Romance Before Bros
SPOILER ALERT!! This post contains Veronica Mars spoilers!
A few months back I wrote a couple pieces about Veronica Mars. I complained a bit about Veronica’s boyfriend Logan getting unceremoniously exploded, which a lot of VM fans (primarily female) were pretty cheesed off about.
I got some pushback on this from male VM fans, such as this poor guy I’m gonna pick on for no deeper reason than his comment was brief (apologies!):
I replied to a couple of the comments along these lines:
A few months further back I wrote a 5 part Valentine’s Day series on romance novels, a feat of insanity that I am going to repeat this year, only I learned my lesson and am starting it at the beginning of January instead ⅔ of the way through. So hopefully unlike last year I’ll make it through mentally unscathed. 1
This time I’m actually reading GOOD romances instead of trashy ones.
It’s a lot of work, and do you know why I’m doing this? It’s because romance MATTERS. Maybe it doesn’t matter to you, heartless jerk, but it matters to me and lots of other women. Those guys (including Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas) who want to look snootily over their pince-nez glasses and be all like “well what was REALLY important about Veronica Mars was the MYSTERIES” such as that timeless and culturally important VM whodunit where radfems rape frat boys with plastic Easter Eggs, are IMVVVHO basically being sexist pigs by devaluing romance, comparing it negatively to the stuff they like.
Soo, let’s talk about that stuff, shall we?? The man stuff which is like so totally better than women stuff?
The same guys who roll their eyes at encountering romance in fiction will happily tune in to Car Talk for hours to hear Click and Clack discuss the merits of a 78’ Corvette vs. a 81 ‘Stang. They’ll play fantasy football and obsess over whether to pick Ronde or Tiki Barber for a team that exists entirely in their imagination. They investigate the amount of Scoville units in a Tibetan Ghoul Pepper and calculate the proper balance of grapefruit vs. hops vs. chocolate in their desired alcoholic beverages. They record Dr. Demento off the radio and debate for hours about who is the better Bond: Connery or Moore, and GTFO with your Brosnan! MY HUSBAND HAS WATCHED THE MOVIE GLADIATOR 47 TIMES.
Men like stupid and utterly pointless stuff sometimes, and I don’t even think it’s arguable. I don’t say that to fault anyone because I don’t care enough TO fault anyone. I say that to point out that people like stuff. A wide variety of stuff. All of us like stuff other people think is boring, stupid, insipid, pointless, or inferior.
It doesn’t make someone better than someone else because they like a thing. Nor does it make someone worse than someone else.
If the things you like are stereotypically male, and you roll your hairy muscular eyeballs at the things I like because they’re stereotypically female, even though both of them are equally pointless to human survival, well, hey, I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable for me to suspect that there may be some sexism coming into play. Because I do suspect that. My Spidey Sense of Sexism is tingling.
But hey, whatever. Sexists gonna sexist. The carefully crafted argument has never been made that prevents sexists from sexisming all over everyone’s face. So everybody, please feel free to set that argument I just made aside. Set it aside completely because me making that argument means I accept the premise that romance is as stupid and pointless as a debate about who is better, Tiki or Ronde Barber, and I do not.
In case you missed the constant declarations of this fact that come streaming out from every orifice the media possesses, the world is obsessed with sex. Men are certainly obsessed with it; that’s why the porn industry makes 6-10 billion dollars a year depending on the stats you use and how you define the word ‘porn’. And the bulk of that money is spurting right out of men’s pockets, not women’s. They’re not just happy to see you, ladies; men have wads of money in their pants that is destined to be spent on porn of some type or another.
Porn, yikes. I hesitate to even bring the P word into this convo because I am pretty sure that romance is not porn. I know they say “romance novels are porn for women” but they are wrong, as they so often are. Indulging in romance is not about reading graphic descriptions of sex per se, it’s about imagining what it might feel like to be loved and valued by someone who thinks you’re pretty fantastic, and that so many of us have to turn to fiction to experience that, gents, I think says a heck of a lot more about y’all than it does about us.
