Aw, Somebody Hurt Your Feelings: A Romance Fisk

Once upon a time, I was a high school student, in a crappy private school in a town in upstate New York which shall remain nameless.  I hated high school.  I was the picked-on outsider or the picked-on teacher’s pet for almost all four years.  I hated it, but I still have the maturity and Christian charity to acknowledge that not all members of that high school—students and teachers alike—were bad.  Many of them were good people, good teachers, and good friends.  Some of them might have been grade-A assholes, but that didn’t mean that all of them were.

So, when I hear someone like Kristen Kranz (never heard of her before today) saying things like “The time has come (and gone) for everyone to stop dragging romance,” I’m immediately suspicious.  Considering that the romance genre has produced a plethora of books and continues to do so on a daily basis, “everyone” obviously isn’t “dragging romance.”  People buy them by the dozen.  On my most recent airplane trip, while waiting to depart BWI, I saw a man—believe it or not—with a stuffed backpack as his carry-on item, and very obviously situated in the front pocket, for the whole airport to see, was a Nora Roberts novel.  Obviously he isn’t “dragging romance,” now is he?

Contrary to what this author is accusing “everybody” of, romance isn’t just a genre for women with daydreams.  There’s at least one middle-aged man reading Nora Roberts.

Good grief, I haven’t even started the fisk and already this woman is dead wrong.

As usual, the original is in italics, and my commentary is in bold.

The masses have largely embraced action movies and the trope-y goodness they deliver time and time again. It’s well past time for romance to receive the same treatment and respect.

You’re talking about “the masses” in the most condescending tone I think I’ve heard since I fisked this particular offering.  You really think you’re entitled to judge what other people enjoy watching or reading?  Let me remind you: de gustibus non est disputandem.  Look it up.

In case you don’t have a foot firmly planted in Romancelandia, the large community of readers, authors, bloggers and more who love reading romance,

Gee, thanks for clearing that up.  I wish there was such a cutesy little term for fans of science fiction or fantasy.  Scifistan?  Fantasivakia?

there is a steady barrage of garbage constantly being lobbed at the supportive, largely female-driven industry

Oh, really?  When last I checked, romance was one of the most popular genres in the United States, because the books were popular, not because they were written by females or were very supportive people.  We’re talking about the quality of a genre of fiction, not about the character of the people writing it.  No matter how nice I think someone is to his neighbor, that doesn’t automatically make him a fantastic author; and conversely, sometimes really excellent authors are total assholes.  It happens.  Get over it.

Most of these have the pungent stink of misogyny radiating off them,

Seriously?

but occasionally, it’s just good old fashioned elitist bullshit.

Yeah, because all of those sci-fi and fantasy authors have so much spare time on their hands to look down their nose at romance.

The latest entry is a mean-spirited article posted on the Chester County Press website titled, “Kennett Library Holds 3rd Annual ‘Bad Romance’ Event,” praising a local library’s denigration of a billion dollar industry that largely encourages reading, acceptance, understanding, and is constantly critiquing itself from the inside out.

You’re confusing the issue.  The library seems to have been criticizing “trashy romance,” which I’m sure we can all agree does in fact exist.  It’s clichéd for a very good reason, just like certain tropes, like the evil stepmother, or the high-school mean girls or the football jocks, are all clichéd: because they’re real.

In addition, you’d better stop praising the character of the romance genre as a whole.  If I’m not mistaken, the Romance Writers of America just imploded in a spectacularly brilliant and horrendously public fashion because the members thereof were being so hateful to each other, the entire board quit en masse.

Hypocrite

In the article, you find phrases like, “annual tribute to the discount bin of literature – the romance novel,” describing the passages they read aloud at the Bad Romance event as “saccharine kitsch,” and insulting the genre as a whole by describing many of the selected works as “most poorly-written passages ever published in the English language.”

