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Does the romance genre owe society?
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2476

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:16 am    Post subject: Does the romance genre owe society? Reply with quote

Anybody else following the DA essay "Cultivating Tolerance"? I hope I don't get this wrong, but I think the thrust of the essay is that the romance genre doesn't include enough persons of color as main characters, doesn't present enough romances that cross multicultural lines, and that steps should be taken to correct this deficiency. Thus, romance readers would become more "tolerant" of those kinds of stories, of minority authors. At times the discussion became quite heated!

The author of the essay states clearly that the word "tolerance" has ambiguities; i.e., to tolerate has a pejorative content as well as a positive one. It might have been better to substitute the word "acceptance."

In my own mind, I'm not sure that romance lends itself to sociological purposes. But the discussion brought up all kinds of matters that I simply never think about when reading romance fiction.

What do you think? Should romance take on the task of changing readers' levels of tolerance/acceptance?
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KayWebbHarrison



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 1234
Location: SE VA. USA

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I started reading that post, but my brain balked at following its circumlocutions through to the end.

Dick, I agree that acceptance is a better word than tolerance. After reading your comments, I am reminded of the old argument between "Art for Art's Sake" and "Art as a Means of Affecting Society."

I believe that if a book tells a good story with interesting characters and language, people will accept it, regardless of the ethnicity of the characters.

Kay
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:03 pm    Post subject: Re: Does the romance genre owe society? Reply with quote

dick wrote:


What do you think? Should romance take on the task of changing readers' levels of tolerance/acceptance?



Of course not. Publishing and professional writing is a business. Books are published to be sold, not to be used as a teaching tool. If a reader wants certain characters and settings, it is up to the reader to find that in romance or another genre.
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:41 pm    Post subject: Re: Does the romance genre owe society? Reply with quote

xina wrote:
[Of course not. Publishing and professional writing is a business. Books are published to be sold, not to be used as a teaching tool. If a reader wants certain characters and settings, it is up to the reader to find that in romance or another genre.


Agreed!

Linda
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MarianneM



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 374
Location: Houston, Texas

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:01 pm    Post subject: Good question, dick Reply with quote

I think that this is a good question, because it leads us to consideration of whether books written primarily for entertainment purposes are supposed to proselytize or not. I vote with the group that says "not". There are, and have always been, books which can do both, but I think an author has to decide before he/she initiates his writing whether he is teaching or entertaining. A talented writer, like Carla Kelly, can do both, sometimes quite spectacularly, but it is sometimes twice as difficult, like straddling two galloping horses as the same time. This is especially true in genre fiction writing. There is usually a certain amount of necessary info-dumping at the beginning of the book. I'm thinking of Elizabeth Lowell's Donovan quartet as an example. She achieved a darn good job of combining suspense and romance and, for those of us who love to learn new exotic facts, we had an extra bonus with our romantic pleasure.
I loved Kelly's Marrying the Captain and Marrying the Royal Marine. because her factual background in both books enhanced the realism of them. These were intriguing facts which I had not known before, although Georgette Heyer's books about the Napoleonic Wars had offered some of them.
I've followed postings of various readers here who seem to want only a minimum "wallpaper" of real facts to back up the standard romance. But this can lead to some pretty unbelievable scenarios, like the Regency Duke who performed surgery on the side. And did it regularly. That one was particularly silly. I recall asking dick if he could give me an estimate of how many marriageable Dukes there were in the Regency period in England, and I recall he stated about seventeen, more or less, if you subtracted those already married or too old. I do remember how much more realistic Stephanie Lauren's book about Devil Cynster was than most run-of-the-mill Regencies. As dick pointed out, and Devil proved, a Duke of his prominence had many properties to manage, with all their typical problems and employees to care for, very much as a modern CEO of a group of profitable companies has a lot of detail work on his plate. The nobility of that period did have an amazing amount of freedom in some ways, but they still had heavy responsibilities.

MarrianneM
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1010

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here we are again. This is the ancient "is Art for instruction or for entertainment" question which has been debated since even before Aristotle made his thoughts known.

I personally don't see Art as having an intentional sociological function, but some artists may affect society, at least over time, if the the art is authentic and genuine, and not merely didactic. That's JMO. The very best of art, though, probably both entertains us and generates thoughtfulness at the same time.

As for current day authors and romance, I think individual authors need to write what they know about or what they want to say. I doubt agenda writing would likely be all that entertaining or instructive.

