Get a Load of This Crap

Alert Bitchery reader JMC was forced to change seats on the DC Metro this week. Why?

Because she didn’t want to face this crapful advertisement.

The Greater Washington Initiative, creators of that lovely ad, is an organization attempting to market the greater DC area to businesses looking to expand, touting high percentages of residents with advanced degrees and other hallmarks of smarthood. They’d love that expansion to land in the VA/DC/MD area, but I guess the romance novels will have to be part of the yard sale before the businesses move on into town.

Oh, the rage. JMC said, “Romance readers are uneducated and less desirable employees, apparently.  And having a degree or an advanced degree obviously makes people smarter, too, in their minds. Forget the fact that I’ve known some people with advanced degrees who are dumber than a bag of rocks and utterly unproductive human beings.”

I know those same people – I think I was in grad school classes with some of them.

Once again, the romance reader is portrayed as dumb, uneducated, and – get this – economically undesirable. Well, it will be my pleasure to make sure that Smart Bitches, LLC, never expands into the DC metro area.

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1
    Robin says:

    Okay, but isn’t it just a little intriguing that a guy is pictured for the average subway Romance reader?

  2. 2
    Jackie says:

    If they want to improve the image of greater DC, maybe they should clean out a few of the slums.  Build some decent housing, improve the schools. . . .

  3. 3
    Jaded says:

    You know, when I see someone reading something like Plato on the subway, my first thought is not how smart they must be; it’s how smart they’re trying to look by reading Plato on the subway.

  4. 4
    Miri says:

    They didn’t want to portray a woman reading a romance for fear they would look stupid AND sexist.

  5. 5
    Jeri says:

    Um, my copy of Plato’s Republic is about three inches thick.  How smart can this guy be if he’s reading the Cliffs notes version?

    I remember reading an article last year about how there were very few romances set in DC.  Seeing as it’s a place that pretty much sucks your soul drier than a stale raisin, I can understand why.

  6. 6
    SandyO says:

    I googled Kaitlyn O’Connor’s Abandon.  It’s a real book, I wonder how Ms. O’Connor feels about the Initiative’s use of her book.

  7. 7
    Jane says:

    That’s quite an ad for O’Connor.

  8. 8
    charity says:

    I have never been under any misguided belief that reading romance novels will make me appear smarter, but damn, that ad is really insulting. 

    Aren’t they aware that paperback romance novels make up over half of all paperback publishing sales?  Don’t they realize that is a HUGE demographic they are alienating?  Or do they assume that all romance novels must be read by uneducated, barely literate, mouth-breathers?

    You’re right Robin, it is especially strange that they show a man reading the romance novel instead of a woman.  I’m all for gender equality but let’s be realistic.

  9. 9
    belmanoir says:

    Seriously.  Is there a subway somewhere full of romance-reading guys?  Because if so, I know where I’m going on my next vacation!

    And yes, I totally want to know what Kaitlyn O’Connor thinks about all this.

  10. 10

    Only in DC, some idiots think Plato’s Republic is a great thing to read right before work.  If I were that guy, I would’ve fallen asleep and missed my stop!

  11. 11
    Jennie says:

    If I saw a guy reading Plato on the subway, I’d probably think “What a pompous ass.” 

    I’m all for the classics, but much like those awful 80s bodice ripper covers, I don’t trot them out in public for all to see.

    Actually, I know lots of people with advanced degrees—they’re some of my best sources for swapping romance novels!

  12. 12
    isi.2 says:

    With all due respect, I kind of get where that ad’s going.  There is a difference between real literature and popular novels.  I don’t read much romance, but I would feel the same if the ad featured comics or mysteries or sci-fi or Harry Potter books.  Those are all relatively passive entertainment—the author tells a story and you’re along for the ride.  With literature or scholarly nonfiction you’re required to be much more active, following multiple arguments, picking out flaws, and generally wrestling with the text on many more levels.  Which isn’t to say that you can’t delve into the craft of a comic or romance, just that there’s less depth to them.  They’re meant to entertain, not to challenge/educate you.

    Although with that said, I couldn’t imagine appreciating something like Ulysses in the reading environment of a subway, and I’d be surprised to find anyone there reading something other than a newspaper/magazine/popular novel, given all of the jostling and constant distractions.  And I totally agree with Jaded and Jennie that anyone who publicly flaunts the fact that they’re reading Great Literature is almost certainly a pompous idiot.  But the premise of the ad (books that challenge & educate you vs. books that entertain you) seems pretty logical to me.  It’s unfortunate that they drag people into it, since smart people read a whole slew of things, but as a quick visualization of smart vs. less smart, the books work really well.

