Wednesday, September 25, 2013

And this seems somewhat familiar too

In 2013 it sometimes seems as though when it comes to historical romances, only a duke will do. In contemporaries it helps if a hero's got fifty shades of greenbacks.

This is, apparently, nothing new. Here's William Dean Howells lamenting the taste of the American reading public in 1891 because they have a preference for:
something select, something that treats of high life, like those English novels which have chiefly nourished us; or something that will teach us how to escape the life of toil by a great stroke of business, or by a splendid marriage. What we like to read about is the life of noblemen or millionaires; that is our romance; and if our writers were to begin telling us on any extended scale of how mill hands or miners, or farmers, or iron puddlers really live, we should very soon let them know that we did not care to meet such vulgar and commonplace people.
As far as I can tell, this was first published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine 83, on page 965 but unfortunately I couldn't access it. This excerpt comes from Rob Davidson's The Master and the Dean: The Literary Criticism of Henry James and William Dean Howells.

The image of the ducal coronet was created by Sodacan and came from Wikimedia Commons. The "Large-sized Series of 1880 United States Notes; the $20 note displays Alexander Hamilton and a red scalloped seal, and the $10 Daniel Webster and a large red spiked seal" came from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sound familiar?

From Steven Brocklehurst's article on Jack Vettriano's art:
Jack Vettriano is one of the most popular and successful artists in the world and yet his work has been dismissed by critics as "badly conceived soft porn". [...]

He says: "I am not somebody that buys into the notion that popularity means it is rubbish.

"If something is popular you had better believe it has something going for it."

So why does Vettriano think his paintings are not as well received by the critics, who have dismissed some of his erotically-charged material as "pornography"? [...]

He says: "What I've suffered from and what I continue to suffer from is that critics don't take sex seriously.

"They think it's not real art. I will disagree to the day I die that it is serious."
I didn't want to include any pictures as they're copyright, but you can see quite a lot of images of his work at the website of "Heartbreak Publishing, Jack Vettriano's Official Publishing Company."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Attendees Sought: Princeton Symposium on Romance Authors

The Princeton Symposium on "Authorship in the Popular Romance Genre" is being held on October 24th and 25th.

On Thursday 24th October from 5-7.30pm there will be keynote speeches from Jennifer Crusie and Kay Mussell and a roundtable discussion involving the two speakers plus Eloisa James/Mary Bly, An Goris, April Alliston and Pamela Regis. Registration starts at 4.30.

The Thursday keynotes and roundtable are free and open to the public. You can register here. This is a rare opportunity to hear Jenny Crusie because, as she says, "Travel is now dicey for me."

On Friday 25th October scholarly panels are scheduled from 9.30am-5.30pm. A fee will be charged for these panels but that also covers the cost of lunch:

Early bird registration for the Friday panels = $20 (deadline October 1, 2013)
After October 1, the registration fee for the Friday panels is $30

Register here. More details about the academic panels should be available in late September on the symposium website.

CFP: Chick Lit; Strong Female Characters Created by Men

Via Jen Lois and the Romance Scholar Listserv, here's the text of an email from Adrienne Trier-Bieniek:

I am under contract to deliver "Fan Girls and Media: Consuming Culture" to Scarecrow Press in the late summer of 2014.  I am in need of contributors for two chapters which are outlined below along with a brief description of the book. If you are interested, please send me a brief abstract (200-300 words) and CV by Oct. 1st.  Submissions can be sent to  Those with PhD's or who are in the process of defending a completed dissertation will be given primary consideration.
Thank you!
Description of chapters in need of authors: Please note these are just ideas for the chapters.  They can be developed in any way which best fits the author's focus.

Chapter 3:       Gender, Novels and “Chick Lit”

While the specifics of the chapter will be left to the contributor solicited to write it, this chapter will focus on the ways women who read are often regulated to “fans of chick lit.”  While many women writers present female characters who represent the lives and experiences of many women, (Jennifer Weiner specifically comes to mind), literature is often devalued when it is being consumed by groups of women.  Looking at media coverage of women who read a series like Twilight or 50 Shades of Gray, (generally characterized as read by “women of a certain age” who lust after the fantasy of a younger man), there is a clear gender stereotype of women who read.

Chapter 6:       Strong Female Characters Created by Men

This chapter will focus on the ways female characters are received by female audiences when the creator and mastermind behind a character is male.  This chapter is inspired by the characters created by men such as Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, director of the new Avengers movies).  Because media is dominated by male directors, agents, writers, producers etc, there is a need to understand why strong women created by men resonate with (particularly) female audiences.

Overview of the Book

            This edited volume examines the ways gender stereotypes inform the creation and consumption of popular entertainment and media.  The common assumption that “Women don’t go to movies”, “Women are not funny” or “Women don’t like science fiction” continues to be a driving force in the creation of popular entertainment and has contributed to a culture where, particularly, complex female characters are rare.  These assumptions also affect female fans of media because the focus on female consumers centers on traditional femininity. As a result too few scholars have yet to focus on the impact of gender in media consumption, leading to a limited portrait of what male and female fans are looking for.  This deficiency leads to an enforcement of gender stereotypes.  For example, American popular culture commonly characterizes women as fanatical followers of novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey and films like Twilight, both commercially driven franchises whose popularity (and revenue) derives from assumptions about women’s desires to be rescued by men.  In contrast, with female-driven media where women are presented as empowered, labels such as “chick lit” are applied, diminishing any legitimacy for the medium.  Additionally, the culture of mass-market entertainment treats audience members to a never-ending parade of male action stars or men in leading (often dominating) character roles. Women, on the other hand, still largely function as passive characters in film and fiction novels, with reality television compounding the subordination of women by framing them as constant “frenemies.”  Behind all of this is the assumption that women will watch whatever men enjoy and men only enjoy uber-masculinity in their media.

