REAL LOVE VERSUS ROMANCE
By author/artist/non-conformist, Jess C Scott
1 November 2011
An essay on the difference between substance and fluff.
* Part of the Real Love Vs.
P.S. I understand that romance is a very popular genre--everyone has
their own preferences! However, as an author/artist, there are certain
things I'd like to create a greater awareness of as well (in particular,
the glamorization of unhealthy relationships).
If you've something to say/share/add to the discussion, feel free to
contact me anytime.
"Love Vectors" | image from Meaning
of Love, Life
* * *
I enjoy escapism from time to time, as both a reader and a writer.
I like to have some depth to the characters and the love story they're
involved in. Nothing annoys me more than a shallow,
obsessive, dangerous, unequal "romance" that's actually based
on lust or physical attraction, a romance that is portrayed as the ideal.
This is a theme that has become very popular in mainstream/commercial
YA fiction (mostly due to the commercial success of Stephenie Meyer's
Twilight Saga). This is precisely why one of the genres I work
in is Young Adult Fiction.
I believe there's more to life than popularity and the latest trends
and fashions. There's nothing wrong with finding these appealing, as
there are social and other perks to being well-liked by one's peers.
However, I think commercialism has a tendency to take things to the
extreme. Market power is exploited to the detriment of social value.
Superficial and shallow things like romantic fluff (i.e. what is "lacking
originality or profundity") turn into the actual substance
to mass market consumers.
This is one reason I've always been very wary of consumer capitalism.
A quick definition:
"Consumer capitalism is a theoretical economic
and political condition in which consumer demand is manipulated, in
a deliberate and coordinated way, on a very large scale, through mass-marketing
techniques, to the advantage of sellers. The theory is controversial.
It suggests manipulation of consumer demand so potent that it has
a coercive effect, amounts to a departure from free-market capitalism,
and has an adverse effect on society in general."
Films like Titanic and classic works such as Romeo and
Juliet contain a love story (and romantic elements). The substance
lies in the characters involved and their drives/motivations, which
separates these stories from the "mindless entertainment"
type of shallow, fluffy romantic stories.
There'll always be a market for mindless entertainment, but what is
both irritating and dangerous is how these works often cause innovative,
original work to be ignored or discouraged.
Shelly Barclay has a very concise article titled, Modern
novels: Assessing the romance genre. She writes:
"With apologies where it does not apply, the romance genre tends
to be overly gushy, shallow, unbelievable and tends to be tumultuous
in a boring way.
There is a lot of petty bickering (To add to the suspense?). There
are a lot of 'other' men and women trying to intrude (To add to the
suspense?). Worst of all, there is a lot of horrible, boring and vapid
It should be said that there are extraordinary romance novels.
Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre
come to mind.
However, for a romance novel to be extraordinary, it has to have more
than just romance. It has to be historical, exceptionally insightful
or add some other tangible element that adds foundation to the story.
To be fair, there are many excellent writers out there who choose
to contribute to the romance genre. They write well-rounded, moving
and memorable novels. There is something special and worthwhile about
their novels...[which] catch the attention of those of us who do not
particularly enjoy romance as well."
novels: Assessing the romance genre
Grantley Morris has an interesting article where he questions if romantic
fiction is the female equivalent of porn.
He writes that "both erotica and romantic fiction create images
of, and create a longing for, things that no normal partner could ever
match, with the result that both sexes end up wishing their partners
were more like those portrayed on the screen. In real life, the initial
euphoria of romance wears off. The really heady stuff is more likely
with a new partner."
A woman wrote in to Grantley's website with the following comment:
"Women get caught up in story fantasy [and] become dissatisfied
with their lives because their husbands don't measure up to the hero,
and the romance isn't there as it is in the story.
If women would put in more effort into their real life relationships
instead of living through fantasy, there would be less family difficulties.
Women are so easily led by their emotions, and feelings. They are
very 'I' centered also. Through these fantasies they focus on how
everyone should be treating them but never see how they are treating
E-mail / Romantic Fiction
The following excerpt from Gayle
Goldwin's WomanSpirit Oracles states:
"In ancient times, women needed joy and fulfillment in their
lives, just as women now do.
But women then were taught that they would find it within themselves--in
the activities, pursuits and pleasures that they enjoyed. Their modern
sisters, raised in patriarchal cultures, have been taught to look
to a man for fulfillment instead of to themselves.
Romance is a fantasy designed to make women obey Man's wishes in hopes
of gaining his approval. Romance is not Love. It is Need. It is not
joy, but only a brief distraction from depression and pain."
The romance genre may be strong commercially, but as a writer, I'm
more driven to write love stories than fluffy romances (love stories
can also be very entertaining, when there's the right mix of elements).
There is nothing laudable about romantic fantasies which GLAMORIZE and/or
trivialize unhealthy relationships.
In all honesty, it's society that suffers in the end, if, in the name
of commercialism/profits/consumer capitalism, "romance" is
viewed as "real love," and Real Love ends up being devalued
because it lacks cheap thrills and shallow excitement (i.e. the qualities
which make "romance" much easier to exploit for profits).
