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.


8 Comments to “Practically Marzipan: Bad Romance”

  1. I like this. I enjoy your column and blog.

    The one that I can't stand is 'All is fair in love and war provided you are the lead.' Every time the hero or heroine ditches their intended at the altar, it's either because the other party is a hyperbolised jerk, or they will find comfort in a new partner/career/sexual orientation just before the credits start rolling. Follow your heart, okay, don't marry the wrong person, okay, but I would never get involved with someone who can break off a long-term relationship one minute and completely forget about it the next.

    The 'funny gay neighbours so we can call this movie diverse and tolerant' trope needs to die, too. I know minorities can't count on seeing themselves portrayed seriously in too many blockbusters, but, damn it…it's either a joke or a deep social commentary. Is there nothing in between?

    That said, romance is never my first choice but I enjoy a good romantic comedy- granted, when it's more comedy than romance.

  2. I like your post, and I agree with every thing you said. The love-at-first-sight is such crap. And it's not just the fact that the girl has to be pretty, but what also annoys me is the cliched, stupid definition of pretty. Long, glossy hair, tiny waist, big boobs, long legs. The story is always the same. The guy looks about the same too (at least in the M&Bs I've read: tall, dark, usually devilishly handsome, "rugged" (I've never really figured out what rugged meana), and of course, filthy rich.

    The sex thing is annoying too. The guy is ALWAYS more experienced than the virginal, pure girl, and sex is always earth shattering. And, more often than not, she always falls in love with him after the sex.

    And the profession/respect thing: true. (Again, I speak mainly about what I've seen in M&B). She's either the tired single sister taking care of a younger brother, or the meek, abused secretary. Basically, ususally ready for the knight in shining armour, and always inciting his protective instincts.

  3. Other particularly annoying tropes:

    * How being a stalker is turned into a virtue. Which, happily, has been sent up here.

    * Manipulative and know-it-all old people. Rishi Kapoor in Love Aaj Kal, and the Eskimo grandma in The Proposal are egregrious. Hector Elizondo in Pretty Woman manages to give it some dignity.

    And continuing from Star Trek being an epic romance, that means JJ Abrams has turned Leonard Nimoy into the know-it-all manipulative old person. That bastard!

  4. Madzia – Oh absolutely,that one. I'm sorry, if you display assholishness that makes you an asshole and I'm no longer interested in your happy ending. And the gay neighbours are never actually shown being involved romantically, are they? Just…there. And gay. And did I mention gay?

    Buddy – Thank you :)

    Sumedha – As far as I can tell, "rugged" just means that they look like they could punch stuff convincingly. I have rarely found this attractive in a man, but hell, what do I know?
    As for the profession thing, I have read a few about high powered executive type women. But they are either suffering from starving their "feminine" sides (earning money and being successful are terribly unfeminine, don't you know) or were abused as children. Luckily the hero makes it all better.

    Aadisht – I'm actually very fond of a lot of the old people in romances; some of them are adorably cranky. I think a lot of fanfiction has been playing with this idea in post-2009TrekMovie writing, and it's actually worked quite well, mostly. There's also Julia Quinn's Lady Danbury who I love dearly. But yes, it is getting rather tiring as a trope.

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