The sole point of mentioning sex in this essay at all is to point out that human beings waste tons of time and energy not to mention scads of money chasing the Dragon of Boink. We pursue sex pretty much more time than we spend doing anything else other than stuffing our faces with food and sleeping. And a heck of a lot of the times we’d happily skip a meal and lose a night’s sleep to get laid. People, men particularly but not only men or so I hear from Mary Kay LeTourneau, are willing to risk PRISON to have sexual encounters.
So menfolk, you can’t sit there with a straight face and tell me that your precious mysteries are more important than romance when a pretty shocking number of you are willing to risk a trip to the Big House to get your goods serviced in some forbidden way or another. Romance is one aspect of the fundamental purpose of human existence – seeking a mate, connecting with another human being, making babies, exploring sexuality, love – whatever you want to call it, it’s what we DO, people. There wouldn’t be 8 billion of us if we were indifferent and we all preferred to curl up with a cup of tea and a tattered copy of Nancy Drew: The Mystery at Lilac Inn. Why on earth would exploring the tangled twisted ball of motives and quirks underlying genital-based experiences via literature be in any, any way an inferior use of a writer’s skillset or a viewer/reader’s time than solving a whodunit?
Personally, I have never experienced a whodunit, and I’ll wager very few of us have although 97% of everyone affiliated with Ordinary Times are lawyers. Given that reality, it makes no damn sense that “romance” is less worthy a topic for a television show than “mystery.” None whatsoever.
Now, the catch is, romance novels in and of themselves are not always or even usually very literary. You got us there, boys. They’re pretty darn trashy, most of ’em anyways. My argument that romances are somehow investigating the breadth and depth of the human sexio-romantical experience is rather specious, I admit.
But may I just humbly point out that men have been writing — and publishing — the lion’s share of literature of the past 50-some-odd years and much of that has been to a greater or lesser extent, off-putting to women. I am of the opinion that a lot of women have turned to romance novels (not to mention YA novels, which do very often have a romantic element) even though they’re tawdry and shallow, as an escape from stories that are basically the glorious misogynistic adventures of a boy and his penis.
But it doesn’t matter the reasons why. The fact is, despite romance novels tending to be less literary than other genres, inherently there is nothing inferior or wrong with liking romance. Just because romance novels have MOSTLY up to this point been trash (don’t even get me started on those darn Hallmark movies) they don’t have to be. There is a lot left to explore in the arena of human sexuality when it comes to fiction. And a romantic relationship done in an interesting, explorative fashion…say, for instance, the relationship between Veronica and Logan on Veronica Mars? There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying that. It is in no way a sign of a weak and fluffy defective female brain to find something in that that is intriguing.
Personally, I find it way more interesting than watching some big long mystery only to find out the most famous guest star did it yet again.
Stay tuned for 6 new romance-novel-themed posts on the same topics I covered in these 5 posts last year:
The myth of female specialness
Women and Our Tame PG13 Fantasies
Can People Fall in Love Across Party Lines?
And if I make it through all that by Feb. 14 I will celebrate by writing a sandwich post!
You know, I get that, “but romance wasn’t the point of the show” can feel dismissive. I also note that someone who says that is admitting that there’s a type of show where he might have been more bothered by it.
The people who say, and I’m sure there are people who say this, “romance is boring, I’m glad he blew up” have a different stance, and I think are more the sort of person who you are complaining about. At least, that’s what my male speech decoder ring tells me.
There are men who like romance, who would never ever say the second thing. But I can see them saying the first thing and getting misunderstood.Report
They should have said that then (and I would have entirely respected that) rather than patronizingly explaining how mysteries are more important/deeper/better than romance, or as DavidTC and even Rob Thomas himself have done, telling women they missed the whole point of the show if they liked the romance.
The first commenter did absolutely couch it as “for me” but then he put the sort of condescending shruggie in there which made me think he was actually implying something beyond his personal sense of aesthetics.Report
I think for the record it should be noted in no manner whatsoever did I say the mysteries in VM were better than romances. Which, for the record, they were not. A lot of them sucked as mysteries, whereas Rob Thomas’ relationships are always interesting.