* * *
UPDATE (29 August 2012):
Jennifer Hamady, voice coach and counselor:
"Choice is a tricky concept when it comes to young people--and
those of any age--who blur the lines of love, lust, insecurity and
the desire for validation. Fifty Shades blurs those very
lines, providing readers with an implausibly happy ending to an unhappy,
unhealthy, and all too common tale."
Shades of Concern / Psychology Today
UPDATE (1 Feb 2013):
Carey Purcell Says:
"Anastasia and Christian's relationship [in Fifty Shades]
is not romantic. It is abusive. The ways he tries to "keep her safe"
are not masculine or sexy. They are stalking. Fearing one's husband's
reaction to an unexpected pregnancy is not normal, because "boys will
be boys." It is sad and dangerous and should not happen
in a healthy relationship."
Purcell / Huffington Post
UPDATE (6 Feb 2013):
"I hate to break it to some of you romance fans, but no man
is going to 'read your mind' and see how much you love him while you're
busy denying your attraction to him, much less your devotion, and
come chasing you down to declare his undying love and sweep you off
your feet into the happily ever after. Just ain't gonna happen in
UPDATE (11 February 2013):
Lonnie Barbach, a San Francisco based psychologist:
"The more centered you are and clear about who you are and happy
in your own life, the less these other things are going to affect
you," Barbach says. "The poorer your sense of self is, the more you're
going to try to make up for it with external stuff."
Barbach / Health US News
UPDATE (11 February 2013):
Stuart Fischoff, Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology:
"Part of who we are is who we hang with and what we consume ... If you keep feeding into your mind these kinds of self-assassinating pieces of information, then you're going to stay hidden. You're going to stay living in a half-life."
Fischoff / Health US News
UPDATE (26 March 2013):
Alyssa Rosenberg on ThinkProgress:
"This narrative is dismal on and off the page and screen because
it builds disrespect and inequality into the narrative of both real
and fictional relationships."
Persistent Idea That Women Can Tame Men
And Need To Fix Them
UPDATE (13 April 2013):
On Psychology Today:
"Romance fiction [is] the flip side of porn. Many women insist
that the two genres are polar opposites—and with good reason. Porn
denies love and relationships in favor of nonstop grinding body parts,
while romance is all about relationships with the breathless sex an
appropriate outgrowth of tumultuous love. But the larger truth is
that both genres focus on gender-based erotic fantasies."
UPDATE (15 April 2013):
On A Witch Rants:
"I see some very big problems with the popular culture in fiction
and movies right now--which may or may not be tied into this massive
upswing in rape culture and the decline in the status of women in
this country. . .the normalization of all of this kind of drama and
violence [is] very disturbing."
UPDATE (17 June 2013):
Barbara Taylor Bradford, the doyenne of women’s fiction whose 27 novels
have sold 88 million copies worldwide, says:
"...Taylor Bradford also admonished 'hero' character Christian
Grey as 'every woman's worst nightmare, although he's rich'."
UPDATE (1 July 2013):
On Wrapped Up In Books:
"The problem is this type of [abusive] relationship is glamorized
and romanticized. The narrative frames this kind of relationship as
ideal. To pretend as if this relationship would result in any sort
of happily-ever-after is laughable and the opposite of romantic.
...There was no character growth. It concerns me to read gushing reviews
that rave about how 'hot' Travis is or how the reader wants him to
be her 'book boyfriend.' Look, I'm into tattoos, but I am not into
controlling, domineering, manipulative, violent guys. There's
nothing sexy about abuse."
Up In Books
UPDATE (12 August 2013):
On Academy of Women's Health:
"We must be attuned to the way women are treated in books and
movies, as such popular culture can perpetuate dangerous violence
standards toward women."
G. Kornstein, MD / Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Women's Health
UPDATE (18 November 2013):
Comment on Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Not an Incredible Love Story:
"God, that book was the worst book I've ever read. I can't stand
how all young romance stories these days are similar to this: A 30
year old aloof, hot, bad-boy billionaire meets 20 year old virgin
and they INSTANTLY can't live without each other and have tons and
tons of "hot" sex. (The sex scenes in 50 Shades weren't hot
at all, to me). And magically, within a week of meeting, the bad boy's
walls fall down, girl ditches all her friends because jerkface becomes
her whole world, blah blah blah (and in a lot of stories, girl gets
pregnant and everyone is thrilled, especially the jerkface badboy).
Ride off into the sunset, "The End." How is any of this healthy, let
alone the basis for a sustainable love."
/ The Gloss
UPDATE (28 April 2014):
Amy Rae from Melbourne, Australia:
"Love triangles have become a prerequisite for YA novels. Originally,
author Suzanne Collins planned for Gale to be Katniss’s cousin, but
her editor encouraged her to change this to a 'romantic interest'
to appeal to the drones of YA readers, solely interested in
hot guys and bad romance."
Rae (also posted on Booksie)
1 Nov 2011: The above essay is part of Real
Love Vs. Romance, a collection of (informal) essays on commercialism's
de-spiritualizing effects on society.
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