So . . . it looks to me like the event in question is doing a backhanded compliment to the genre.  It’s a “tribute.”  That’s positive.  If I were reading an ad for this event, I’d skip going because I don’t like romance novels, not because I was insulted that they called the romance novels something bad.  Obviously, if they’re holding a tribute to it, people must like it.  If it’s “saccharine kitsch,” then someone must find it tasty, and at this library, they’re having a party full of saccharine kitsch, so that people who love it can come and have some.  So what are you complaining about, again?

Oh, they weren’t fawning over you.

Wambulance

Somehow, I find it VERY hard to believe that every genre doesn’t have very poorly written passages being published every year.

Oh, I’m sure they do.  They all turn up on Amazon Kindle for free.  If you want to risk your brain boiling out your ears, take a look sometime.  The sci-fi genre in particular has a high number of Bad Authors.

Anybody remember the TIE fighter that “wibbled and wobbled”?  Oh, wait, hold on.  It was present-tense.  So the TIE fighter that “wibbles and wobbles”?

Nuff Said

Rather than having a Bad Romance day, why not include the worst of the worst of all genres? Mysteries, science fiction, young adult, fantasy, self-help, the options are innumerable. If your goal is to mock terrible writing, why does romance automatically get top billing? I think you know why.

Maybe because this particular library has a high number of romance fans that they wanted to cater to?  Why are you taking this so personally?  It’s like you’re the school weirdo who got offended on behalf of “real superheroes” that one of the dress-up days for Spirit Week before Homecoming had a “bad superhero” theme.

Chesterton

Romance has never been given the respect it deserves because women writing books about their model love interests, glamorizing happy endings, and idealizing romance and relationships has never been allowed into the realm of elite literature. I’m sorry, beyond the classic and universally revered works of Jane Austen, that is.

You’re full of it.  Just look at the statistics

General Fiction: number one with 20.41 million sales in 2018.  Suspense/Thrillers number two with 10.13.  And third, with a total of 9.18 million books sold in 2018 was . . . you guessed it, Romance.  Sci-fi and Fantasy weren’t even close, with 2.68 and 2.96 million copies sold, respectively.  Sci-fi and Fantasy combined didn’t sell as much as Romance.  So what are you complaining about?

Even Jane Austen’s stuff didn’t make the top billing, with Classics at 3.59 million.

Who’s to say what “elite literature” is anyway?  Who cares?  If it sells, good.  If not, throw it in the dumpster.  End of story.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing is they believe they are breaking down stereotypes, when in reality, they’re promoting one of the most pervasive, inaccurate, and misogynistic stereotypes the book world has ever seen.

Reagan

You’re throwing that “misogynist” word around again.  Nobody said anything bad about women in this entire article.  And you’re over-exaggerating the effect this one little dinky event might have had on the readers of this country in general.  Besides, it wasn’t “bad publicity.”  See below.

The Library Director of Kennett Library is quoted in the article saying, “At the end of the day, it’s important for the Kennett Library to take itself out of the library and into the community, and get beyond many of the stereotypes that traditionally define a library.”

See, I was right.  The whole point of the “Bad Romance” event was to get people into the library and interested in the genre.  They took a stereotype—bad romance—and turned it into an event where people who might not be romance readers could come, have a laugh, and see that it isn’t quite as bad as they thought.  Maybe they took it as “this is so bad, it’s good” and tried out a new book.  That’s what the man meant by “getting beyond many of the stereotypes that traditionally define a library.”

Maybe some libraries don’t carry some romance novels because they’re trashy (let’s face it, there are a LOT of trashy romance novels; that doesn’t mean all of them are).  The trashy romance novel is part of the cliché.  This library took that stereotype and made it work for them, got people interested and into the library for any book that might catch their attention—including romance.

And yet, they’re perpetuating the stereotype that romance is the joke of all genres, which anyone should feel welcome to mock and ridicule, especially to their own benefit.

