readers

Review/Summary (10 - Tricia Abigail Santos Fermin): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 27 December, 2015

I'm probably not doing a very good job of trying to capture the essence of many of these essays, given how little I know about the texts they discuss. At a minimum, I hope I'm giving enough quotes to let people know if an essay is on a topic which interests them.

The subject of Santos Fermin's essay is made clear in its title: "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines" but

In particular, I will show how Yaoi and Boys' Love have spread underground in the religously conservative societies of the Philippines and Indonesia, and contributed to the formation of fans' attitudes toward their own bodily passions, as well as a reworking of their moral sensitivities concerning non-heteronormative sexualities. Using data gathered from informant interviews of self-identified Yaoi and BL fans in Manila and Jakarta, this chapter ultimately aims to raise the following points. Yaoi and BL are primarily consumed for entertainment and titillation, serving as a non-threatening medium through which readers are able to explore and positively confront their own sexual desires. Informant accounts also show us that fan engagement with Yaoi and BL does not necessarily lead to a full rejection (or critique) of their society's hetero-sexism and an acceptance of homosexuality as a valid mode of sexual and gender identity. Instead, fans attempt to negotiate their personal stances on homosexuality, which are more often than not still heavily influenced by their religious beliefs and affiliations, in order to accommodate the strong but morally-conflicted interest that they develop in these genres. The discussion will show that while Indonesian and Filipino fans all eventually develop at least an open or permissive attitude toward non-heteronormative sexualities, issues around homosexuality and LGBT rights are merely a secondary concern. (189)

Santos Fermin concludes that:

The explorations of male homoeroticism, androgyny and coupling have helped fans realize and express their dissatisfactions with oppressive constructions of gender, sexuality and intimacy [...] and [...] also led at least some of these fans to [...] imagine a more egalitarian model of intimate relationships. (203)

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Santos Fermin, Tricia Abigail. "Male Homoerotic Fiction and Women's Sexual Subjectivities: Yaoi and BL Fans in Indonesia and the Philippines". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 187-203.

Review/Summary (6 - Tanya Serisier): Women and Erotic Fiction, ed. Kristen Phillips

By Laura Vivanco on Thursday, 24 December, 2015

a simple search of the "Factiva" news database of English-language news outlets [...] reveals that in the year following publication of the Fifty Shades trilogy [...] there were 11,297 articles which mentioned the books. As a point of comparison, the figure for the two years after publication of Dan Brown's (2003) literary blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code, shows just over half as many mentions, in 6,632 articles.

It is this cultural response, rather than the books themselves, that is the subject of this chapter [...] in it I attempt to think through some of the key tropes that I observed arising again and again. (117)

Serisier finds that almost all the reviewers were very critical of the books but

What the reviewers are interested in most of all is what the popularity of the books tells us about the many women who have not only read the books but recommended them to others, given the early lack of marketing efforts and reliance on word-of-mouth sales. To put it another way, the depiction of all that is wrong with the books easily slides into a quest to ascertain what precisely is wrong with their readers. (119)

Serisier analyses the reasons why the critics responded this way and in the final section of the essay Serisier summarises

what responses to Fifty Shades tell us about feminist readings of popular culture, arguing that we need feminist reading practices that are critical, but also engaged with and sympathetic to the complexities of gender and sexuality in contemporary culture. (129)

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Serisier, Tanya. "On Not Reading Fifty Shades: Feminism and the Fantasy of Romantic Immunity". Women and Erotic Fiction: Critical Essays on Genres, Markets and Readers. Ed. Kristen Phillips. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland 2015. 117-132.

Romance Series: Surrogate Communities?

