Changing the face of the world, one pulsating manhood at a time.
In an extremely, ahem, thorough discussion of the recent "Love as the Practice of Freedom" conference - devoted to romance fiction and American culture - author Hillary Rettig stakes a claim for romance novels as a force for revolution! Romance writers have long fought for respect in a world and an industry that frequently ignores the genre's leaps in quality, in commitment to female empowerment, and progressive sentiments. But the fact is, that romance increasingly demands to be taken seriously: a quarter of all books sold are romantic fiction, a number that's not dropping with the Dow. It is, as the author puts it, not merely a reflector of the times, but "an important transmitter of values." As such, Romance Writers of America's decision to recognize GLBT-themed romance fiction is significant. Rettig would suggest that the fight for legitimacy really comes down to an ingrained sexism that sees the genre's focus on women, and on emotion, as fundamentally opposed to the masculine logic that characterizes good writing - those "emotionally-satisfying and optimistic endings" that bring so much comfort are offensive to a pragmatic sensibility.
But just recognizing romance as a legit genre's not enough, says Rettig: romance is revolutionary! As she puts it,
Perhaps it's because romance, love and sex are among our most potent avenues for self-knowledge, self-expression, self-liberation, and societal liberation. Done right, these activities erode barriers and boundaries, both within us and between ourselves and others, and therefore pose a direct threat to the fear-based, control-obsessed "strict father" model.
Basically, what she's saying is, love is the answer. And people are threatened by it.
While the rhetoric seems a leetle overblown, we're not quite ready to embrace the genre as a whole as a force for revolution - there's a lot to be said for sheer escapism, especially in trying times, and not all authors want the burden of revolution foisted upon them - it's clear that this conference was onto something. A lot of serious people dismiss romance as trashy and prurient, and they're invested in that idea. But it's not a coincidence that I and plenty of smart, well-read women I know turn to a romance on occasion for escapism - and check out the supremely awesome "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" if you don't believe me. No, that doesn't mean bodice-ripping and "sexy abduction" or even saintly single dads. But it does mean a happy ending. Some people assume that because an ending is a forgone conclusion, there's no point in the journey. But anyone who's ever seen a cliche-ridden needlepoint pillow can tell you that's crazy talk. Says the author,
Now, if progressives and radicals would only incorporate more of the ideals and values of romance in their lives and work. It shouldn't be that hard: after all, the romantic revolutionary meme is ancient and powerful.
Cue Rahm Emmanuel in pirate shirt.