art are mutually exclusive. When I encounter artists, musicians, actors, and such in romance novels, I often wonder how likely it is that characters of such creative brilliance can find equilibrium between their soul mate and their artistic soul. Many books never address this issue because the characters are given talented proficiency rather than brilliance, which is fair enough; few people are brilliant in real life.
As she observes, in addition to depicting characters who derive emotional or intellectual pleasure and stimulation from pursuits outside the central relationship, there are some romances which deal with characters for whom their art can perhaps be thought of as a third party in any relationship they form, and those romances, although rare, suggest that this can be made to work.

I'd also argue that there's an extra-textual dimension to the romance genre which reaffirms that the reader has individual needs which can be met outside a monogamous relationship with a spouse or partner. Barrett observes that
Since Christian novels are resolved in the always-loving nature of God, the reader, too, finally experiences God’s love when she puts her book down, as woman after woman testified during our discussions of reading.
The testimony of readers who spoke to Janice Radway confirms that secular readers, too, find that reading can fulfil needs that are not met elsewhere: "romance reading was important to the Smithton women [...] because the simple event of picking up a book enabled them to deal with the particular pressures and tensions encountered in their daily round of activities" (86). Of course, different readers will read for different reasons, but reading clearly does offer something to readers which other activities, and other relationships, do not provide. Interestingly, Dot revealed to Radway that some husbands considered books a threat to their monogamous relationship with their wives: "I think men do feel threatened. They want their wife to be in the room with them. And I think my body is in the room but the rest of me is not (when I am reading)" (87).

Romance reading, then, both intra-texually and extra-textually, can undermine the idea that the ideal monogamous relationship should meet both partners' "mental[..] emotional[...], sexual[...], physical[...], and spiritual[...]" needs. Instead it seems to me that most romances, while insisting that monogamous relationships can meet all of an individual's sexual needs, affirm that it is healthy and desirable for individuals to also have other relationships and interests.
  • Barrett, Rebecca Kaye. "Higher Love: What Women Gain from Christian Romance Novels." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 4 (2003).
  • Jones, Ann Rosalind. "Mills & Boon Meets Feminism." The Progress of Romance: The Politics of Popular Culture. Ed. Jean Radford. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. 195-218.
  • Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. 1984. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina P., 1991.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

IASPR Brisbane Tweets

The 2009 IASPR conference has now begun, and you can read the tweets via Twitter. The hashtag is #romcon. Book Thingo is archiving them for posterity:

IASPR 2009 Conference Day 1 Morning
IASPR 2009 Conference Day 1 Afternoon

IASPR 2009 Conference Day 2 Morning

ABC News Queensland has a video report about the conference. That's due to expire in November, but Associated Press has a video report on the conference which includes the same quotes from Glen Thomas, Toni Johnson-Woods, Eric Selinger and Sarah Frantz.

The bird is a green catbird, and the photo came from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Romance in Brisbane

The first IASPR conference begins tomorrow, in Brisbane, and the schedule's available from the IASPR website. One of the events on the schedule is a special session on the Flesch collection of Australian Romance Fiction in the Fryer Library. Elsewhere on the University of Queensland's website I discovered a page titled "Collections Seeking a Researcher! @ Fryer" which "promotes research on topics suggested by collection strengths in UQ and Brisbane libraries and museums." Skimming through it, I was delighted to see that the Flesch collection was on the list:
Our Fryer Library in the UQ Library has recently acquired a collection of 1500 popular Australian romance novels published between 1950 and 2005. Many were published by Mills and Boon. The collection also includes a small number of books by English and North American authors with Australian settings or Australian heroes/heroines. A list of all items in the collection can be obtained by searching on the title “Australian Romance Fiction Collection.”
A list of possible topics and supervisors is also provided.

I wonder how long it will be before we can add a thesis inspired by the Flesch collection to the Romance Wiki's list of completed theses and dissertations? Perhaps it'll be joined by dissertations which make use of other romance collections at academic libraries?