What happened is you called Veronica/Logan a ‘Will they or won’t they’ relationship, which I argued against on definitional grounds, and said that the show was, instead, a Betty/Veronica situation.
And then I explained why I thought the show was like that, and furthermore why the events happened as they had on the show, based on my understanding of what the show was trying to do.
No value whatsoever was ascribed to this. Me saying ‘Here is the explanation for the apparently inexplicably narrative choices in this art’ is not praise of those choices.
You seem to have read that as an attack, because you think the show should have done something else. The thing is…I said that! I said that I didn’t think the audience didn’t understand the show like the writers were intending, and if the creators wanted commercial success, they should have left Veronica/Logan as a possibility.Report
No, it’s you who have read my piece as an attack, where if you look at what I actually posted I said “I responded along these lines to comments I received”. I was highlighting MY response as a concise example of how I responded to many people (including several people who are not even on this site who interacted with me elsewhere). If you want to take me quoting my response personally, Jaybird has far more to complain about BTW – what he said had nothing to do with his own personal attitude at all, he was reporting on the comments of another person entirely! I was highlighting MY RESPONSE, not either of yours, to save myself having to go through and do a super huge recap of an article most of you already read.
But since you want to seem to go to the mat over this, let’s go.
In your comments on the Veronica Mars article I’m referencing, you told me point blank that I was misremembering the show. Your take was, in your words, “rather obvious” and I was in the wrong because I took something different away from the show, something you didn’t feel was self-evident. This was despite the fact that other (mostly female) commenters agreed with my take. You also implied in your remarks that I didn’t understand the detective genre or something along those lines, I’m paraphrasing here, cut me slack.
And, just to shed a bit more light onto the context of all this, it’s something you have done again and again since my earliest days on the site – repeatedly telling me that my takes were bad because I was too stupid or misinformed to understand some fundamental element of a thing I’m writing about. Always your interpretation is unquestionably correct and inarguable and my interpretation is silly or uninformed. You’ve done this to such extent that even Maribou, who is quite fairminded, I think we can all agree on that, took you to task for mansplaining to me.
This is not a new dynamic between you and me, yet here we are again, with you implying I somehow lack the ability to read basic English and as a result, grossly misinterpreted your comment. Maybe, just maybe, by virtue of my personal life experience which just so happens to be different than yours, I am seeing things differently than you are. Maybe, just so maybe, you’re sending off vibes and energy that while you are not aware of it (I’ll happily give you the benefit of the doubt there), I am certainly picking up on in spades, and that is an energy of condescension and superiority that feels to me to be gendered. Further, it’s something that I have really not gotten much from many other people on this site, even those I bonk heads with the most, and never ever as consistently as I’ve gotten it from you.
And now, when this is called to your attention, in no way personally mind you but simply for me to use as a jumping off point to talk about something that is interesting to me (because somebody gotta write the essays around here or it wouldn’t be much of a site) you double and triple down telling me all the reasons why I’m wrong, why I am too dumb to understand genres and movies and programs and all the things you’ve said to me on numerous other occasions, and BTW I’m also too stupid (or possibly manipulative) be able to accurately read a comment.
Personally, I think I read the comment precisely as it was intended. But I don’t care if you agree with me or not on this or any other topic. What I do wish is that you could stop assuming that every time we don’t see things the same way, that it’s because I don’t know as much as you or I didn’t watch the movie close enough or I forgot what it was all about or I don’t understand the genre. It’s irritating and the pretense after the fact that I’ve got no reason to be irritated by it is even more irritating.
