Apart from the fact that this made me imagine a new species of rodent, which would take its place alongside the elephant and donkey, this scene instantly brought to mind part of the film Miss Congeniality, where the contestants in a beauty contest are being asked about the one thing that would most improve society, and all of them (except the undercover detective, played by Sandra Bullock, disguised as ‘Gracie Lou Freebush’) immediately give a pat, acceptable response:
“Yes, Your Majesty. I’m a Republicrat.” [...]
“Republicrat?” Fariq frowned. “I studied the politics of your country, but I have never heard of this party.”
“Neither has anyone else. It has a membership of one. Basically I take the best from the Democrats and Republicans, then vote my conscience.” (2005: 33)
Contestant1: I would have to say, world peace.The heroine of To Kiss a Sheikh is a beauty queen, so perhaps the similarity isn’t surprising. It's not that a desire for world peace, or a choice to be a 'Republicrat', can't be a sincere and principled stand, it's just that, as presented in the context of To Kiss a Sheikh and Miss Congeniality, the way the responses is framed presents them as acceptable to all, non-controversial. But is a non-controversial, non-party-political response representative of the treatment of politics in all contemporary romances?
Contestant2: Definitely, world peace.
Contestant3: That's easy. World peace.
Contestant4: World peace.
Interviewer: What is the one most important thing our society needs?
Gracie Lou: That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.
Gracie Lou: And, world peace.
Interviewer: Thank you, Gracie Lou.
I have read contemporary romances, including Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation, in which some of the characters are running for office and/or are politicians, but again, the situations in the books I’ve read have been non-party-political. Here’s an example from Karen Templeton’s Swept Away:
Luralene was asking Ivy how her mayoral campaign was going [...]. She still wasn’t quite sure how she’d gotten hoodwinked into running for mayor, although she seemed to recall the Logan brothers, the youngest of whom was her son-in-law, had a lot to do with it. But when eighty-something Cy Hotchkins decided not to run for reelection – it would’ve been his sixth term, but term limits were not a big issue in a town of a thousand where most people were just happy somebody was willing to do the job – who should throw her forty-year-old pillbox into the ring but Arliss Potts, the Methodist preacher’s wife known more for her culinary eccentricities than her leadership qualities. And before Ivy knew it, her daughter Dawn, the town’s only attorney, had gotten a petition going and amassed enough signatures to get Ivy on the ballot. (2006: 21)
But just because contemporary romances avoid references to political parties doesn’t mean they don’t deal with politics. If one accepts that the personal is political, then every romance could be considered political in the sense that romances deal with the politics of gender relationships, but there are plenty of romances which touch on other political issues. Whats remained a constant in my reading experience is that the politics is not presented in a party-political way. For example, here’s a hero, who’s just taken over a business, and the heroine, the PA he inherited, discussing employment issues as they relate to employees with families:
‘After the last time, I vowed I’d never have a PA who was a mother again.’This is a political issue. In the UK the government has introduced policies giving workers the right to ask for more flexible working-hours (though employers are not obliged to agree). The Trades Union Congress (TUC), like Lou, argues that flexibility from employers leads to a happier, more productive, more loyal workforce:
‘Very family-minded of you,’ said Lou.
Patrick’s brows drew together at the unconcealed sarcasm in her voice. ‘I haven’t got anything against families,’ he said. ‘It’s up to individuals whether they have a family or not, but I don’t see why I should have to rearrange my life around other people’s children. [...]’
[...] ‘You’re obviously not aware of the fact that Schola Systems has always had a very good reputation for family-friendly policies,’ she admonished him. ‘I was lucky to get a job there when I had to go back to work and the children were small, and especially to have such an understanding boss. Bill Sheeran was always flexible when people needed time at home for one reason or another.
‘It won him a lot of loyalty from the staff,’ she added warningly, ‘so if you were thinking of holding parenthood against your employees, you might find yourself without any staff at all!’ (Hart 2005: 16-17)
Our long hours culture creates rigidity and promotes a downward spiral of disincentives to workers. A situation where 11 million UK workers say that they want to increase or decrease their hours of work cannot be good for business. This mismatch must impact adversely on the size of the recruitment pool, labour turnover, motivation and productivity. In fact, the way to utilise the skills of a changing, more feminised workforce is through strong partnerships to develop mutually beneficial patterns of working time organisation as is common in Europe. (TUC report, 2005)
Or how about the environment? In Jayne Ann Krentz’s Sweet Fortune Jessie, the heroine, has been involved in exposing an environmental organisation, DEL, which was a cover for a fraudster who was tricking people into investing in non-existent technologies which he claimed would help to tackle climate change. Talking to her sister, Elizabeth, she comments:
“ [...] There aren’t any easy answers and there’s still so much we don’t know about ecology and the environment.”Climate change is, of course, both an environmental and a political issue.
