Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bust Culture: Notes from the Great Recession

But not at Occupy London?
There's no mention at all of romance in this call for papers, but that very absence got me thinking:
In the throes of a double-dip recession and the wake of the Dot-Com crash, we seek proposals for an edited collection tentatively titled Bust Culture: Notes from the Great Recession, with completed essays due in Winter 2012. We are soliciting articles on cultural artifacts from all forms of media (televisual, cinematic, literary, musical, as well as videogames, websites, fine art) that reflect, refract, and/or respond to the recessionary times of the 21st century. Considering that the current economic downturn is ongoing, we hope this collection offers a timely foray into comprehending contemporary “bust culture.” Possible topics include but are not limited to:

* Television (Critical-Realist, Reactionary, Reality: Breaking Bad, Pawn Stars, etc.)
* Films (Up in the Air, Wall St. 2, Larry Crowne, Horrible Bosses, etc.)
* Documentary Responses (Capitalism: A Love Story, Inside Job, etc.)
* Satirical News Sources (The Onion, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, etc.)
* CEO Portraits, Corporate Personhood, and White-Collar Crime
* Informal Economies, Black Markets, Prison Culture, Narcocultura
* Migrant Workers, Immigration, and Outsourcing
* Unions, Union-Busting, and the Legacy of Ronald Reagan
* Neoliberalism (Harvey), “Disaster Capitalism” (Klein), and Tea Party Politics
* “House Hunters” and Other Forms of Wealth Voyeurism
* “Mancession” and Blue-Collar Nostalgia
* Women in the New Economy
* Race and Racism in the Great Recession
* End of the “American Century”
* Bubbles (housing,, gold, energy)
* Financialization, Derivatives, and Computerized Stock Trading
* Cognitive Mappings of Bust Geography and Architecture
* Consumption: Advertising, Shopping, Fashion, and Marketing Trends
* DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Culture
* Religion and Apocalyptic Discourse
* Sports as Big Business

We aim to assemble a diverse collection of academically rigorous pieces accessible to the general public (non-academics are encouraged to submit). For further information, visit and!/BustCulture. Please direct all queries, questions, and submissions to
I doubt we'll be seeing romances titled The Greek Tycoon's Bankrupt Economy, The Billionaire's Tax Avoidance Scheme or The Sheikh's Arab Spring but taking some inspiration from an older Mills & Boon title, I went off to see if there might be some stories or images related to "Bust Culture" which could inspire romance authors.

Have you read any romances recently which "reflect, refract, and/or respond to the recessionary times of the 21st century"? I thought I hadn't, but then I remembered Sarah Mallory's To Catch a Husband ... In this novel the escapist allure of wealth is frankly acknowledged since
Impoverished husband-hunter Kitty Wythenshawe knows what she must achieve by the end of her London season - marriage to a wealthy gentleman will save her mother from a life of drudgery. After all, love doesn't pay the bills. (Back Cover)
This being a historical romance published by Mills & Boon, Kitty ends up with both love and "marriage to a wealthy gentleman" but there is also some exploration of the fact that some accumulate wealth by exploiting others. As Sarah Mallory explains in an author's note:
Kitty and Daniel's story led me to some of the darker aspects of late-eighteenth-century society. The Abolition movement was gaining pace, with Anti-Slavery Societies being set up around the United Kingdom. [...] This was also an age when children were often exploited, but some mill owners were against this - for example Robert Owen, who built the New Lanark Mills in Scotland, introduced the revolutionary idea that children should not be allowed to work in the mills before the age of ten. For the sake of historical accuracy I could not remove children altogether from Daniel's mills, but as a forward-thinking employer he does have schools and nursery buildings for the children of his workers and apprentices.

Kitty and Daniel are a forward-thinking couple, and have very liberal views, but they are based on real characters - people who really did strive to improve the lot of the factory workers, and who fought for the abolition of the slave trade even though it was a risk to their own livelihood. The real heroes of the time.
I wonder if there's any chance we'll see more romances based on these "real heroes of the time" and if, in contemporaries, there might even be some changes among the ranks of those who, in fictional form, are deemed to represent the "real heroes" of our own time.

  • Mallory, Sarah. To Catch a Husband ... Richmond, Surrey: Mills & Boon, 2011.
The photo of the man holding a banner reading
You can chain me
You can torture me
You can even destroy
This body
But you will never
Imprison my mind - Gandhi
I am the 99%
was taken by David Shankbone at "Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, October 25, Day 40 of Occupy Wall Street" and was downloaded from Flikr under a Creative Commons licence. The photo of the man holding a banner saying "Economic injustice is not beautiful #OccupyWallStreet" was also taken by David Shankbone and was also downloaded from Flikr under a Creative Commons licence.


  1. I love the titles! Here are a few more: Romance goes hedging and The politician's macroeconomist. I don't think anything with "Credit Default Swap" in the title would be suitable for a Romance.


  2. Wow. And I just thought I was writing escapist entertainment!

    Love the article, and I will obviously have to work on my titles in future.

  3. Romance Goes Hedging would, unfortunately, not make me think of hedge funds: it would recall the kind of circumstances in which someone might "visit [...] a well-known cruising spot near a motorway layby" and then "insist[...] he was actually badger watching." No doubt it's just the bucolic word association with "coppicing," which does sound like it would make a good euphemism.

    Sarah, I'm very glad you enjoyed reading the article. Your comment about "escapist entertainment" reminded me of a comment by John G. Cawelti:

    Certain story archetypes particularly fufill man’s needs for enjoyment and escape. [...] But in order for these patterns to work, they must be embodied in figures, settings, and situations that have appropriate meanings for the culture which produces them.

    And that reminded me of a post I wrote some years ago but, for some reason, never got round to publishing on the blog. Here it is now.

  4. I am a storyteller and began in the age-old way, making up stories for my friends, taking present-day situations and twisting them into entertainment (usually including one or two said friends to maintain the interest). This has carried on into writing - if the audience doesn't relate to the story and the characters, the won't buy the book!

  5. "if the audience doesn't relate to the story and the characters, the won't buy the book!"

    That's precisely why I'm arguing, in the next post, that popular fiction (which is, by its very nature, designed to appeal to a large audience) can "give us an insight into the taste and manners of a nation."

  6. Original spark of interest for my current ms was the Madoff scandal. So now my hero's a miser and my heroine's the (innocent) daughter of a fictional Madoff of the non-fictional 1825 panic and crash. Research suggests that some things never change.

    Of course at the rate I write, the economy will be booming by the time it's finished.

  7. my hero's a miser

    Now I'm imagining him as a younger version of Scrooge or perhaps a human version of a dragon, sitting on its pile of treasure. I'm sure, though, that your characterisation is going to be far, far more nuanced than that.