As for romance being a product for a business--it is indeed and that's an effing shame in my very strong opinion. Our society has moved from emphasis on democracy and related ideals to one focused more on capitalism, commercialism and out and out greed. Every dang thing is seen as either a product or a consumer of it. Besides making money, I think the corporate dumbing down of media has made great headway already. That's why I am so truly grateful to those authors who can plow through whatever it is we have now, and yet still entertain and perhaps make us thoughtful.

As for why I myself read romance...I prefer historicals because they remove me from the present time--which can be insightful in itself since history and man repeat themselves and seeing that in a different setting can be illuminating and entertaining at the same time--and I tend to read about the roots of my own culture--to try to better understand who I myself am and where I came from.

When I want to learn about things "other," I want to read from those who are knowledgeable or experienced, not from well-intentioned amateurs; and non-fiction works far better for me in those cases.

(ETA a comma for clarity.)


Last edited by Eliza on Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:43 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1010

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:25 pm    Post subject: Re: Good question, dick Reply with quote

MarianneM wrote:
...I've followed postings of various readers here who seem to want only a minimum "wallpaper" of real facts to back up the standard romance. But this can lead to some pretty unbelievable scenarios....


It's a given that there are different tastes in historicals, and there have been several threads on accuracy in historical romances. Since full-time historians often disagree with one another or change their views over time, I never go to fiction to learn history. I go to history itself to learn individual views of history. I go to romance to be entertained and to be distanced or removed from my own time to get a different angle or perspective on how people behave. Quite aside from facts about costumes, vehicles, customs and the like, we're still reading about people. People like us, in different settings.

ETA--About the fictional duke doing surgery: Surgical tools and pre-formed stitches have been around since at least Roman times. A very modern-looking Roman surgical kit was unearthed from Hadrian's Wall from before the Romans left Britain c. 450 AD. Since man has been man and had tools, that means weapons, which in turn means trying to treat injured people. Plenty of societies have had healers, either with status of some sort, or those having no other option but to do something to help another as best they could. Oh, and besides surgery, the Romans made better, longer-lasting roads and bridges than we moderns have.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm in the "If it is good, people will read it."

The corollary to that is, "If it is preachy, people will not read it."
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1010

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 8:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I forgot that I read a supposed "multicultural" book recently. The author had good intentions but the non-WASP character was written as over-the-top good, even for a hero, with no perceivable ethnic differences or concerns. Or personality for that matter. A cardboard cutout. Some may see it as a start, I suppose. It did nothing for me sociologically or as even a decent read.

I also forgot to say that I sadly believe that the people who most need to read multicultural books might be the least likely to seek them out.
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erika



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 447

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 9:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've read more romances with the gay best friend but can't recall romances with an ethnic best friend.
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MarianneM



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 374
Location: Houston, Texas

PostPosted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 10:59 pm    Post subject: Note to Eliza about surgery during the Regency period Reply with quote

As far as the fictional Duke who was a surgeon goes, it was an extremely unlikely anomaly, in my opinion, since surgery in England in the Regency period was mostly practiced by barbers, most of whom did not have medical degrees. There was a famous medical school in Scotland, however, where the teaching was more up-to-date.
In the descriptions I have read, both in fiction books and in historical accounts, the Waterloo battle was an extremely bloody slaughter. The barber/surgeons who were there had tents outside the battlefield and next to the tents there were piles of severed limbs, with the surgeons struggling to keep up with the wounded and save as many as they could. Those injured who could still walk, staggered back into the Belgian towns, where those families who were compassionate set up temporary shelters in their homes for the most seriously wounded. Georgette Heyer has some very vivid descriptions of the aftermath of the battle. Interestingly enough, Heyer's description of the battle and its aftermath is considered so excellently researched that the British military college, Sandhurst, is known to have used her description as a study guide for its students.
At any rate, I still hold by my point that a Duke, particularly a wealthy Duke with many properties to manage, would not usually have either the time or the inclination to carry out a medical career and still have time to hold household with his many properties and "people".

He also would not answer his own doorbell. He had servants for that.

Marianne
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Karen Templeton



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 298

PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 12:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

No genre -- or fiction in general -- "owes" society anything, except a good story. And even that is subjective. Wink Nor can readers say "I want to read this kind of story" and expect publishers to magically fulfill their wish list. And, yes, because traditional publishing is all about bringing to market products it thinks will sell, it is slow to embrace diversity -- and when it does take a chance on something new, one of two things happen: either the "experiment" is a huge success, thus spawning five gazillion clones; or it bombs, big-time, and a decade or two passes before some brave editor convinces marketing to take another chance on the subject. So whining to Big Publishing about what is or isn't available is pretty much pointless. They're not going to put out a call for types of stories/characters they don't think will sell in big numbers. Period. And one article, no matter how many or what kind of comments it gets, isn't going to change that.