            This book examines diverse ways media consumption is being challenged and the impact this confrontation can have on addressing gender stereotypes.  Each contributor will offer a chapter on a topic related to media and society with a focus on gender and audience consumption.  In each essay, contributors contest the argument of media moguls and academics alike that male viewers dominate media far too much for it to appeal to girls and women (i.e. the fantasy genre, stand-up comedy or comedic films, ComicCon and comic books); explore the ways cultural patriarchy dismisses women’s pleasures in certain genres (e.g., chick lit); or diminish women’s experiences (e.g., women on reality television.)  There are also chapters dedicated to understanding men who write female characters, and the response this garners from fans, as well as how women who are seemingly the “anti-heroine” are reflective of the multi-layered experiences of women.  The chapters will be written by contributors and will be original for this text.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

New Publications: Love and Marriage

Claire Langhamer's The English in Love: The Intimate Story of An Emotional Revolution was published at the end of August and
covers the period from the end of the First World War until the break-up of The Beatles.

To the casual observer, this era was a golden age of marriage. More people married than ever before. They did so at increasingly younger ages. And there was a revolution in our idea of what marriage meant. Pragmatic notions of marriage as institution were superseded by the more romantic ideal of a relationship based upon individual emotional commitment, love, sex, and personal fulfilment.

And yet, this new idea of marriage, based on a belief in the transformative power of love and emotion, carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. Romantic love, particularly when tied to sexual satisfaction, ultimately proved an unreliable foundation upon which to build marriages: fatally, it had the potential to evaporate over time and under pressure.
It doesn't have much to say about popular romance fiction, but as a result of reading it I did have a few thoughts about historical romance, and also about the extent to which the genre as a whole has reflected beliefs about love and marriage.

I haven't yet read Karen M. Dunak's As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America, which was also published this August, and even though it doesn't seem to have much to say about romance novels either, it too made me think about popular romance (evidently I've got a one-track mind when it comes to research).

Dunak argues that "Despite being condemned by some critics as “cookie-cutter” or conformist, the wedding has in fact progressively allowed for social, cultural, and political challenges to understandings of sex, gender, marriage, and citizenship" and I think one could make much the same argument about popular romance fiction. Similarly, I think you could substitute "romance novel" for "wedding" in the following: "While many elements of the wedding, from the symbolic meanings behind its 'traditional' components to the way it is marketed, deserve questioning and critique, too many evaluations have ignored the possibilities the wedding offered its celebrants" (5).

An excerpt is available via Google Books and an excerpt from Chapter 5, on same-sex weddings, was published at Salon. Here's an excerpt of that excerpt:
While it is impossible to know the actual number of committed gay and lesbian couples during the 1950s and 1960s, queer marriages existed in the immediate postwar decades and in the years before the official start to Gay Liberation. [...]

Mary Mendola, a writer “married” to another woman, conducted an investigation in the late 1970s to determine just how many same-sex couples existed. The resulting publication, The Mendola Report, while hardly scientific, proved that gay men and lesbians resided together as married couples throughout the United States. Using only an informal network of gay and lesbian contacts, Mendola found 1,500 potential couples to survey and received an astonishing 27 percent return on her distribution. Of her return sample, 67 percent of respondents described themselves as permanently committed or “married.”
Dunak, Karen M. As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America. New York: New York UP, 2013.

Langhamer, Claire. The English in Love: The Intimate Story of An Emotional Revolution. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Call for Proposals: The Cultural Politics of Media and Popular Culture Series

Call for Proposals: The Cultural Politics of Media and Popular Culture Series
Editor: C. Richard King, Washington State University

Dedicated to a renewed engagement with culture, this series fosters critical, contextual analyses and cross-disciplinary examinations of popular culture as a site of cultural politics. It welcomes theoretically grounded and critically engaged accounts of the politics of contemporary popular culture and the popular dimensions of cultural politics. Without being aligned to a specific theoretical or methodological approach, The Cultural Politics of Media and Popular Culture publishes monographs and edited collections that promote dialogues on central subjects, such representation, identity, power, consumption, citizenship, desire and difference.

Offering approachable and insightful analyses that complicate race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability and nation across various sites of production and consumption, including film, television, music, advertising, sport, fashion, food, youth, subcultures and new media, The Cultural Politics of Media and Popular Culture welcomes work that explores the importance of text, context and subtext as these relate to the ways in which popular culture works alongside hegemony.

Please direct inquires and proposals to: C. Richard King (crking at wsu dot edu), Professor Critical Culture, Gender & Race Studies, Washington State University.

The series will be published by Ashgate.