I've written a chapter about community in my forthcoming book on reading US romance as political fiction so I immediatedly followed the link when Merrian Weymouth tweeted

and it was indeed interesting and it led me to the original academic research, in which the authors

argue that [...] commonplace technologies, such as narrative fiction, television, music, or interactive video games, can [...] provide the experience of need fulfillment. We hypothesize that the facsimiles of social contexts presented in these technologies may be used to satisfy the fulfillment of belongingness needs. Just as Harlow’s (1958) infant monkeys experienced succor from cloth surrogates, satisfying belongingness needs, so too may beloved books, television programs, movies, music, or video games potentially serve as "social surrogates," leading to an experience of belongingness even when no real, bona fide belongingness has been experienced. (Derrick, Gabriel and Hugenberg 352)

and

common themes in [...] narratives are social (Hogan, 2003), and strong initial research demonstrates that narratives engage people in social processing (Mar & Oatley, 2008). For example, engaging in narratives leads to an increase in thoughts and emotions congruent with the ones presented in the narrative (Oatley, 1999), and exposure to narratives is related to more sophisticated social skills and abilities (Mar, Oatley, Hirsh, de la Paz, & Peterson, 2006). Indeed, Mar and Oatley (2008) argue that one core function of narratives is to mentally simulate social interactions, potentially facilitating subsequent social behavior. (353)

They also offer a hypothesis which, if applied to fiction, may partially explain why so many readers describe some books as "comfort reads":

If favorite television programs can yield the experience of belonging, we hypothesized that [...] events that typically elicit belongingness needs (e.g., threats to a relationship, a rejection experience) would elicit a desire to experience a favored television program. (353)

That said, the experiments described in the article provide little support for extending the hypothesis to books. If anything the people studied were less likely to read an "old favorite" than a new book (355) but they weren't necessarily readers who had "comfort reads": they were

Seven-hundred and one undergraduate students (233 men, 322 women, and 146 participants who did not indicate their gender; mean age=18.86) (354)

who were much more likely to turn to music, TV and movies.

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Derrick, Jaye L., Shira Gabriel and Kurt Hugenberg, 2009. "Social Surrogacy: How Favored Television Programs Provide the Experience of Belonging". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45: 352-62.

laura Friday, 4 December, 2015

Chasing the Endnotes: Race and Romances in US Libraries

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 21 August, 2015

Page 229 of Wayne A. Wiegand's Part of Our Lives: A People's History of the American Public Library (New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2015) focuses on romance fiction. The excerpt below begins by drawing on a 1983 article in the New York Times:

Here are the end notes:

 

 

Following up on them, I think I found some things which were of just as much, if not more, interest than the details quoted by Wiegand.

The New York Times article on "Written Romance in the Stacks" from 1983 is available online here. It's significant that at Westville:

''We keep the collection primarily because it's very popular with the people, the ladies especially,'' says Shirley Moretto, the head librarian. ''We figure that if we get them in to read those, eventually they'll read the other books, too.''

She sounds like a parent trying to sneak some pureed vegetables into the diet of a picky toddler.

An admission of librarian cluelessness can be found in the 1998 Chicago Tribune article (available online - page 1 and page 2):

"We have changed our tune here at the library," said Vivian Mortensen, head of reader services at Park Ridge Public Library, near Chicago. "We used to feel that (romance readers) were sheltered housewives. But we find that many businesswomen read them, and every kind of person, from grandmothers to young mothers. We were thinking that this was a small group of people interested in this, and it's not. There are a lot of women out there who love them, and a few men. Some of my librarian friends say this is their favorite type of reading."

The Chicago-Tribune article on "The Color of Passion is Mostly White" from 1983 is available online here and it's worth reading in full. Here's an excerpt:

ethnic romances never gained momentum, despite the fact that Harlequin, the world's leading publisher of romances, estimated that 25 percent of its subscriptions went to blacks. [...]

Second Chance at Love, a division of Jove publishers, recently shelved plans for an ethnic line. " It was really a distribution problem," said senior editor Ellen Edwards. "If it were a strictly ethnic line, say black, we would have to distribute it only in certain bookstores."

In other words, Jove's management decided that the general readership would not accept ethnic romances.[...]

Editors, writers and readers offer various reasons for the failure of ethnic romances

One of those reasons is that the black romances were allegedly "missing [...] some flavor of the black experience" even though, as one AA author observed, they did reflect her experiences:

"My characters are college educated, professionally successful and well-rounded; they are the kind of people I know," said Stephens, who holds a masters degree from Harvard. "I wanted black characters, but the book is not about the black experience and struggle."

All of which seems to suggest that there was resistance to seeing black characters who were successful both professionally and in their personal lives.