Map courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Real Men Talking

When Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was first published, under the pseudonym of "Currer Bell," the reviewers
were tricked into self-revelation. In the course of their fervent speculations about the identity of the author of Jane Eyre, they disclosed their firm convictions - or, to be more accurate, their prejudices - about the capabilities and limitations of women writers. Take, for example, Elizabeth Rigsby's famously scathing review, which offers clear evidence that the novel could not have been written by a woman [...]. Most engaging of all was the conclusion reached by Edwin Percy Whipple. He decided that Jane Eyre was the collaborative work of three siblings, two brothers and a sister [...] Whipple presumes that a woman must have had a hand in the writing, given details of dress, the sick chamber, and certain feminine "refinements of feeling," but then clarity, decisiveness, profanity, brutality, heat, passion, animal appetite, and slang - these are clear hallmarks of masculine writing. In fact, these markers of the male intellect are so conspicuous that the novel must have been written, at least in part, by that indisputably masculine mind, the author of Wuthering Heights. (Levine 70-72)
The author of Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë, a woman.

I was reminded of these reviewers convictions about male and female authors when I read the comments an editor had made about Bev Vincent's writing:
The story was written from the point of view of a male protagonist. These comments are all from the same editor:
  • “It’s quite a challenge for a writer of one sex to explore writing from the perspective of the opposite sex. Bev Vincent has not done a convincing job.”
  • “The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for a man”
  • “And I can’t think of many guys from [setting] who call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to their family” [Emphasis his or hers].
  • “Most men don’t think deeply about the dewy greenness of nature.”
  • “She needs to write more convincing [sic] from a man’s perspective.” (via Ampersand, at Alas, a blog)
Bev Vincent wrote a post about the experience. He is in fact a man and
this was the most autobiographical story I’ve ever written, and all the things that the editor complained about were my real observations and my real thoughts cast into the mind of a fictional character participating in fictional events. I did, in fact, call home every Sunday afternoon to talk to my parents, while they were still alive.

To compound his or her arrogance, the editor claims that my prose is “overly elegant,” which is presumably his or her way of saying that a man would never write or think in elegant terms. Guess that means I write like a girl.
Bev doesn't write romance, but I've seen comments on romance websites about authors, writing under female names, whom readers suspect are really men and I've also seen plenty of advice to authors wanting to ensure that their male characters sound like real men. Leigh Michaels, for example, gives advice on
the main ways in which real men and women differ when it comes to talking - and how your characters should differ if they're going to be convincing. [...] Men use shorter and fewer sentences; women use longer, more complex sentences and string more of them together. Men say something is blue; women say it's robin's-egg blue, or navy, or teal.
Men talk about actions or things; women talk about feelings. (166)
Michaels seems to have expectations of men and their use of language which match those of Bev Vincent's editor. Men, it would seem, are expected to be less emotional, less verbal, and less good at observing details. Deborah Cameron, however, points out that the scientific research that has been done in this area does not support such conclusions:
The idea that men and women metaphorically "speak different languages" - that they use language in different ways and for different reasons - is one of the great myths of our time. Research debunks the various smaller myths that contribute to it: for instance, that women talk more than men (research suggests the opposite); that women's talk is cooperative and men's competitive (research shows that both sexes engage in both kinds of talk); that men and women systematically misunderstand one another (research has produced no good evidence that they do).

There is a great deal of similarity between men and women, and the differences within each gender group are typically as great as or greater than the difference between the two. Many differences are context-dependent: patterns that are clear in one context may be muted, nonexistent or reversed in another, suggesting that they are not direct reflections of invariant sex-specific traits.
It should also be noted that how "real men" and "real women" speak may differ very significantly from one culture to another. For example
In the village of Gapun in Papua New Guinea, when a woman is annoyed with her husband, she swears at him for 45 minutes, at the top of her voice so the neighbours catch every nuance. During this “kros” — the word means “angry” — the target is not allowed to answer back, nor may anyone interrupt until she’s given her feelings full expression.

And what expression it is. The anthropologist Don Kulick recorded a typical kros: “You’re a ****ing rubbish man. You hear? Your ****ing ***** is full of maggots. You’re a big ****ing semen *****. Stone balls! ...****ing black *****! You *****ing mother’s ****!”