You’re putting yourself in an (unearned) position of gatekeeper for “the way things are” and I, by questioning that, am obviously a person who is your intellectual inferior, and your every response comes off that way. And you may think “well I’d do that to a man too” and maybe you would, but the problem is, I’m writing about women stuff here. Your reply to me is inherently gendered because what I’m writing about is inherently gendered – do you see that?? If I was writing about IDK the history of paperclips and it was just a dry set of facts and you told me Leonardo de Cliprio invented them in the year 1563 rather than 1653, well hey, no harm no foul. But I’m saying stuff that is wide open for interpretation under the umbrella of my life experience. I’m like “hey, here’s some stuff about my experience as a woman reading/watching/experiencing this stuff” and then you chime in and say, no, that’s completely wrong, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, here’s how it actually works” – you just cannot DO that without coming off to the recipient of your lecture as sexist. Even if you’re totally innocent of the charge, it’s how it comes off because of what you’re lecturing me about.
Make any sense or nah?Report
No, what I’m seeing is that I don’t disagree with your experiences at all. What happens is I often disagree with a fact of yours, and you decide that means I’m disagreeing with everything you’ve said…all your facts, your personal experiences, your conclusions (Which, again, I didn’t disagree with on the VM article…as I said ‘I sorta think killing Logan was a dumb move’!)…and sometime you think I somehow even disagree with you on stuff that isn’t under discussion!
Like, again, how you just decided that I liked mysteries over romance, based on literally no evidence. You’re really good at just straight up telling me what I think about things, because you assume it’s the opposite of whatever you think. You assume this so much you cast me in the article as a villain who likes mysteries and dislikes romances and calls women stupid for that.
When in fact no only am I _not_ someone who looks down on romance (And in fact read romance-as-a-theme all the time, if not exactly the romance genre.) and hasn’t read a mystery since whenever the last Laurie R. King book came out, but also I’m someone who _agrees with your conclusion_. I’ve repeatedly made the point before that the respectability of every type of art is based on society’s ideas about who consumes that, and it is thus utter bullshit. That there’s no inherent worth to opera over some jukebox musical, and of course there’s no inherent worth to a hardboiled detective noir over a teen drama.
This is actually a very common soapbox of mine when art comes up here (Like, to the point I deliberately try to keep myself from automatically going there.), and I’m sorta pissed you’ve literally ascribed the opposite position to me….not even in a comment, but in the article itself.
Now, I will admit I don’t often point out the sexism or racism in judging types of art that as much as the classism, and I probably should. So it would have been interesting if you’d posted an article about just this sexism without slandering me, because I do have a few things to say there that I don’t delve into often. Because I read a genre that is somehow _more_ in the female ghetto than romance or YA! I read fanfiction. A genre that is like 95% non-male in both readers and writers, and thus almost completely discredited as any sort of serious thing. I could have had something interesting to say about that…and maybe I will in a bit.
The fact you’ve so mis-guessed how I feel about things…we could try to blame me for that, maybe I’m bad at communicating, but…I literally didn’t say anything about romance vs. mystery on your last article, you just made that up, so…Report
I have always read the shrug emoji as just a shrug. As in, ‘take this for what it’s worth’ or ‘I’m unsure of what I just said and don’t mean anything firm by it’.
I don’t do the gram or the book or the twits, so I imagine it is used other ways too. I guess it is an eye of the beholder sitch.
Liked the article K. My own opinion is that the specific call outs were unneeded given the depth of thought you put into the rest.
Well, the truth is, Ozzzy, I’d prefer not to ever do stuff like that but in the past when I haven’t people have chimed in to tell me I was making a straw man argument, that no one was actually saying the stuff I said they were saying, so I kind of felt like I had no choice but to go that route.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting!Report
I admit to loving the whole “NOBODY IS ARGUING X!” statement when made by someone I’m arguing against.
Because someone is. They did. They made it to me. Sometimes someone made it in the same thread that I got told “nobody is saying that!”Report
Having been part of that discussion, I don’t think anyone said mysteries were better than romances, at all. We said said Veronica Mars _was_ a mystery. (Or more specifically a Hard-boiled Detective Noir.) That’s _not_ saying that one genre is better than another genre.