  13. 13
    Robin says:

    I haven’t read Ms. O’Connor’s book, but obviously I enjoy much Romance.  I also have a fondness for Plato, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Derrida, Foucault, and many other dead but serious types.  I wish this kind of discussion didn’t have to turn into an either/or, philosophy or genre fiction, although I totally understand the resentment toward the elitist judgments this “campaign” seems to make.

    But here’s the thing:  how many of us educated, smart, successful, articulate, independent, sassy women are actually out there publicly talking about how intelligent some Romance is, and how legitimate a fictional enterprise it is?  Although I understood why she kept it under wraps until she got tenure, at least Eloisa James is talking far and wide about her roles as Romance novelist and Shakespeare scholar (of course the fact that her father is Robert Bly might help a bit, too, in her gaining some respect).  But she’s the minority, I think.  How many mainstream press people or just plain people are reading some of these blogs where we talk about the philisophical underpinnings of rape in Romance and sexuality and eroticism as it relates to political correctness? And how many of us are really advocating publically for a different take on the genre?  Sometimes I doubt editors and publishers even know we’re here.  And for every one of us on the Internet, I know there are hundreds more who aren’t.  And many of us are crying for more intelligent Romance, as well, which complicates matters even more.

    It’s ironic because the friend who introduced me to the genre is a respected academic, while most of my friends who don’t hold BA’s or advanced degrees don’t read Romance, and I think it puzzles them a little that I do.  These are smart, sophisticated, successful, independent women, but they still walk into a bookstore and see a clinch cover or a shaved male chest and get ideas about the genre.  And you know what—I can’t blame them.  I can’t explain any of that away, either, and I know that many, many Romance readers like those covers—especially the readers who don’t give a flying fig if the genre gets mainstream respect. 

    I know that there are different elements of the Romance reader community—different expectations and interests on the part of readers, and many readers who don’t pay attention to what critics say about the genre or about what whether forced seduction means anything in the genre.  Then there are those readers who do, and there are writers who are writing books that invite us to ask those questions and have those conversations.  It’s a big genre.

    But the element that’s represented here—authors and readers included—isn’t the element that gets most noticed, even though we might be the ones bitching about derisive attitudes toward the genre.  But what are we doing to give a different face to the genre, to change the view of people who think it’s trash or otherwise unworthy somehow?  I struggle with this, too—I’m guilty of not asserting my reading preferences around certain people, even while I complain about the bad opinions.  I’ve gotten better, and I’m forcing myself to make more public statements about Romance in a positive way, but I still think that the more serious connections between the genre and readers aren’t being made so public in big numbers.  And I think it’s even harder to get acaross the idea that smart women could be reading Romance and enjoying it as it is WITHOUT all the analysis, as well.  Because that’s part of the experience, too.  Even I get caught in that trap of feeling like I have to justify my enjoyment of the Romances I read with some intellectual interest instead of just saying that sometimes it’s a fun or entertaining reading experience.

  14. 14
    Lorelie says:

    I don’t read much romance, but I would feel the same if the ad featured comics or mysteries or sci-fi or Harry Potter books.

    I think the rage comes from the fact that it’s not comics or mysteries or sci-fi and it pretty much never is.  People have certain conceptions of what reading material says about a figure in an ad or on television.  Want to show a geek?  Toss a few comics around.  Want to show an uneducated idiot?  Have ‘em read a Romance novel.

  15. 15
    Lorelie says:

    I don’t read much romance, but I would feel the same if the ad featured comics or mysteries or sci-fi or Harry Potter books.

    I think the rage comes from the fact that it’s not comics or mysteries or sci-fi and it pretty much never is.  People have certain conceptions of what reading material says about a figure in an ad or on television.  Want to show a geek?  Toss a few comics around.  Want to show an uneducated idiot?  Have ‘em read a Romance novel.

  16. 16
    Lorelie says:

    Umkay, no idea why that posted twice.  Sorry.

  17. 17
    Lia says:

    I wonder why they didn’t go whole hog and have a woman reading Plato’s Republic. 

    Or the not-so-bright dude reading “Mr Perfekt.”

  18. 18

    There is a difference between real literature and popular novels. [...] Those are all relatively passive entertainment—the author tells a story and you’re along for the ride.  With literature or scholarly nonfiction you’re required to be much more active, following multiple arguments, picking out flaws, and generally wrestling with the text on many more levels.  Which isn’t to say that you can’t delve into the craft of a comic or romance, just that there’s less depth to them.  They’re meant to entertain, not to challenge/educate you.