There’s a world of difference between a joke and ridicule.  At college, we had Medievalfest, where two gigantic pigs were roasted for the occasion, and before they were taken to the kitchen to be sliced and handed out to hungry college students dressed in medieval costumes and carrying swords, we had “the roasting of the heretics,” where each of the pigs was named after a famous heretic (like Luther or Calvin or Arias) and criticized in a speech given by one of the professors, with much humor, bad puns, and historical jokes.

Last time I checked, no Protestant ran away crying with their feelings hurt.  Mature grown-ups can take a joke.  Every Catholic I know has a few Catholic jokes up their sleeve that they tell to everyone they know.

Go watch John Cleese’s video on humor, and get your panties straightened out before you embarrass yourself any further.

This mindset is tired, outdated, and insulting to a community that is always ready to support one another in times of hardship and ruin.

You’re attributing a mindset to this event that wasn’t there.  Get over it.  You’re tilting at windmills.

Windmills

And once again, the character of the authors and fans has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the fiction in question.  You’re confusing the issue.  Stop it.  Either talk about the fiction itself, or talk about the character of the people involved.  Don’t criticize the fiction and then use the character of the people involved to try and make the fiction better.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen posts where authors or readers have suffered terrible losses or are in need of help, and Romancelandia rushes to their aid. I’ve seen families supported after house fires, loved ones immortalized after sudden losses, and anthology after anthology get compiled to support causes large and small, from the recent Australian fires to the fight against obstruction of creative expression. That’s not counting the large scale efforts, with annual fundraisers like Colleen Hoover’s Book Bonanza and Kennedy Ryan’s Lift auction, which, combined, raised more than $100,000 last year for multiple worthwhile causes. And those are just the examples I know about from the dozen or so romance groups I’m privy to. For every author group I’m a part of, there are at least a hundred I have never even heard of.

Again, stop.  Nobody criticized the authors or fans.  Nobody said they weren’t good people.  Nobody said they were anything at all; we weren’t talking about them.  We were talking about the books.

If a book can be judged by the niceness of its fans, then Twilight should be condemned for the number of obsessed teenage girls fawning over it, and Harry Potter should be denigrated because only kids read it.  At least, that’s what you’d say about them.

Why are these authors, their books, and the people they write them for any less worthy of respect than any other genre?

They’re not.  You’re making all this crap up.  The only thing I’m disrespecting at the moment is your drama-queen, deceptive, woe-is-me criticism of something that wasn’t a criticism in the first place.

Make stuff up

Why does it always seem to be romance that finds itself the butt of ignorance’s joke time and time again?

You know, if I was as sensitive as you, I’d never read any fiction again, because it used to be viewed as a waste of time and trashy in general, before Charles Dickens made the novel respectable with A Tale of Two Cities in 1859.  I’d never read sci-fi or fantasy again, because it used to be the property of basement-dwelling, unemployed geeks who suffered the ridicule of their peers in high school.

Oh, I said something mean about a reader of a genre.  Bad, bad Lori!  How dare you say such meanie-poo things, even if you’re only using them as an example and don’t mean any real harm by them?

BadLlama

Sci-fi and fantasy, and more lately, comic books, weren’t respectable genres until the last twenty years or so, thanks mostly to JK Rowling and the Marvel movies.

I challenge anyone reading this who has not had the pleasure of reading romance to give just one a try and see how escapist and cathartic love stories with guaranteed happy endings can be.

Tolkien

No, thanks.  I can read sci-fi and fantasy and get a nice escape, some catharsis, and a happy ending.  I’m just not into romance novels.  But if other people are, have fun.  Nobody’s stopping you.

I am a romance reader because life is hard enough as it is. I don’t need to be surprised in my reading with unhappy, uninspiring, and downright depressing endings to feel good about the quality of the books I read. And that is literally the only requirement that separates romance from the rest of the ‘love stories’ out there. A happy ending.

What the hell world are you living in?  Happy endings are all over all kinds of stories, not just romance.

