Archive for February 13th, 2010

February 13, 2010

Practically Marzipan: Bad Romance

rah rah ah ah ah ro ma ro ma ma ga ga ooh la la…

Ahem. An edited version of the column below was published in today’s New Indian Express.

Regular readers of this column are probably aware that I am well-disposed towards the romance novel. I will devour uncritically most historical romances, and I do not scorn the products of Messrs. Mills & Boon or Harlequin when accompanied by the right combination of tea and laziness.

Nor am I particularly against the romance movie genre. I like romantic comedies; I like films that are all romance and no comedy; I even like teen films and have a special fondness for the Makeover Movie. Nevertheless, on what is probably the most significant weekend of the year, romancewise, I feel the need to complain about them (thus proving that this column is Serious Cultural Critique). So here are some of the romance tropes that annoy me most:

  • Eyes Meet Across A Room: I said I liked makeover movies, though they rest upon the assumption that a romance can only really go ahead after the girl has shown herself to be capable of beauty (and every virtuous heroine is secretly gorgeous). Nonetheless, at least in those stories the couple are forced to get to know each other before they fall in love. Whereas all this love at first sight rubbish requires is that one partner be superlatively attractive. For the majority of us who have had to charm our partners through conversation, this can all be rather dispiriting.
  • The Hero Learns An Important Lesson: This trope works in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy has actual, cultural reasons for thinking so highly of himself, and he does learn (we’re told) to laugh at himself. But Austen was writing at the end of the 1700s. Why, then, do I keep reading romances where the male romantic lead consistently underestimates the female because she is female before finally learning to respect her? Occasionally this is masked in terms of career – the (male) businessman dismissing the (female) baker/designer because after all, how hard could it be? Of course by the end of the book they generally do learn some respect, and it’s nice that they’ve reformed. But why bother with such a man in the first place? I’m not sure what Elizabeth Bennet’s choices were, but I live in a world where there are a number of good men. Why go to all the trouble of reforming the arrogant ones?
  • Sex Is Suddenly Really Good: You find the man of your dreams and sex suddenly goes from being awkward and bumpy and comical to transcendent and earth shattering. Even leaving aside the question of whether this is even desirable (surely sex with no sense of humour would get boring?), this is a bit off. Sure, sex with someone you Truly Love adds a new and excellent dimension, but was it really that bad before? I feel like they’re trying to confer upon the heroine a sort of virginity: sure she’s (in the interests of modernity) had sex before, but at least she didn’t enjoy it.
  • All Romance is Heterosexual: You could apply most of the traditional romance plot (barring the sex) to most buddy movies – thus the“Bromance” genre. I’m sorry; if you don’t think Star Trek is about the epic romance of Kirk and Spock, you simply haven’t been paying attention.