    I think they very often do both: ‘aut prodesse aut delectare’, and they can be read on different levels/for different purposes. Is watching a Shakespearian play ‘passive’? After all, you’re just sitting there watching a good story. But then, it might just get you thinking about issues too. Certainly at the time they were written these were seen as popular entertainments.

    How many mainstream press people or just plain people are reading some of these blogs where we talk about the philisophical underpinnings of rape in Romance and sexuality and eroticism as it relates to political correctness? And how many of us are really advocating publically for a different take on the genre?

    Pamela Regis interviewed a number of romance authors at the Smithsonian Institution at the end of last year/beginning of this year. Eric Selinger is teaching university courses on romance novels. We’ve got a blog going that’s explicitly written from an academic perspective and there are articles and books published and in the works on romance which are appreciative of the genre. I think there’s gradually going to be more awareness of this type of academic interest in romance novels, but it’ll take a while for perceptions to change, so those of us who want it to change will have to be persistent.

    Even I get caught in that trap of feeling like I have to justify my enjoyment of the Romances I read with some intellectual interest instead of just saying that sometimes it’s a fun or entertaining reading experience.

    A well-written novel or play should be fun to read/watch, I think. Which takes us back to that quote from Horace. The fun is usually the bit that’s most obvious and which attracts the reader. The education/analysis part doesn’t have to be recognised, but it’ll be there. Lots of readers say that romance has helped them think about difficult issues, improved their self-esteem etc. That’s ‘education’ in the broadest sense.

  19. 19
    J-me says:

    The really great thing is that just down the same train you have an ad for Tyson’s Corner Center (a really overpriced mall) that features a male’s torso from collar bone to hips in a tight tank and jeans that is turned in such a way as to give him a more endowed chest than most the women on the train.  Talk about man titty.  The only time in my life that I have wished for a camera phone.

  20. 20
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~But here’s the thing:  how many of us educated, smart, successful, articulate, independent, sassy women are actually out there publicly talking about how intelligent some Romance is, and how legitimate a fictional enterprise it is?~

    Um. I’d be one.

  21. 21
    Nora Roberts says:

    I think the ad projected the either/or stand. It’s also something I’m pretty used to, so I don’t get enraged by this kind of thing. Usually. This particular ad pushed a button because it’s so blatant, and so insulting—and once again so freaking LAZY. Shorthand: Reading Romance novels is silly, they’re mindless fluff, and we’re so much smarter, so much more sophisticated than this we read Plato.

    Anyway, I bet that guy’s got the box scores inside Plato’s Republic.

  22. 22
    Nora Roberts says:

    JMC might consider e-mailing the GWI with her thoughts on the ad. I just did.

    I don’t bother with this sort of thing often, but I happen to live in MD, so that makes this close to home on a couple of levels.

    I don’t think the kind of attitude or the kind of message the ad projects is going to go away. But that doesn’t mean we have to turn the other cheek every time we’re bitch-slapped.

  23. 23
    Kat says:

    Oh, you mean the guy reading Plato is supposed to be employed? I thought *real* Arts students refuse to sell out to big corporations by accepting their wages.

    *grin*

    Oh, relax. I’m kidding. If they can take the piss outta me, I can take the piss outta them.

    Seriously, I thought it was an ad for removable book covers to put on top of trashy romances (I use the term lovingly) with Fabio covers. ;-) I’d really love one of those…

  24. 24
    jmc says:

    JMC might consider e-mailing the GWI with her thoughts on the ad. I just did.

    I do have an email drafted—I wrote it immediately after seeing the ad. I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of days, because I wanted to cool off and make sure it was coherent, not a babble of frustration and outrage. 

    Beyond the implication that romance readers are uneducated, less desirable members of the work force not worthy of being part of the Greater Washington community, I was frustrated by almost everything in the ad.

    First:  a guy reading romance?  The vast majority of romance readers are women.  Why not use a woman in the ad?  Unless the implication is that fewer women are smart enough or educated enough to read Plato or be the target employee of the GWI. 

    Second, a guy reading romance on public transit?  With a lurid cover?  Not utterly impossible, but highly improbable.  DC commuters (like much of DC IMO) are amazingly pretentious.  In three years of using the MARC commuter train and the Metro, I’ve only ever seen one guy reading a romance:  a guy in a Navy uniform reading Brockmann’s Flashpoint, which has a cover that looks like suspense and not romance.  Women reading romance novels on the Metro?  I’ve seen chicklit and historicals and best sellers, but I seldom see another reader with a clinch cover or even a category book.  Are other readers out there?  Yes, I’m sure, but I think they hide their books in public.  Metro readers are more likely to read the Express (free daily short pub’d by the Post) or the paper or a magazine, or have the laptop open, working, or read work material.  The people who are most likely to read “classics” of literature: students on their way to class.  The vast majority of people on Metro are zombies, starring off into space while waiting for their stop, or fiddling with their Crackberries.