However, we are at the dawn of a new-old age, where writers with stories to tell that don't fit the trad publishing model can indie publish. And are, in mind-boggling numbers...which, on the one hand, is making stories with diverse settings/characters more available than ever, while on the other making them ironically harder to find. And the noise from thousands of authors all trying to promote their books on the Internet is deafening. But everything a reader could ask for is out there, somewhere, even if it takes some digging to find.

Karen Templeton
www.karentempleton.com
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1010

PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 2:23 am    Post subject: Re: Note to Eliza about surgery during the Regency period Reply with quote

MarianneM wrote:
...At any rate, I still hold by my point that a Duke, particularly a wealthy Duke with many properties to manage, would not usually have either the time or the inclination to carry out a medical career and still have time to hold household with his many properties and "people". He also would not answer his own doorbell. He had servants for that.


History must be wrong then about Lord Elgin (1766-1841) who served as a diplomat but was also involved in Greek antiquities, or Heinrich Schliemann (1868), a wealthy German businessman who searched for Homer's Troy. Clearly these men did not know their roles or we've been misled.

P.S. All major historical battles with overwhelming casualties resulted in limb loss IF there was time for even those measures to try to save lives. Otherwise the injured just bled out.
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NoirFemme



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Location: America

PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 3:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think the issue has anything to do with the romance genre "owing" society, but the fact that a great majority of us live, interact, love, like, hate, see, work, play with people of different ethnicity, religion, cultures and cultural values, etc on a daily basis, but when we crack open the spine of a romance novel, the default--normalized, I should say--image of Romance (passion, sex, love, marriage) is that of a white couple.

Throw in the mania for small town romances that nine times out of ten, are completely homogenous, and the exoticness or Otherization of non-whites (usually Greek, Italian, Hispanic--basically ethnic groups who've been brushed with the dark, passionate, hot-tempered lover stereotype), and I have to hold a mirror up to what this means for and to readers, writers, and the cogs of the publishing industry.

It's arrogant to claim that what's being published is what sells and you should look around or look outside the genre for a particular element--if that's the case, then stop complaining about Regencies or vampires or erotica taking over the genre. It's erroneous as well since there are romance novels featuring non-white protagonists--you just don't see them promoted or placed in the same venues as Linda Howard or Eloisa James because TPTB in publishing automatically assume the average romance reader (white, middle-aged, suburban) has absolutely zero interest in romantic suspense or contemporary romance or even historical romance with non-white protagonists. Or worse, those books aren't even acquired (and even worse, not even written) because romances with white protagonists (aka default) are easier to market and promote since it's "normal".

The question asked is why can we send white characters to the moon, see them mate with all sorts of mythological creatures, overpopulate Regency England as dukes and earls, watch them battle it over a lawsuit, etc etc, but:
a) POC are absolutely erased from the picture
b) the thought of including people of color makes people's knees knock in fear
c) people get angry whenever the lack of POC is pointed out--and why the knee-jerk response is to accuse others of trying to "force" them to read books with POC

This topic also, in a roundabout way, exposes the troublesome aspects of the genre's racial hegemony: white authors dominate, ergo white characters dominate, ergo POC feel marginalized, ergo POC remove themselves from the romance genre and/or mainstream romance areas, ergo the genre remains dominate by white authors and white characters. It also denies the presence and history of authors of color in the romance genre--the RWA was founded by a powerful black editor, Vivien Stephens, black authors were there in the 80s, and there are black authors whose backlists are just as long and varied as Nora Roberts and Susan Elizabeth Phillips--and I would say the dismissal of this topic also denies and silences the voice of the romance readers who might not be white behind their internet handles and blogs.
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Linda in sw va



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PostPosted: Sat Jun 23, 2012 6:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

NoirFemme wrote:
I It's arrogant to claim that what's being published is what sells and you should look around or look outside the genre for a particular element--if that's the case, then stop complaining about Regencies or vampires or erotica taking over the genre.


I think there's a difference between saying..I want to see more of this or less of this and saying that the genre owes me more of one thing or less of another. I might get resentful or irritated with the genre because of how narrow it can be but I don't think it owes me anything. I can, will and have looked outside the genre when I didn't find what I wanted to read there. In fact due to this I read more outside than genre than in these days. I agree that more diversity would be a good thing in the genre and it's a shame that publishers do not seem to be open to it. Remove 'owes' from the phrasing and it changes the dicussion quite a bit I think.

All IMHO of course!

Linda
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Last edited by Linda in sw va on Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:12 am; edited 1 time in total
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