Romance Readers and Greater Gender Role Egalitarianism

By Laura Vivanco on Saturday, 13 June, 2015

In the wake of yet another article which warns women to be on their guard while reading romance because

bad romance novels cross a line. They go from being misinformed and silly to being visibly dangerous. [...] Is this really our “porn for women”, our romantic fantasy fulfillment? I think it’s actually a regurgitation of some of the basest forms of sexism sugar-coated with the guise of romance. (Townsend)

I thought it might be reassuring to look at some recent research published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts:

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, although the romance genre is associated with both sexual content and traditional portrayals of gender roles, exposure to this genre was not related to more gender role stereotyping or reduced sexual conservatism in our regressions controlling for other factors. In fact, in raw correlations, exposure to the romance genre predicted more egalitarian gender role attitudes and less gender role stereotyping [...]. A past content analysis might shed some light on why romance novels did not predict less conservative attitudes toward sexual behavior. This analysis found that romance novels contain rather typical depictions of sex, consistent with Western sexual scripts and with little mention of atypical sexual activities [...]. Although romance novels might contain sexual content, the nature of this content does not appear to be inconsistent with traditional Western norms surrounding sex. (Fong et al 6-7)

Maybe those worried about whether romance readers are being brain-washed into accepting patriarchal dominance should take some comfort from this. Even if, in statistical terms, "the association between romance and decreased levels of gender role stereotyping failed to reach threshold for statistical significance" (5) it certainly didn't provide any evidence at all that reading romance increases "levels of gender role stereotyping". As for "attitudes towards sexual behavior", the depictions of sex which you can find in romances do vary quite considerably so the conclusions researchers reach about "attitudes toward sexual behavior" will probably depend on which types of romance they select for study. Townsend's comment that "rape scenes in these books are depressingly common, so much so that it’s noteworthy when there aren’t any" does make me wonder if she was reading only decades-old "bodice-rippers".

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Fong, K., Mullin, J. B., & Mar, R. A. "How Exposure to Literary Genres Relates to Attitudes Toward Gender Roles and Sexual Behavior." Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. 27 April 2015.

Townsend, Alex. "Tropes of Love: Gender Roles in Romance Novels." The Mary Sue. 10 June 2015.

Keeping an Eye on Love

At the 2015 International Conference on Enabling Access for Persons with Visual Impairment (ICEAPVI) Shi Qiu, Jun Hu and Matthias Rauterberg observed that "Human communication contains both verbal and nonverbal information, which interplay in our daily lives. Nearly 65% of all human interpersonal communication happen through nonverbal cues" (157) and therefore

Nonverbal communication plays an important role in social interactions. However, most nonverbal communication relies on visual signals such as eye contact, head nods, facial expressions and body gestures. Visual nonverbal signals are inaccessible for the blind and hardly accessible for low vision individuals. (157)

These researchers "interviewed 20 blind and low vision participants over [the] Internet" (157); "Ten were from Yang Zhou Special Education School in Chinese mainland and the other ten were from Hong Kong Blind Union" (158). When asked a question about whether "Eyes were important or not in the communication” (161)

one participant said she understood the importance of eye contacts from romance novels, which highlighted the description of the eye contacts between lovers. (161)

It's true that lovers are known for staring into each others' eyes. For example, in 1970 Zick Rubin

predicted that college dating couples who loved each other a great deal (as categorized by their love-scale scores) would spend more time gazing into one another's eyes than would couples who loved each other to a lesser degree. The prediction was confirmed. (265)

The information about lovers' communication via their eyes which can be gleaned from romance novels may, however, be somewhat misleading to blind and partially-sighted readers:

Most participants in the interview gained the understanding of the eyes based on three primary different resources: 1) sighted people tell them (parents, teachers or other people); 2) read novels and other literary works, especially some romance novels described the eye contacts between lovers in details; 3) understand from their own life experiences, which were mostly based on the problems they met due to a lack of visual nonverbal signals. Partially because of using some metaphor and analogy to describe eye gazes or eye contacts in novels and other literary works, participants tend to exaggerate the function of the eyes. For example, one participant stated looking at a person could clearly know he was kind-hearted or not. In fact, it is rather difficult to determine a person’s inner character at the first sight even for the sighted people. (Shi Qiu and Rauterberg 162, emphasis added)

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Rubin, Zick. "Measurement of Romantic Love." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 16.2 (1970): 265-273.