When the flowers of English womanhood carry on like this — at closing time on Friday night in Ipswich, say — they’re thought to be behaving laddishly. When the housewives of Gapun turn the air blue, however, they are only doing what comes naturally to a woman. The village men, apparently, pride themselves on their ability to conceal their opinions and express themselves indirectly: if they need to get a grievance off their chests, they get their wives to do it for them. (Herbert)
Clearly if a romance were to be set in Gapun, the author would only be able to write "real men" by utterly disregarding much of the existing advice about how to write "real men." Thinking about places which are distant chronologically rather than geographically, it seems to me that the mainly male Romantic poets, or an author like Thomas Hardy who produced long and very detailed descriptions of landscape, probably didn't write in a way that would convince Bev Vincent's editor they were real men and, even bearing in mind that people's written language can differ considerably from their spoken language, they probably didn't speak the way Michaels says real men do.

Female authors writing contemporary romances set in their own part of the world could take PBW's advice and "Hang out with some real live men. Note their body language, speech, and mannerisms. Observe how their behavior changes, and what triggers those shifts" but this wouldn't be so much help with depicting real men from different cultures, including those from different historical periods.

And how much reality do readers and authors want and need anyway? Anne Marble, in her advice on writing romantic dialogue, states that
Dialogue Should Not Reflect Real Life Too Closely

This sounds counterintuitive at first. How can dialogue sound authentic and yet not reflect real life closely? I'll give you the answer in a metaphor. The best dialogue is like vanilla extract. Instead of bottling every line of speech characters would use when speaking with each other, dialogue should give us the essence of their conversations.
Could it be that when many authors write "real men," they're actually writing men that their readers will believe are real, even though many actual real men, including Bev Vincent, in fact express themselves in language which might be deemed false or overly feminine by readers?

[Since I mentioned the Brontë sisters and I'm discussing "real men", I thought I'd add a link I was sent by Angel, about Emily, Charlotte and Anne. It's a cartoon which encapsulates their differing preferences in men (as heroes).]

The image at the top of the post was created by "Francis Barraud (1856-1924) [who] painted his brother's dog Nipper listening to the horn of an early phonograph during the winter of 1898" and it came from Wikimedia Commons. As adopted by the Victor Talking Machine Company in their advertising, the dog was described as listening to "His Master's Voice."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Guns and Soap

"I'm also intrigued by some of the ideas brought up in studies of the relationship between colonialism and hygiene" (Evil Auntie Peril)
As you can see if you look closely at the advertisement for Pears Soap (on the left), the text reads
The first step towards lightening The White Man's Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pear's Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances, while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place - it is the ideal toilet soap.
The white man in the white uniform who comes to cleanse the dark continents is
Admiral Dewey, victor at Manila Bay, washing his hands on shipboard. Smaller images in the corners show: an American naval warship (upper left); a wooden Spanish ship (upper right); a missionary instructing an almost naked dark-skinned Filipino in the need to use Pears' (lower right); and a shipload of Pears' being off-loaded in Manila harbor. (McClymer)
So, what does an advertisement, which according to Wikimedia Commons dates from the 1890s (Kimberly Jensen specifies that it is from McClure's Magazine 13 (Oct., 1899)) have to do with the romance genre?

Well, I hope that will become very clear (not dark, opaque, or dirty) in what follows. This morning I came across a post by Tumperkin, in which she explained that
Over the years I've read posts about all sorts of difficult issues: forced sex, BDSM, controlling heroes Stuff that raises issues over consent, abuse, self-worth. And for me, I'm cool with all of it. No matter how much something might offend 'normal' mores, if the author can make it explicable with reference to their characters, I can be cool with it. I'm disturbed by reader comments that say authors 'shouldn't' write this or that character or scene or event in a particular way. I'm hugely protective of freedom of expression and I resent the attitude (whether partriarchal or matriarchal) that readers don' t have the wit to make their own judgements.

And so, until recently, I've been patting myself on the back thinking that I'm this uber-liberal, all cool with the morally ambiguous and questionable. The trouble is, I've recently had to admit that I do have a sensitivity. [...] And it's around killing/ punishment/ guns/ stuff like that.
Tumperkin's comment broadens the discussion we've been having over the past week which can perhaps be summarised as: "you already have politics in your escapist reading, you just don't notice it's there when it's got the slant you prefer." I don't want to dwell on the particular issue she brings up (although we did touch very, very briefly on gun control in response to my last post), but I would like to add a few more links and examples.

