Romance III: Civic Engagements: Romance Communities, In and Outside the Text“Have you forgotten how bad the gossips are around here?”: The Functions of Idle Chatter in Harlequin Medical Romance
(Jessica Miller, University of Maine)
Harlequin medical romance novels depict an emotional love story that develops within the social world of medicine. These novels focus on two morally good and professionally competent protagonists navigating a highly dramatic and intense romantic relationship. But much of the excitement and appeal of medical romance also derives from the “high stakes” health care setting, with its medical crises, organizational challenges, and contested workplace relationships. This presentation focuses on one particular feature located at the busy intersection of the social and individual aspects of the Harlequin medical romance: gossip.
Gossip is depicted in nearly every Harlequin medical romance under review (a selection of fifty novels published between 2010-2014). As in fiction more generally, gossip serves many functions in these novels: it drives plot, illuminates the norms of the social world, reveals character, and locates the protagonists relative to the social groups in which they find their identity. In terms of genre romance specifically, gossip has a crucial role to play in defining and creating the “flawed society” (in Pamela Regis’s formulation) of the romance, and in bringing that society to a changed and improved state by the end of the novel.
In general, the novels track the prohibition against gossip present in traditional moral codes. Gossip is likely to be trivial or false, and protagonists are much more likely to be fearful of gossip, threatened by gossip, or harmed by gossip than to engage in it, use it for their own ends, or benefit from it. However, this presentation will also consider an alternative approach to gossip found in the texts, informed by recent feminist theory, that gossip is an emotionally charged intertwining of attentive moral judgment and non-trivial information sharing, especially among oppressed groups.
(EMS note: after the abstract was posted, Jessica contacted me with a new proposal focused on the representation of nursing In HMB medical romances, especially on the "virtue script" that shapes this representation, undercutting disourses of professionalism, etc. A lot of work on this in other media, but not until now on medical romances.)
“The town has really nice blonde hair”: The Romance Plot and Civic Engagement in “Parks and Recreation”
(Wendy Wagner, Johnson & Wales University)
This paper situates the television comedy “Parks and Recreation” within the subgenre of the small-town romance in romance fiction, focusing on the love story of Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Specifically, the presence of this particular love story in the show differentiates “Parks and Recreation” from similar television shows about quirky small towns, such as “Northern Exposure.” Television critics have often referred to “Parks and Recreation” as a political allegory, but I want to argue that it is, in fact, a romance plot where the hero and heroine’s relationship is deeply entwined with the story about the town of Pawnee. I compare the Leslie/Ben plot to classic romance novels such as Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation and Courtney Milan’s The Suffragette Scandal, applying Pamela Regis’s eight elements of a romance novel to make this argument and calling attention to the relationship between romance and civic engagement in these texts. These romance plots are not just about finding love but also about remaking society, which Regis notes is a key element of the romance novel: “defining the society establishes the status quo which the heroine and hero must confront in their attempt to court and marry and which, by their union, they symbolically remake.” The inherent optimism of the romance novel, its foundational belief that love can ultimately change society, is in full display in “Parks and Recreation.”
Legitimating Romance: Neutralizing the Stigma of Romantic Fiction
(Joanna Gregson, Pacific Lutheran University, and Jen Lois, Western Washington University)
In April of 2010, we began a longitudinal sociological study of romance novel writers. By interviewing romance writers and other industry insiders, attending local and national RWA meetings, following writers on social media, and experimenting with writing romance ourselves, we are examining both the craft and the career of the romance writer. In so doing, we hope to explore how writers experience working in “the most popular, least respected literary genre” (Regis 2003: xi).
The present work examines how writer’s affiliation with the romance genre prompted outsiders to trivialize their work. We examine both the application and management of this stigma. First, we describe how outsiders applied the stigma, namely by suggesting that writing romance fiction is easy, that it is not “real” literature, and that it is not important. Although writers disagreed with these views, they nevertheless had to manage these negative perceptions. Writers attempted to neutralize the stigma by defending their writing process, contrasting the goals of literary and commercial fiction, demonstrating the impact of their work on readers, touting their financial success, and pointing out the sexism implicit in the stigma.
We conclude by distinguishing between the different stigma management techniques available to authors of different career statuses, and by highlighting the gendered and class-based biases informing the dominant cultural messages about the producers and audiences of romance fiction.
Blogging and Blackouts: Exploring Romance Readers’ and Authors’ Uses of Social Media
(Stephanie Moody, Kent State University)
In the wake of the October 2014 Blogging Blackout, new questions arise about the ethics and etiquette of romance fiction book blogging and reviewing. These questions are further complicated by the multiple and competing purposes romance readers and authors have for engaging with books and with each other online. My interviews with fifty romance readers, authors, editors, and publishers demonstrate that talking about books online – through blogs, reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and Tumbler – serves many, simultaneous purposes: as a marketing device, a creative outlet, a form of intimacy, a teaching tool, a process of reflection, and a political statement. Moreover, these purposes routinely change and shift, and are shaped by the web 2.0 medium in use.
In this presentation, I explore study participants’ talk about their purposes for using social media to discuss romance novels, and I suggest that notions of ethics and etiquette are largely shaped by individuals’ reasons for engaging with books and with others online. For instance, conceptualizing a book review as both a free source of marketing and as a way to, as one blogger put it, “c[o]me into being the person who I am now,” reveals how book blogging and reviewing collapse distinctions between public and personal writing. Likewise, characterizing the relationships between authors and readers within discourses of consumption, fandom, and intimacy demonstrates the slippery subjectivities evoked through such interactions. By attending to the literacy practices and talk that comprise individuals’ engagements with romance-related social media, I extend ongoing conversations about the perils and possibilities of book blogging and reviewing.