Saying ‘This is Y, not X, and being Y inherently excludes many parts of X, so if you come at it expecting X, you will end up having issues with it’ is not saying anything about the respective value of X vs. Y. Just because I point out that The Stand is Horror and not Sci-Fi doesn’t mean I think Horror is inherently better…or even that I like Horror at all. It just means…I just mean, if you read The Stand expecting Sci-Fi instead of Horror, you’re not going to like the themes or what it expects from the reader. Likewise, if you go into Veronica Mars expecting a normal teen drama, with a side of romance, along the lines of, for example, Gilmore Girls…you will be very disappointed. (Which…people did, and were.)
Now, you’re entirely right that people tend to dismiss the Romance genre because it is seem as a feminine genre. And…there are plenty of people who have talked about that, and maybe you should too, I dunno? But maybe don’t assume this place is doing that, because…we don’t seem to be.
I’m certainly not doing that…as I’ve mentioned before, I read _fanfic_. You know what percentage of fanfic is detective stories? Basically zero. You will maybe occasionally get a detective story in a universe based a property that has detective stories.
And what percentage is romance? Like…probably half, or at least it’s ‘romantic’. Fanfic is not particularly good at following the traditional beats of a romance novel, but that’s because it’s so extremely character- and relationship-based that it’s not good at the thin plot even Romance novels require. I.e., it is _even more_ what Romance is criticized for…along with, of course, being considered extremely feminine.
It is weird to see someone say a bunch of things I completely agree with about literary genres and how the value of them is based on all sorts of prejudicial nonsense (including sexism, but also classism, and racism, and all sorts of stuff) often based about who likes them (Something that is not only true of literary works, but theatre, and music, high-brow vs. low-brow culture things, and all sorts of stuff I’ve explicitly talked about here before!) and then pretends I previously argued _against_ what they’re saying. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I fact, I could written half this piece, although I wouldn’t have tried comparing Romance to other things because…there’s no point. Art doesn’t work that way, you can’t compare genres to each other.
In fact, I have a hard and fast rule about not criticizing people for liking or disliking any sort of art, nor do I generally criticize art itself for much beyond ‘Is not very good at getting its intended message across’ or ‘The message, intended or otherwise, of this art is horrendous’.Report
Personally, I’m on the mystery-over-romance side, but that’s a preference, not a big evaluation. But you’re a 100% right on the sexism thing. Dude’s look down on “chick stuff,” but they think golf clubs are “serious business.” Meanwhile, yeah, porn.
My point, I stand behind women (and the various non women) who love their romance.Report
There is a very strong tradition, covering much of western society, of the roots that lead to romance novels. Much of those Spy, Mystery, Sports (especially fantasy leagues) and other “masculine” hobbies, stem from the same source, which is namely an idealized version of both the past and present. IE it removes realpolitik from many aspects of life.
That Rob Thomas (didn’t he make crappy music?) thinks you didn’t “get” the point of his show tells us two things. One, that he doesn’t understand how fictive presentations are actually experienced, namely that the author has no control of how an audience will receive a given work; and two, if others didn’t receive it as he would wish, it tells us that he isn’t as good at this as he thinks he is.
All of that is simply to say that Romance isn’t just a type of book, but rather a way of looking at the world. That some people attempt to codify it simply as a marketing tool is rather sad.Report
“If others didn’t receive it as he would wish, it tells us that he isn’t as good at this as he thinks he is” GREAT point!
And yes, it’s also the Matchbox 20 guy but I don’t think it’s the same person.