Smart Bitch Candy linked to a series of posts by Evil Auntie Peril (1, 2, 3, 4). EAP takes a closer look at dirt (and sometimes the lack of it) in the romance genre and one of the conclusions she reaches is that "Cleanliness = morality. H/H are good people. Disease, dirt and bad breath only happens to deserving villains or ex-partners (possibly tragically if its backstory, possibly because they are villains)." It's worth reading all four parts of the post in full.

Candy continues by looking at some other examples of how certain aspects of personal appearance and preferences are used in the genre as "short-hand for villainy and otherness." One example she gives involves food:
this detail was quite clearly used in a way to Show How Furrin the Chinese Are. It was a way to set up Chinatown and the Chinese as Other, as Exotic, as Not Who We Are, We Who Consume Mostly Muscle Meat and Turn Green When There’re Pink Bits In Our Roast Chicken. The details regarding the Chinese food and the roast ducks in the display window weren’t used to villainize the Chinese characters, in the way personal hygiene is used to villainize other people in historicals, but the hero and heroine’s squick reaction solicited a similar squick reaction in the reader, and hence empathize more with the characters.
Another example is
how authors use body weight, especially in male characters, as a way of indicating Super Duper Concentrated Villainy (Evil Nature Established in only 1/3 the Wordcount!) [...] I’m thinking back to other obese male villains I’ve encountered, and the ones that aren’t emasculated or desexualized tend to be portrayed as sexually perverse: they’re into extreme sadism, or pedophilia, or, I don’t know, clown-rape and gerbils, with an undertone that regular sex just isn’t good enough for them. Corpulent villainy is rarely garden-variety villainy. It’s Villainy Plus. The size of their bodies seems to represent the perversity of their souls, and this is a tried and true method in fiction in general: have the ugliness inside manifest itself outside.
These short-hands and other political messages are often difficult to spot, particularly if the person being cast as the "Other" is different from the reader. Because of this, it may be easiest to notice their presence in older romances. E. M. Hull's The Sheik is a text which includes disdain for foreign food/drink and a fat, dirty, smelly villain who is racially Other.

Lady Diana Mayo distinguishes between normal coffee and "native" coffee: "the smell of native coffee was heavy in the air" (105) and "Diana hated the sweet, thick stuff" (106). As for the fat, dirty, racially-Other villain himself, Ibraheim Omair has a "bloated, vicious face and gross, unwieldy body" (103) and in his tent
there was a close, pungent smell that was eminently native that she [Lady Diana Mayo] never experienced in the cool airiness and scrupulous cleanliness of Ahmed Ben Hassan's [the Sheik's] tents. Her sensitive lip curled with disgust, all her innate fastidiousness in revolt. (106)
The villain's race and his dirt are literally inextricable in the following description, and his physical size is, as Candy wrote, an indication of the extent of his evil:
This was, indeed, the Arab of her imaginings, this gross, unwieldy figure lying among the tawdry cushions, his swollen, ferocious face seamed and lined with every mark of vice, his full, sensual lips parted and showing broken, blackened teeth, his deep-set, bloodshot eyes with a look in them that it took all her resolution to sustain, a look of such bestial evilness that the horror of it bathed her in perspiration. His appearance was slovenly, his robes, originally rich, were stained and tumbled, the fat hands lying spread out on his knees were engrained with dirt, showing even against his dark skin. (108)
He reeked of sweat and grease and ill-kept horses, the pungent stench of the native. Her thoughts went back to the other Arab [the Sheik], of whose habits she had been forced into such an intimate knowledge. Remembering all that she had heard of the desert people she had been surprised at the fastidious care he took of himself, the frequent bathing, the spotless cleanliness of his robes, the fresh wholesomeness that clung about him, the faint, clean smell of shaving-soap mingling with the perfume of the Turkish tobacco that was always associated with him.

The contrast was hideous. (110)
This cleanliness is perhaps intended to be read as an early clue that the Sheik is not a "native": he "is English" (120).

Hull, E. M. The Sheik. 1919. Project Gutenberg, 2003.