Shi Qiu, Jun Hu and Matthias Rauterberg. "Nonverbal Signals for Face-to-Face Communication between the Blind and the Sighted." Enabling Access for Persons with Visual Impairment: Proceedings of the International Conference ICEAPVI-2015, February 12-14, 2015. Ed. Georgios Kouroupetroglou. Athens, Greece: ICEAPVIA, 2015. 157-165.

[Both the articles cited and the whole conference proceedings are available online, in full, for free, via the links provided.]

laura Sunday, 26 April, 2015

Does Popular Romance and its Community of Readers Reflect US Values?

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 20 May, 2014

The online romance-reading community is global, of course, but the vast majority of authors and readers online seem to be Americans. For me, as a non-American, this has at times resulted in a somewhat muted case of culture shock. I didn't watch many Disney movies as a child, so I was very surprised to learn that my parents should have taught me "Thumper's law":

The character Thumper first appears in the film Bambi, watching as Bambi is first presented as the young prince to the creatures of the forest. He remarks that Bambi is "kinda wobbly" but is reproved by his mother who makes him repeat what his father had impressed upon him that morning, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all." This moral is now known by such names as the "Thumperian principle", "Thumper's rule" or "Thumper's law". (Wikipedia)

What my mother taught me was that if you're asked for an opinion, try to make it at least two out of the following three: true, kind, necessary. Kindness is important, but it doesn't override truth and necessity. Having joined the romance community, though, I've often seen Thumper's law invoked; John A Hall and Charles Lindholm's Is America Breaking Apart? is making me wonder if it's a manifestation of

The characteristic American smiley-faced "niceness," so often commented on with various degrees of amusement or condescension by foreign visitors [...]. Of course, it is no secret that generalized niceness can mask real differences of opinion and interest. But such masking is recognized to be a necessary precaution in a universe of independent and often rivalrous coequals. As the mayor of an American town observed:

We are a deeply fragmented community. We're nice to each other so much of the time we get the idea that's all there is. But since the problems and misunderstandings remain pretty consistent year after year, I have to assume we don't actually like each other as much as we claim to. Maybe nice is what you have to be or you'd be swinging at each other all the time. (98-99)

I wonder to what extent that might be true of the online romance community.

Obviously, there are American romance readers and authors who disagree with the idea that one should always aim to "be nice." Olivia Waite, for example, recently stated that she doesn't

believe negative reactions automatically have negative effects. Because I believe the culture of positivity is often suffocating and silencing, and I have been silent longer than I’d like. If we allow ourselves only nice things to say, we shortchange ourselves, our readers, and our genre. If we don’t talk about what books let us down, we’re going to find it harder to talk about what books lift us up. Criticism is a muscle and it needs balanced exercise.

I think Waite's an American but, according to Hall and Lindholm, her approach may not be all that popular in the US where

Practical hands-on "common-sense," it is believed, is capable of overcoming almost any obstacle, while "thinking too much" leads to nothing but confusion. It is no surprise that the predominant American philosophy is pragmatism, which decisively eschews theory under the assumption that coherent and consistent premises do not really matter much for achieving serviceable results. (85)

The concept of "thinking too much" is another one I suspect I've encountered more since joining the romance community, though I do remember my mother warning me against "worrying too much" and there's the comment in Julius Caesar about men

that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

And then there's the broad consensus among romance writers that "Romance and women’s fiction generally is all about the character arc. The reader is looking for emotional growth in the heroine from the first page to the last" (Cohen). Again, this can't be a uniquely American preference since characters do change in lots of non-American novels. However,  Hall and Lindholm find it

striking that for Americans even the self is considered to be a kind of modular entity, capable of being reconfigured to fit into preferred life styles. [...] American faith in the power of individuals to change themselves is quite understandable as a product of the immigrant experience in combination with the Protestant ethos. Protestant sects believe that individuals can be spiritually transformed through disciplined, virtuous action in this world. (86-88)

I'm working on a book about US romances and the extent to which they reflect American beliefs, but I'm not planning to look at whether the novels demonstrate a faith in the individual's ability to change, or advocate being nice and not thinking too much. All the same, I can't help wondering if these are features of the genre and its community which reflect American values.

