Saturday, March 23, 2013

Love and Romance in American Culture

The Journal of American Culture's special issue on Love and Romance in American Culture, guest edited by Maryan Wherry, is now out. Here's a list of the articles:

Wherry, Maryan. "Introduction: Love and Romance in American Culture." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 1-5. [Excerpt]

Maryan writes that
Perhaps the most recognizable media form of romance is the popular romance novel which exploded on to the scene in the 1970s. The romance novel is so pervasive that it has its own genre with several subgenres and dominates the publishing field. Popular romance writers explore the vagaries of romance, the meaning of love and the intricacies of personal relationships, yet the genre is frequently considered to be subliterary. (2)
Although, as Maryan acknowledges, her "collection of articles is by no means comprehensive or complete. Media notably missing are popular music and love songs, radio, television, and the popular romance novel" (4), I nonetheless, think it could be of interest to romance scholars for comparative purposes.

Møllegaard, Kirsten. "Cold Love: Silence and Otherness on the Northern Frontier." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 6-15. [Excerpt]

Møllegaard contrasts Kathryn Harrison’s novel The Seal Wife with Leslie
Marmon Silko’s short story “Storyteller” and concludes that
the very absence of romantic love in “Storyteller” [...] exposes the Eurocentric fabric upon which The Seal Wife’s romantic representation with the Aleut as silent other is based. Reading these two stories back to back invites a consideration of what Rey Chow refers to as the West’s “fascination with the native, the oppressed, the savage, and all such figures” as “a desire to hold onto an unchanging certainty” about the self-other dichotomy. (13)
Has popular romance demonstrated a similar "fascination with the native," albeit the "native" has tended to be cast as the hero rather than the heroine?

Gardner, Jeanne Emerson. "She Got Her Man, But Could She Keep Him? Love and Marriage in American Romance Comics, 1947–1954." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 16–24. [Excerpt]

Jeanne Emerson Gardner has written a short article about these comics for the Popular Romance Project. Here she goes into more detail. I can see some parallels between the suspicions that exist concerning romance novels, and those expressed about romance comics:
romance comics manifested a fundamentally conservative attitude towards premarital sexual activity. This attitude was necessary in the early 1950s as a generation of adults “worried about propaganda, ‘brainwashing,’ and un-American activities” scrutinized with growing concern the “children’s fare” being marketed by comic publishers with very little regulation or oversight (Gilbert 97). [...] While romance comics’ gory contemporaries, the true crime and horror comics, attracted the most criticism, romances were scrutinized for sexual suggestiveness (Gabilliet 33). As tame as the romance comics may seem to today’s eyes, after Young Romance #1 was released, Simon reported that comic publisher Martin Goodman expressed his fear that “a love comic book for kids” would “do irreparable harm to the field” because it “borders on pornography” (Simon and Simon 125). (19)

Dunak, Karen. " 'Heed Your Creed, Fall in Love and Get Married': New Left Ideology and Romantic Relationships."  Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 25–31. [Excerpt]

There's been quite a lot of discussion this week about romance and feminism. Dunak doesn't look at romance novels, but she explores another area in which the personal can be political, arguing that in the 1960s
While the politics of women’s liberation might have appeared at odds with the celebration of a wedding, and as some activists declared, at odds with marriage altogether, the belief that the personal was political allowed women to shape their relationships and their weddings—personal, but also public events—to express their political views.
As women liberationists identified the private domain as the starting point of women’s political oppression, the reclaiming of the wedding as a political site allowed feminists to celebrate their unions without betraying their political principles. (27)

Abbott, Traci B. "The Trans/Romance Dilemma in Transamerica and Other Films." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 32–41. [Excerpt]

Rainbow Romance Writers is the chapter of the RWA which "is the home of  professional authors of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender romances" but as far as I'm aware, there are far more m/m and lesbian romances than transgender ones. Perhaps that's because of the strength and nature of existing narratives about transpeople:
As porn stars and prostitutes [...] transwomen are seen as unequivocally sexual deviants who display an easily accessible—and easily dismissible—eroticism as their central defining characteristic.

In contrast to these highly sexualized images, when popular Hollywood films focus on transwomen or male cross-dressers as protagonists, they usually dismiss their eroticism through farce, allowing the mainstream audience to deflect the trans character’s romantic allure with derision and mockery.  [...]
This comedic resolution [...] resolves what some trans activists argue is the most prominent transgender scenario in popular culture: “a straight man tricked by a beautiful woman who turns out to be ‘really’ a man” (Spade and Wahng 247). Anxiety over such sexual or romantic deception appears in a variety of media, from Hollywood films [...] and television shows [...] to legal and journalistic accounts of transphobic violence which cast the usually MTF victim as a willful antagonist who, “used lies and deceptions to trick [her male attackers] into having sex” (Bettcher 44). This theme of romantic deception has been a constant in another popular forum for trans visibility, television talk shows [...]. In our transphobic and homophobic culture, in other words, romantic or sexual attraction to a transperson is, at its most benign, a comic misunderstanding, or, at its worst, an abhorrent deception that can justify murder. (34)

Hobbs, Alex. "Romancing the Crone: Hollywood's Recent Mature Love Stories." Journal of American Culture 36.1 (2013): 42–51. [Excerpt]

Romances featuring older protagonists aren't that common either, and here Hollywood would seem to be ahead of popular romance, though even there
the dual romantic lead has been rather unusual until the last decade. Of course, America is an aging society and with scientists reporting that the majority of Americans will live longer, it makes sense that Hollywood should take advantage of what is known as the gray dollar and provide films that reflect an older audience. Equally influential in this decision might be the older actors, writers, and directors working in the industry (42-43)
And yet, there are plenty of older romance readers, authors and editors, so what's holding back popular romance in this area?

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