Hi friends! So this one is … all on me. Jill Sorenson’s birthday is actually on June 18th. But I think we all know that the tragic shootings at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC took place the night before, so we decided to hold off. Until the next week. I thought we were all well and good until Jill (very politely) emailed me and … I found my gaffe. I’d scheduled it wrong. Alas. Even worse because I think this is a really great post, and ever timely. Enjoy.
Romance Reader Problems
It happens every few months, on average. Someone who doesn’t know much about the romance genre writes an article about romance novels. The tone is mocking, the statements are sweeping and inaccurate, Fifty Shades gets mentioned, there’s an outdated Fabio cover, words like “bodice ripper” and “mommy porn” get thrown around, rinse, repeat. 75% of romance twitter gets mad while the other 25% don’t care/agree with the article/get annoyed at those who got mad. Then we have meta-outrage, outrage fatigue, and counter-outrage. Someone in the comments will post a link to dinosaur erotica as proof of the genre’s stupidity WITHOUT FAIL. Without fail.
Someone else will ask why romance insiders don’t write these articles themselves. Well, we do write them. It’s just that romance-positive articles aren’t clickbait. Clickbait is about controversy, and saying nice things isn’t controversial. Harsh criticism is controversial. Mockery is controversial. Ignorance, sexism and polarizing opinions are controversial.
There’s another element to criticism that sort of gets lost in the discussion. We don’t tend to criticize the things we love. We criticize things we don’t love, or don’t understand. We criticize attitudes we oppose and ideas we fear. I’ve heard “it’s okay to like problematic things” a lot, which I think sometimes means “you should stop trying to deny that this thing is problematic” or “you should accept that I’m right about this thing being problematic.” I don’t know if liking problematic things IS okay, to be honest. Because doesn’t problematic mean harmful? Doesn’t it mean offensive stereotypes, racism, sexism, homophobia? Don’t those things cause harm, even when it’s “just fiction”? Furthermore, does being able to distinguish fantasy from reality reduce the potential harm? Does identifying problems in a text keep us safe? Or is it the opposite, what we don’t know can’t hurt us?
When we like problematic things, we buy them and support them and make sure they keep getting made. Call me crazy, but I see that as a problem. So it’s no wonder that fans of problematic things resist this label. I resist it. If someone says “Motorcycle club romance is problematic,” I will agree. Unless they’re talking about my books specifically or some other book I like. Then I’ll resist, because I don’t see my books/books I like as harmful or offensive.
Romance readers tend to criticize tropes, books and subgenres we aren’t fond of. I criticize slut-shaming pretty often. If a book is full of slut-shaming, I’m not going to enjoy it. I can’t imagine recommending a book like that. So for me, problematic = did not enjoy, for the most part. One exception I can think of is when a book tackles a problematic subject, like rape fantasy. If it’s well done, does that reduce the harm or make the content less problematic? I don’t know, but I can’t think of many problematic, super-offensive romances I’ve enjoyed.
Recently Anita Sarkseesian of Feminist Frequency made some comments about Mad Max: Fury Road. It wasn’t a scathing set-down or anything, but she didn’t consider the movie feminist. I wonder if that means she didn’t enjoy it, or if she enjoyed it less than others who believe it IS feminist.
What about you? Do you like problematic things? Is it hard to criticize something you love? Does identifying a book or movie as problematic affect your enjoyment at all?
Bio: Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic suspense novels, including the Aftershock series by HQN. She lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, twitter and reality TV. Jogging keeps her sane.
Jill has also very generously offered a copy of Wild to one lucky commenter! I’d love to hear what you think about the subjects Jill brought up. And everyone please join me in wishing Jill a very happy belated birthday!
Zookeeper Helena Fjord loves her job at San Diego’s Wildlife Park. She’s too busy taking care of baby elephants to worry about her personal life. Her long-distance relationship might be falling apart, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to fool around with handsome, laidback security officer Josh Garrison. She steers clear of his silly pranks and sexy smile—until disaster strikes.
Josh has been coasting ever since his Navy SEAL dreams went up in smoke. He’s always had the hots for Helena, but the lady is off-limits. When a devastating earthquake hits, the pair must work together to secure the park’s borders. With wild animals on the loose, aftershocks imminent, and fires blazing across the city, they face serious peril—and a powerful attraction. Josh vows to protect Helena at all costs. But who will safeguard her heart?