    Third, the way the reading choice was presented.  Someone earlier posted that it was the either/or situation.  I don’t see reading (romance or any other reading material) as an either/or choice.  I read romance.  I read classics.  I read non-fiction.  I read literary fiction.  The ad implied (to me) that a smart reader should or will always choose “literature” over entertainment, and that entertainment has no redeeming value.  Am I reading a lot into that, bringing my own baggage to it?  Probably, but that’s part of the art of marketing, isn’t it?  And this particular piece of marketing strategy just really pissed me off.

  25. 25
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~I do have an email drafted—I wrote it immediately after seeing the ad. I’ve been sitting on it for a couple of days, because I wanted to cool off and make sure it was coherent, not a babble of frustration and outrage.~

    Always wise. Cool-headed, reasoned arguments have more impact. Even if venting frustrated outrage is more fun. 

    Re another comment: I don’t consider reading a passive form of entertainment, not if the story is well-crafted, and have certainly found popular novels challenging and thought provoking. Even educational.

  26. 26

    With all due respect, I kind of get where that ad’s going.  There is a difference between real literature and popular novels.  I don’t read much romance, but I would feel the same if the ad featured comics or mysteries or sci-fi or Harry Potter books.

    But it doesn’t. And it doesn’t feature The Da Vinci Code. The reason is that the ad packs a one-two punch. The dumb guy reads not just popular novels, but popular novels for women. It’s a wonder he can put on his pants by himself.

  27. 27
    melabelo says:

    I remember reading an article last year about how there were very few romances set in DC.  Seeing as it’s a place that pretty much sucks your soul drier than a stale raisin, I can understand why.

    As someone who lived in Washington, DC for twenty years (I now live in the suburbs), I can tell you there isn’t a lot of romance happening around here. Washington DC was voted the worst place to date in a a few polls, and as a single woman, I’m not surprised. People who spend their time talking about nothing but politics and the politicians they work for aren’t the most interesting people on the planet.

    As for the ad on the subway, I’m sure it pisses off every romance novel carying woman on the train.

    And don’t be so quick to judge that person reading Plato on the subway – it’s my goal to read all of his works before I die, and I get a lot of reading done on the subway! :-)

  28. 28
    Myriantha Fatalis says:

    Wow, so much hate for people who read classics in public!  As I apparently have a different background than some who have commented, I would have made a different assumption about Plato-reading-dude.

    Before I graduated last December, I spent 14 years being an increasingly middle-aged, part-time student, cramming a course or two into the corners of my life whenever I could.  Which means that I spent a lot of time sitting around in company lunch rooms and other unlikely places, reading lots of books with $5 words.  Not Plato, granted, but Beowulf and a substantial number of Shakespeare’s plays, not to mention the two solid years that I carted Wheelock’s Latin around everywhere I went.

    So if I saw this guy, I would probably assume that he was a lawyer (or engineer) who decided that his profession sucked and was going to night school to get an engineering (or law) degree.  Poor guy just probably got stuck having to take some stupid course that has *nothing* to do with his major, but the university has this crazy new requirement….  (No really, ask me about my “Introduction to the Mind” class. I dare ya.)

  29. 29
    Myriantha Fatalis says:

    Oh WAIT, I get it now!  He’s wearing a suit

    …he’s in Washington

    … he’s reading Plato’s Republic

    … so he must be a Republican!  No wonder he’s so economically desireable!

    Sometimes I just slay myself.  I really do.

  30. 30
    Kevin says:

    I work in the DC area at a publisher of romance.  It’s a job I took, because I needed a job.  And my background in journalism was good enough to qualify for an editorial assistant position. 

    Previously, I had never read romance or knew anything at all about the genre.  And needless to say, I carried all the negative stereotypes about what romance is and what kind of woman would read what I saw as mass produced mindless crap.

    Smart Bitches and the women (and men) who comment here can take some pride in totally changing that opinion.  Having read this blog for a couple of months, I now know that women who read and write romance can be clever, witty, deep, and even handle a raunchy fart joke.  And they know the difference between crap and intelligent fiction.

    I live right off the Silver Spring Metro Station.  And when I got on the train today, I saw that ad.  I was in a hurry (as is life in DC), so I only glanced at the ad.  And I thought, “Did I read that right? Surely they aren’t saying what I think they’re saying.”

    Yep.  Pretty messed-up ad.

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