Laura Kinsale sent us a link to a rant she wrote on her own BB, wherein she discusses political correctness clashing with her desire and goal to write a good story.
Kinsale’s frustration is with readers who expect enlightened heroes (read: not ‘old fashioned’ alpha heroes) but bemoan the lack of good stories:
I read a lot—a LOT—of reader commentary on the various romance sites regarding things like alpha heroes and “rape” and “forced seduction” and how all that is so 1970’s (or 80’s or 90’s, take your pick depending on your age) but we’re all enlightened modern women now and we just don’t like that sort of thing. Then in the next thread will be complaints that the genre just isn’t as compelling or interesting as it used to be and readers can’t find books they really enjoy, and gee, why are all the heroes vampires now?
The trend, as she calls it, of self-conscious political correctness in romance is somewhat stifling to Kinsale as a writer, and a recent review in Salon gave her the context to express what had been irritating her.
The book being reviewed was a discussion of eroticism and emotional intimacy in real-world marriages, but when applied to romance protagonists, the discussion takes on different significance:
Erotic desire, Perel argues, thrives on mystery, unpredictability and politically incorrect power games, not housework battles and childcare woes…. “The challenge for modern couples,” she writes, “lies in reconciling the need for what’s safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what’s exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring.”
Kinsale writes: “It sometimes begins to seem to me that a goodly percentage of present day romance readers are actually frightened of reading about a real conflict in a book.” Moreover, “Romance IS an erotic genre. And Perel has pointed out the elephant in the room: Erotic desire…thrives on mystery, unpredictability and politically incorrect power games.”
Kinsale argues that readers have become self-conscious about their own erotic fantasies, and the genre itself has been divided into two camps: the “safe Regency settings” that provide emotional depth, while “the erotic drive has been channeled over to vampire and fantasy books where realism is a non-issue,” leaving folks who prefer neither to complain that there’s nothing to read.
This long-ass summary of a really thought-provoking rant caused me to turn to my husband of six years and ask, “Can you have your emotional security cake and hump it too?” He of course, had no idea what I was talking about but was pleased that I’d mentioned both “cake” and “humping.”
I don’t know in all honesty what I think about the idea of the divide of the genre, or the idea that readers don’t want to read real conflict. But I do have to wonder about the idea that erotic desire “thrives on politically incorrect power games.” Is erotica as a genre then a subversion of current standards of societal correctness, particularly in America where we can watch ten men get shot before 9pm eastern but God forbid we see a naked breast during prime time?
When I consider the responses to our discussions of heroes, heroines, and plotlines on this site, I haven’t necessarily read a great deal of shunning of the alpha hero, though our discussion on rape scenes in romance was long and infinitely absorbing, even as most of those commenting on the topic agreed it was a cliche that was better left in the past. but are we uncomfortable with conflict and sexual power plays in romance, unless they are shelved under the erotica genre?
I’m still formulating my reaction, to be honest, but Kinsale’s rant gave me a lot to think about in terms of erotica, romance, and expectations of the genre. And I very much want to read what you think.