Thanks so much for reading.Report
I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about romance novels and have no thoughts whatsoever on them. I *have* talked about Hallmark movies with people because a fair number of them have been shot on the street where I live, usually during the summer months, with sheets of fake snow on the ground and plenty of extras dressed extra warm. Some of those extras all bundled up for their romantic Christmas shopping are buddies of mine and, in those scenes, they’re near collapse from heat exhaustion!Report
Funnily enough I’m not into the Hallmark romance movies, you’d think I would like them but they’re too cookie cutter. Thanks for reading!Report
There has to be a way for criticism to hold two truths. First, that many men sneer at typically female-coded topics. Second, that romance B-plots can be done poorly. One does not refute the other, but it does seem to create a lot of talking past one another.Report
I would never say otherwise. Thanks for commenting!Report
Vox had an article/conversation piece about the growing influence of fandom over the 2010s. One of the people in the conversation piece is that maybe Veronica Mars fans had a point in being angry at Rob Thomas for killing off Logan because it was only through intense fan devotion and literary money donations that kept Veronica Mars alive for so long. For most of TV history, it would have been cancelled fast because of its’ low ratings. That gives them some sort of investment in the show since they are the only reason it exists.Report
Yep I read a comment to that effect recently – the two most loyal fanbases, Star Wars and Veronica Mars, who have invested a LOT both timewise and financially speaking in merch, and yet the people who have created the stuff seem to take a kind of sick glee in undoing the universe, screwing over the fans for…what exactly? Hollywood cred?Report
I don’t think that heterosexual men are necessarily opposed to romances in their media. My theory is that romances aimed at heterosexual men are very different from romances meant for heterosexual women. Each gender doesn’t really like the love story targeting the opposite gender. In the same Vox piece I referred to above, there was a section on Gossip Girl. Part of the Gossip Girl was explaining the allure of bad boy romances. That section pissed me off because I really can’t associate myself with the bad boy type character at all. I don’t see myself in them or the clean cut handsome ace good at everything fantasy to. So when I, and presumably other heterosexual men, watch a love story targeting women we get mildly to very annoyed because we believe that we aren’t going to get romance in our real lives because we aren’t what women really want.
On the other end, women don’t many love stories aimed at men. The genre of unlucky every dude/underdog gets the woman through his sheer decency and kindness while the bad boy or clean cut handsome ace loses is really popular with men, even if the real world man might not be an every dude/underdog, but is subject to harsh criticism from women. Manic Pixie Dream Girls is another type of romance that men love and women can’t stand. Most likely for the same reasons that men really hate bad boy love stories, women don’t see themselves in the female character in the romance aimed at men.
Like many things, politics makes it worse. It is seen as acceptable to critique romances aimed at men by calling it feminism. I think that if men were to give a detailed analysis of why they really can’t stand the bad boy/clean cut ace love story aimed at women, the reaction would be, at best, that they really shouldn’t spoil female fun/fantasy or even an accusation of misogyny. Meanwhile, many men find that their romantic fantasies, and I’m talking about romance not porn, seem under threat because of constant critique and that they are being denied something that speaks to them. So naturally, this doesn’t create good feelings of charity when it comes to love stories in media.Report
It’s worth noting that the term “manic pixie dream girl” was coined by a male film critic. Likewise, plenty of feminist critics came out against books like Twilight and Fifty Shades, so it’s not as if these conversations are completely one-sided.
The issue with romance is not whether men enjoy it. Certainly each person gets to enjoy what they enjoy. Instead, it is about how “women’s things” are trivialized, whereas similar things for men are “serious business.” (Golf clubs, overpriced power tools that gather dust, etcetera.)Report
Claire Briggs seems to make fun of golf clubs every other strip, and we are only up to the 30’s(?) or so. Seems like two sides of the same coin, although you two are making a worthy try at disagreeing about your seeming agreement. 🙂Report
Stay tuned, next piece is about Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
(and thank you for getting the point I was making)Report
And that piece is awesome, y’all going to love it.Report
I look forward to it.
I wonder if I’ll strongly agree or strongly disagree 😉Report
I’m not sure I totally agree with all this but I know there’s meat on this bone. I feel like we used to see more entertainment where the everyman and everygirl won the day and that’s gone away now.Report
Okay, I’ve been thinking about this. Much of it has to do with the limitations of the medium of telling stories.
When it comes to romance, what’s an awesome story? Two people meet, they exchange pronouns, they both check their preferences to make sure that the other person’s gender is one of the ones that they find attractive (and update if necessary), they sign consent forms, and one of them cancels the other when they share Tumblr accounts and one notices that the other liked Taylor Swift back in 2012. After the cancellation, the canceller gets clout for a day or two.