Rock

You’re not even defining the romance genre correctly, which is pretty pathetic for someone spending all this time and energy defending it.  According to the RWA (an organization I’m sure you’re familiar with), they say that “romance” is defined as:

*A central love story; and

*An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

“Emotionally satisfying” isn’t the same thing as “a happy ending.”  Nicholas Sparks killed the dog (The Guardian), and everyone knows you never kill the dog.  In at least three other books, the ending was downright sad: death of one party in the relationship (A Walk To Remember), the breakup of the two parties in the relationship (Message in a Bottle), and unresolved family drama (A Bend in the Road).  That’s the opposite of satisfying.

And again.  He killed the dog.

You’re just making crap up, in addition to contradicting the American authority on the genre you’re supposed to be defending.

It’s fascinating to me that romantic relationships are entirely acceptable as parts of stories in other genres, but when the focus is put on the most complicated and mysterious aspect of the human condition (and is most often penned by a woman), it suddenly becomes cannon fodder for elitist drivel.

right

So . . . love and sex (which I assume is what you’re really talking about) is “the most complicated and mysterious aspect of the human condition”?  You need some philosophy lessons if you think that’s true.  Good grief.

Nobody’s being elitist.  Romance sold more than both sci-fi and fantasy.  Why are you complaining about it?  You’re just mad about how much you misinterpreted one little bitty event at one little bitty library.

I will wrap this up by making it clear that romance isn’t perfect. As a genre, it still has a lot of progress to make, but the community is largely made up of people who want to see it get better.

Romance doesn’t have a monopoly on that.  Sci-fi and fantasy authors have the same desire.

Move along

For an example of such critique, Google just about any version of the phrase “RWA racism controversy” and you’ll see how much the romance community doesn’t need anyone from the outside to point out the areas where it needs to improve.

AHA!  I knew it!  You’re one of those meanie-poo people who imploded the RWA for being raaaaacist, when they really weren’t racist at all.  Why am I not surprised?  You’re making up a straw man to tear up so you can feel good about winning an argument.

With members like you, it’s no wonder the RWA imploded.

In a world where male-targeted media

Um, excuse me, twit.  I’m not a male, and I love Marvel movies.  They aren’t the only movies in the theater these days.  There are a lot of rom-coms, too.

And just for the record, there are tons of female-targeted books, movies, TV shows, hell, even an entire TV network.  You’re making crap up again.  Stop it. We’re not fooled, and we’re certainly not impressed with you tilting at those windmills.

 is free to deliver the same tropes over and over again without fear of being dragged through the coals for its idealism,

WTH

Since when are we talking about idealism?  I thought we were talking about what was popular.

And maybe those tropes are used over and over because they’re popular.  Both books and movies are out there to make money for their creators.  If it’s popular, it makes more money.  If one movie proves that a certain type of movie is popular by making a crap-ton of money, then other people are going to jump on the bandwagon and make more movies like that, trying to make money, too.  It’s just how the world works.

We’re not worried about being “elitist.”  People want to be entertained, and the entertainers want to put money in their pocket.  If it works, keep doing it, and keep the racist-misogynist-evil-meanie-poo accusations to yourself.

romance never seems to be able to crest over the retaining wall of misogynistic gatekeeping to enjoy the same privilege.

Seriously?

Gate

There’s no privilege beyond what’s popular versus what isn’t.  Did those romance authors make money last year?  Yes?  Okay, fine.  That’s all they need to worry about.  It means people like their stuff.

It’s high time we scale this wall of biased criticism and leave the decades of asshat-ery behind.

I think it’s high time you scale the wall of your ego and jump down to your popularity.

The Asymmetric Bullshit Principle applies here.  I just spent all afternoon and several thousand words setting fire to the straw man you worked so hard to build.

You have no argument.  You made up some alleged meanness you could fling poo and words at, and you just proved that you’re too sensitive and self-centered to be believed.

I’ll just go curl up with a good sci-fi book and forget I ever heard of you and your drama.

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