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Cohen, Julie. "Character Arc 1: What is it?" 17 Jan. 2010.

Hall, John A. and Charles Lindholm. Is America Breaking Apart? Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999.

Waite, Olivia. "If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Come Sit By Me." 8 Nov. 2013.

Sex and the Believable HEA

By Laura Vivanco on Monday, 28 April, 2014

Susan Ostrov Weisser suggests that

the value we now put on sexual pleasure requires that we validate passion as the starter yeast for the long-term relationship, with the "meant to be" narrative guiding the tricky transition from mysterious passion to rational choice. If it doesn't go well ... you guessed it; it wasn't meant to be [....]. That is, "first comes the passion," then a more "mature" version of romance, which will develop out of the first stage, and which will be permanent if the object is the One. In other words, the magic comes first, and that enables the rational relationship. Few of my students seem aware that historically this is a rather novel idea. [...] The initial stage is supposed to have features very much like passionate sexual desire: intense, spontaneous, inexplicable, beyond control. The "mature" second act is more akin to friendship, stressing liking, mutuality, compatibility, and loyalty. (8-9)

This may have become "the chief ideology of Anglo-American romance" (51) but

the nineteenth-century press shows deep conflict, apparently fascinating to the Victorian public, about the essential nature of love itself: Is it instinctual or voluntary? Is it under our control, or is it what one writer called a "master passion" that cannot be constrained by choice? [...] The most dominant anxiety in the nineteenth-century press is that love is a desire for gratification, a strong and universal instinct that overrides judgment - analogous to, if not rooted in, sexual desire and other egotistic longings. In this view romance is said to lead to no good except pleasure. (53-54)

In other words, there were concerns that an uncontrollable sexual passion was more likely to be a recipe for disaster than the "starter yeast" for a long and happy marriage.

That there are still differences of opinion about the relative importance of friendship, similar outlooks and beliefs versus that of passion, is evident in popular romance fiction. For instance, in a short story Joanne Rock wrote for the eHarlequin website, her heroine has just been dumped by her fiancé, Ben, who seemed a sensible, rational choice of partner, and promptly gets back together with Myles, a man with whom she had a one-night stand two years before:

He was pure fantasy. The kind of man that had no business in Kasey’s life since, even though she’d always been a bit of a romantic, she knew that lasting relationships should be based on more practical grounds like fundamental compatibility, common interests and values.

That’s what made her so successful as a casting director. She knew how to put believable characters together on–screen. She put together people like her and Ben — both successful, career–oriented people with common goals and dreams.

Her feet paused on the planks of the wooden boat dock, the soft swish of rhythmic waves and the swirl of Saturday morning marina activity fading into the background as she wondered how she and Ben could look so great on paper and still fail so miserably in real life. What if she’d been basing her relationships on all the wrong things? (9)

Just a couple of days, a few sex scenes and only a very limited amount of conversation later, Myles has gained the

knowledge they were meant to be together. [...] For him, nothing was more important than keeping Kasey in his life — now and always. (18)

My impression is that, over the years, popular romance has attempted to identify the necessary ingredients and the order in which they should be mixed, to create a believably happy ending for the protagonists. While one may be able to identify an overall trend in the baked items they produce, the flavourings, cooking times etc can vary considerably from one author to another:

beginning in the 1960s, when sexual attraction began to be depicted as the initial magnetism drawing the protagonists together, there are authors, such as Mary Burchell, who do not follow the trend. This is still the case, with some authors downplaying its importance, and concentrating on other aspects of love. Examples include Jane Donnelly, who sees love as the recognition of one's other half; Betty Neels, who emphasizes the growth of love over time and Leigh Michaels, who stresses the friendship aspect of love. (Dixon 172)

What I conclude from all this is, firstly, that whether a reader finds a romance's happy ending believable may depend on (a) the reader's beliefs about the most important ingredients in a long-term relationship and (b) the author's receipe for love. If one believes, for example, that passion is a pre-requisite for intimacy, and that the first will inevitably lead to the second if the passion is strong and special enough, then a series of sex scenes followed by a declaration of ever-lasting love will provide a convincing HEA. If, however, the reader believes that shared political, religious and moral beliefs are very important to a lasting relationship, or that a shared sense of humour is vital in a marriage, the same HEA is likely to leave the reader unconvinced.