It’s a story old as time.
But it’s now a week later and you want to hear another romance story. And then, a week later, another.
Eventually, you might find yourself wanting a story about two people meeting and falling in love. Two great characters. You totally can relate to the one who is being pursued and think that s/he is most totally worth pursuing. You can totally look at the pursuer and think s/he is really, really attractive and someone who would raise your social status merely by standing next to them. And, as the story progresses, *POW*! THEY KISS! Whew. That was great.
Happy sigh. Wait, now it’s a week later? I want a new story!
So let’s say that you’re someone whose job it is to tell stories. Let’s say that people *LOVE* two characters of yours. They *LOVE* them. They want another story. Well… they already kissed in the last story… never gonna have that first kiss again… well, you can tell the story about marriage and adopting children (or having someone surrogate for them, whatever) and tell the stories about changing diapers and walking hunched over like the mummy as the toddler waddles around clanging zero-emission toys together *OR* you can have them break up… and then get back together. When they get back together… *POW*! They kiss! Whew. Happy sigh.
But let’s say that you come up with two *PERFECT* characters.
Well, you always have them *ALMOST* kiss… but then not. Something comes up. An emergency here (but the other person is there for them through it!). A crisis there (but the other person pulls through and brings some vegan food to eat that gives both of them some strength to get them to the next ethical meal!). One day they are sitting, getting ready to kiss, but a bee stings one of them in the back of the neck and the bee’s stinger has the smallpox virus and now we have to find a cure for smallpox and then figure out where the bees came from.
And, next week, you can tell another story about these two people who are totally attracted to each other.
And so you’re constantly in this will-they-or-won’t-they state and you can enjoy watching them do their thing and be competent at their lives but not competent with just communicating with each other.
Just like real life.
And when you look at how those stories go, you start to notice how convoluted and contrived you have to make things just to keep them from finally connecting (because you know you have to tell another story next week).
Action, on the other hand, is easy.
There’s a bank robbery! WHAM! COME DOWN HARD ON THE ROBBERS! Shoot a couple, throw the rest in jail.
And next week, you can have another bank get robbed. Wanna mix it up? Make it a grocery store! Wanna make it *EXOTIC*? Make it an airport. OOOOOH! MAKE IT A CASINO!
You don’t even have to give the cops personalities beyond yelling each other’s names. But you want to give them personalities? Have them do stuff week after week after week? Well, narrow it down to two or three guys and make it a procedural. Heck, have them be international spies. Give them superpowers. Come up with an interesting bank robber? Have him get away. Better yet, have him get caught and then break out of jail. Do it again.
You can have helicopters and explosions and ticking bombs and glamorous outfits worn by the people in the casino and piles of drugs and money and people having stand-offs where they’re pointing guns at each other and that’s not even getting to what you can do if you’re willing to fudge the physics.
If you’re willing to be a little contrived, the sky is the limit if you want to tell a really good, satisfying story.
Romance, for the most part, is limited to how it is about two (or three or five or maybe a dozen) people if you want to tell an equally satisfying story.Report
Congratulations, you have discovered the shipping bed death trope. This is where a couple becomes less interesting to fans of a show once they get established as a couple because all the will they or won’t they attention gets de-solved. Another problem with romance is that the fans will fight over love targets. You, the writer, want to place the heroine with the worldly intellectual art gallery owner. Others prefer the simmering bad boy rock star or the clean cut all American patriotic marine or the kind, nerdy chemist. So writing romance is really hard, especially with established couples. A couple that works well together isn’t going to be that interesting to watch because long genuine romances tend to be more calming than passionate and exciting. They may fight about what to serve at the dinner party but that’s about it. So you get a lot of dysfunctional couples because of the drama, passion, and occasional bouts of diarrhea after they go on vacation in exciting exotic location.Report
There was a wonderful movie that came out about a decade ago called “Another Year”. It was about a happily married couple that had been happily married for decades and it follows their life for a year.