“I can sort of see why people got excited about what Edwin Bright [the fraudster] was selling.”
“So can I,” Jessie said. “Too bad it wasn’t for real. (Krentz 1999: 268)
Given the large number of characters in contemporary romances who have worked, or still do work, in the military and the police, romances can bring up issues such as gun control, the death penalty and foreign affairs. In Marilyn Pappano’s The Bluest Eyes in Texas, for example, the hero has fought in ‘the war in Iraq [...] where he’d spent more than a year and the Afghani mountains’ (2006: 10). As a result, ‘According to the United States Army, Logan was a hero, with commendations, medals and scars to show for it’ (2006: 120). One of the questions raised in the course of the novel, however, is whether this automatically makes him a hero in the eyes of the heroine and the reader. The heroine certainly doesn’t view him this way until close to the end of the novel, and therefore if she thinks of him as a hero it isn’t because of his military record. The villain, in fact, has also served in the army, and, very briefly, the novel raises the question of whether the army, as well as creating ‘heroes’ may also occasionally exacerbate violent tendencies:
Mac’s criminal record as a kid had been mostly petty stuff – shoplifting, vandalism, brawling. He’d never used a weapon, never done any real harm to anyone ... as far as the authorities had known. Had war taught him to enjoy killing or would he have graduated to murder regardless?The question is never resolved, but it is raised, as is the issue of the death penalty. The heroine muses that
“He liked fighting,” Logan said quietly. “He was more gung ho about going to Iraq than anyone else in our company. He never seemed to feel a moment’s remorse over killing anyone. It got his adrenaline pumping, got him all psyched up.” (2006: 199)
She thought death was the only just punishment for what Mac had done to the Jensens ... but after he’d gone to trial. After he’d been convicted by a jury of twelve citizens. After he’d been sentenced to die. That was just. (2006: 221)Later, however, Logan says that Mac would ‘rather die than go to prison. Being locked up in a cell the rest of his life is the worst punishment he can imagine’ (2006: 239). Clearly neither the hero nor heroine have any moral objection to the death penalty, though they may occasionally feel that there are fates worse than death for certain offenders. And perhaps it’s because I’m in the UK, but I can’t help but notice how many guns there are in many contemporary romances set in the US. In this novel, for example, the heroine notices the weapons in the trunk of the hero’s car:
Gun cases. Two obviously held pistols; the other two were for longer guns. He didn’t intend to take any chances with MacGregor. [...] But logic aside, the weapons made her uncomfortable. Sure, she carried a gun – two of them at the moment – but strictly in self-defense. [...] But going looking for someone armed to the teeth – that was more like hunting (2006: 28)From my perspective, coming from a country with ‘some of the strictest gun legislation in the world’, both of them are ‘armed to the teeth’, and there is no way this story could have been set in the UK, because both of them would have been in breach of the law.
Contemporary romances, then, do touch on political issues, even if in a non-party political way. They may not discuss the issues in great detail, but one wouldn’t necessarily expect that in a work of fiction. And for a genre often accused of being ‘fluff’, romances can include serious reflections on some extremely important political issues. Here’s one final example. Charlie, the hero of Crusie’s Charlie All Night, and St Thomas More may not have a lot in common, but they do share an intense respect for the law:
“Listen to me,” Charlie said and the intensity in his voice stopped her in midsentence. “One of the biggest problems this country has is that people think a law is only a law if they agree with it. And if they don’t, it’s all right to kick guys like Joe [who is gay] out of the service and bomb abortion clinics because there’s a higher law at work. And that’s garbage [...] The law is the law [...] You can’t choose which part of it you like and which you’re going to ignore. It’s not a salad bar [...]. The whole thing stands, or the whole thing goes. [...]” (2005: 228)And here is More, as portrayed in Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons:
More: [...] I know what’s legal not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal.----
Roper: Then you set Man’s law above God’s!
More: No far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact – I’m not God. [...]
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More (roused and excited): Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (Leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast – Man’s laws, not God’s – and if you cut them down – and you’re just the man to do it – d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (1968: 38-39)
- Bolt, Robert, 1968. A Man for All Seasons: A Play of Sir Thomas More, ed. E. R. Wood (London Heinemann Educational Books).
- Crusie, Jennifer, 2005. Charlie All Night (Richmond, Surrey: MIRA Books).
- Hart, Jessica, 2005. Contracted, Corporate Wife (Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon).
- Krentz, Jayne Ann, 1999. Sweet Fortune (London: William Heinemann).
- Pappano, Marilyn, 2006. The Bluest Eyes in Texas (Richmond, Surrey: Silhouette Books).
- Southwick, Teresa, 2005. To Kiss a Sheikh (Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon).
- Templeton, Karen, 2006. Swept Away (Richmond, Surrey: Silhouette Books).