Secondly, I wonder if changing beliefs about the importance of sex in creating and sustaining long-term romantic relationships might help explain the increase in explicit sexual content in the genre from the 1970s onwards. Some readers undoubtedly do read romance primarily for their erotic content, however this is not necessarily the sole or even the main reason for its inclusion: the increasing number of sex scenes can be understood as a consequence of the assumption that passion is the "starter yeast" for long-term relationships and the stronger the starter yeast, the stronger the relationship.

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Dixon, jay. The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1990s. London: UCL Press, 1999.

Ostrov Weisser, Susan. The Glass Slipper: Women and Love Stories. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2013.

Rock, Joanne. "Girl Gone Solo." eHarlequin, 2004.

Overthinking things?

By Laura Vivanco on Friday, 28 March, 2014

When I was young I was read the story of the Elephant's Child

who was full of ‘satiable curiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. [...] He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him. And still he was full of ‘satiable curiosity!

That poor little elephant suffers a lot as a result of his curiosity. He's not just spanked: he gets his nose irrevocably stretched by a crocodile. He learns, though, that the growth is a positive development and the story ultimately condemns the family who do the spanking.

I much prefer this story about curiosity and its rewards to the idea that curiosity kills cats or that bad things emerge when Pandora's Box is opened. So in the past when people have mentioned the possibility that the academic study of popular romance could involve overthinking  things, I was just puzzled. Isn't thinking about things always a good thing?

Recently, though, I've seen a couple of things which have got me rethinking the idea of overthinking.

for every person who is interested in interrogating and contextualizing her own choices in reading material, I feel certain there are more people who just want to read what they want without over-thinking it or being questioned in any way. I guess I am trying in a clumsy roundabout way to figure out if there are ways in which academic or “wonky”  incursions into the online romance community are perceived as a negative development and, if so, where, and for whom?
a college writing instructor, [...] offered a course that asks students to examine everyday arguments: that is, to use rhetorical and critical theory to construct academic essays about the arguments that we daily encounter in the news, in popular culture, and online. (1)
When I taught this course in the winter of 2011, I encountered a problem. For their third formal essay of the semester, students wrote a critical analysis of a television show of their choice; not surprisingly, most students picked programs that they regularly watched and enjoyed. This was by far students’ favorite assignment, and in fact these essays were the strongest and most sophisticated of the semester. One by one, however, students turned in written drafts that eviscerated the shows they spoke so animatedly and lovingly about in class. The student who had seen every syndicated episode of Friends scrutinized the show’s lack of socioeconomic and racial diversity. The student who routinely watched The Bachelor each week with her friends interrogated its portrayal of romantic love and marriage. And on the day when the final draft was due, Maria – who wrote a beautiful analysis of how the show Entourage perpetuates hegemonic masculinity – asked me, “Does this mean I can’t watch Entourage anymore?” (1-2)
If Maria’s Entourage essay gave the show a critical viewing, how was she watching it before? Was she viewing it uncritically? If so, how does this characterization of her viewing practices position Maria’s expertise about the show in the classroom? What knowledges, practices, or subjectivities actually comprise Maria’s expertise, and how do they compare to academic ways of thinking? Is there another way to understand Maria’s pleasure from watching Entourage besides saying it is uncritical? What kind of affect is pleasure, and where does it fit in the writing classroom? What happens when texts that students use primarily for purposes of pleasure and entertainment are brought into the classroom for critical analysis? What happens to students in such situations? And finally, how should I respond to Maria’s question? (2)
romance readers take part in shaping how textual conventions are understood, what texts mean beyond their narrative function, and how they circulate. Moreover, some women use popular romance fiction to maintain intimate connections to friends and family members, reflect on and transform their personal lives, and demonstrate collective and civic engagement online. These experiences may remain invisible in classrooms that focus primarily on the role of popular culture texts in reproducing hegemonic ideologies. (15)
critical literacy pedagogies can actually disempower students when such pedagogies invite popular culture texts into the writing classroom but position such texts primarily as ideological artifacts that require critical, academic “tools” to excavate their hidden meanings. (13)
In a post celebrating her blog's first anniversary, Pamela of Badass Romance said that
They're questions which also preoccupied Stephanie Moody who, as
Then
Like Pamela, Stephanie began to ask herself questions about questioning and critiquing:
What, in other words, if academics are not the curious little elephant but are some of the older animals in the story? I've never really taught any students, which makes it hard for me to see myself in this role, but could we be the pompous yet helpful Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake who asks the elephant "questions, in the Socratic mode of instruction" (Meyer)? Perhaps we're the Kolokolo bird, with its mournful cry of "‘Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out," sending the elephant off on a possibly instructive but also dangerous and painful quest? Or are we the crocodile, forcefully pulling the elephant's nose while trying to turn him into fodder for our careers?