A great story. I recommend it!
But it’s not a story that has me saying “yeah, I want another one of those”. Compare to Cheers or Friends.Report
“Congratulations, you have discovered the shipping bed death trope.”
which was, amusingly enough, identified in the original Ship — Mulder and Scully of “The X-Files”. While nobody will ever agree on what the X-Files’s Jump The Shark moment was, everyone agrees that “Mulder Kisses Scully” is their second choice…
And “X-Files” is where “shipper” came from, in fact; it was originally a pejorative, meant to describe those romance-besotted fans who wanted to see girl stuff like kissing as opposed to weird aliens or convoluted conspiracy theories. The term’s broadening, as it were, to mean “fans of a non-canonical pairing or advocates for the consummation of a canonical-yet-platonic pairing” came from Harry Potter fanfic communities.Report
I think wanting to see non-canonical couples together is older than Harry Potter. I first encountered it in Western Ranma 1/2 fandom during my junior year in high school. This was in 96/97. It might not have been called shipping but there were people who did not like the canonical couples and wrote fan fiction for couples of their choice. It would not surprise me if you found this existing long before Ranma 1/2. There are debates over which of Peter Parker’s girlfriends are the best despite the overwhelming preference for Mary Jane Watson of canon.Report
Yes, that’s why I talked about the term “shipping” specifically, versus the idea of slash fiction (which in fandom started with the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise.)Report
Except Nick and Nora, but yeah it’s hard.
The key: certain narrative structures work well in a serialized format. Romance is not one of them. It needs a beginning, middle, and an end.Report
Nick and Nora were fascinating to watch at because of their witty, snippy dialog rather than the romance between the two.Report
I get the practical considerations and yes when it comes to bodice rippers and rom coms, they’re not exactly ripe for a sequel. But a LOT of shows, and I mean a LOT, have a romantic element without being “ROMANCE” the genre in big neon lights flashing, you know?? and it’s that I have a problem with. It’s these shows where they go to ridiculous lengths to keep the characters apart even to such extent that they ruin the damn show like they did with VM.
And you’re right in that maybe it hasn’t been done yet. But not so long ago, there were no gritty superhero shows. There were no shows with ongoing plots like Lost had. Vince Gilligan gave us 5 years of the best TV ever that was in essence one protracted character study. We’re living in the Golden Age of TV here and I am of the opinion that doing an ongoing romance is not only possible, but somebody’s gonna come along and do it in a way that will shatter the WTOWT conventions totally and when it happens, it’s going to be awesomesauce. Just because no one HAS done it, well heck, Hollywood is nothing if not incredibly, horrifically conservative and figures if it worked 1 time it will work 1000 times. But it is possible and someone will do it eventually.Report
I think the most fundamental practical consideration is that the *PERFECT* romance story has 2, maybe 3, hours of story to tell.
Titanic? They meet, fall in love, have some *AMAZING* sex, then Leonardo DiCaprio dies.
I don’t want to argue for the Efficient Storytelling Hypothesis (a few years back we were troubled to find that The Three Amigos was the Ur-Story for the particular genre of “Actors Acting Their Way Into Herodom”) but I am trying to come up with an example of a story that might not have been a good story in itself but it had a good story in there for Romance… but takes 40 hours to tell.
There have been dozens of sitcoms dedicated to happily married couples. Romance? Well, the occasional show ends with a passionate kiss in front of the open fridge whilst the laugh track guy presses the “WOOOOOOOOOO” button. But the sitcom isn’t about the romance. It’s about the relationship. Give them some kids (three of them!) and have stories about the dating problems of the eldest, the discipline problems of the middlest, and have the little one have a cute catchphrase.
But Romance over time resolves itself and evolves. Falling in Love eventually lands.
I can’t even imagine a story otherwise. (Which might be my limitation, of course, but I’m *TRYING* before I’m saying that I’ve failed.)Report