Maybe I'm overthinking things and should just sit back and enjoy some pictures instead?

 
 
 
Pretty, aren't they? But I'm still asking questions. And in case you're wondering, Stephanie Moody concludes that
and so
I'm not sure that academics who are also romance readers "position such texts primarily as ideological artifacts" but I can see how we might come across as doing that. In which case, we might seem to be taking an authoritative position which disempowers other romance readers.

On the other hand, the online romance community isn't being forced into a college composition classroom, and those of us who are both academics and romance readers are still romance readers, so should being an academic (or simply being a reader who takes a more academic/"wonky" perspective) disbar someone from taking "part in shaping how textual conventions are understood, what texts mean beyond their narrative function, and how they circulate"?

 
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Meyer, Rosalind, 1984. "But is it Art? An Appreciation of Just So Stories." Kipling Journal 58 (232). 10-33. Qtd. in Lewis, Linda. "The Elephant's Child." Kipling Society, 30 July 2005.

Moody, Stephanie Lee, 2013. "Affecting Genre: Women's Participation with Popular Romance Fiction." Ph.D thesis. University of Michigan.

Telling Stories About Ourselves

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 16 March, 2014

Here's another statement about why it's important to study the stories we read:

One of the most significant developments in narrative studies has been the recognition that humans are “storied selves” (Eakin, 1999, p. 99) living in a “story-shaped world” (Sarbin, 1993, p. 63). In this view, we make meaning of our own lives and others' through narrative; we tell stories to make sense of experience and understand the world around us. We are, in the phrase coined by Fisher (1984), Homo narrans.

[...] For literary critics the centrality of narrative comes as no surprise, but work remains to be done theorizing the complex relationships between fictional stories, which are ubiquitous in human culture, and the myriad stories we tell about ourselves and our world. How do the form and content of fictional narratives shape the stories individuals perceive and construct about their own lives? How does the emplotment of events in the lives of fictional characters influence readers' understanding of the possible and permissible plotlines in their own lives? (Harrison 112)

Harrison adds that

Psychologist Jerome Bruner (2004) [...] acknowledged the powerful role of culture in shaping life stories, which “reflect the prevailing theories about ‘possible lives’ that are part of one's culture.” To “construct their own life narratives,” individuals within a culture can draw upon its “stock of canonical life narratives” (Bruner, 2004, p. 694) and combine and recombine elements of cultural narratives in order to construct their own. Thus, individuals do not merely become their own autobiographical stories; they become “variants of the culture's canonical forms” (Bruner, 2004, p. 694). Conversely, a culture can be understood through the array of life stories its members can tell. Together, contemporary and historical life stories and the cultural narratives that shape them help us understand a culture's values, possibilities, and preoccupations. (112-13)

Her article focuses on stories featuring "the marriage plot" so it's of particular interest to those of us who study, read and/or write popular romance fiction. It's also currently available in full for free.

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Harrison, Mary Catherine. "Reading the Marriage Plot." Journal of Family Theory & Review 6.1 (2014): 112-131.