If you read the Twitteration, you probably got a micro-sense of the Mr. Romance pageant last night. Heather Osborn calls it the mangeant, and clocking in at just under an hour, it was a zippy-mangeant, too. The battery on my laptop hadn’t charged all the way yet.
The opening was funny and silly and sort of slapstick – a lady was reading a book, and the contestants come out from backstage one by one and dance with her. While they were all sculpted and earnest about it, she was hamming it up to the audience, laughing and giving about 42 variations of the “WTF!?!” face. Then, she returned to her book and her sofa, and her “husband” came home—at which time she threw the book down and dragged him backstage.
Silly, and plays on sexual stereotypes of romance that we wish weren’t the ONLY thing for which romance is mentioned, but the contrast of Uber Earnest Chiseled-Jaw Model Type and the well-dressed and attractive reader hamming her reactions for the audience was snort-funny.
Then the bump n-grind started, and the silly was gone in favor of some really klunky sexist jokes on the part of co-host Mr. Romance 1996. Beth Ciotta, however, was working it and working it well with the material she was given. How is she not reading audiobooks? I mean, damn, her voice is marvy.
For me the most interesting moment was one that was totally unscripted. In between the Mr. Romance segments, during the time at which I presume there was massive costume changes going on back stage, there were dances – three of them, if I recall. Oh – and a performance of “The Girl in 14G,” a song written for Kristin Chenoweth, performed by Cindy Hines.
The second performance featured Chyna (I hope I am spelling that right) Pozzessere and (I believe) her brother doing a dance routine and at the end, as Beth Ciotta was announcing their names again she broke from the script and said something along the lines of, “HEATHER. Can you believe…? I’ve watched her grow up! I remember when she was a little girl!” It was the sort of kvelling and pride-filled comment you’d expect from any mom, but at that moment, Chyna (And please, please forgive me if I’m spelling your name incorrectly – it’s not on the Google and I think that’s a good thing) had a few hundred moms in the audience who’d watched her grow up over the course of the last ten years of Romantic Times.
That captured the real undertone of RT. Yes, there is a lot of mantitty and absolutely bizarre things that never happen anywhere else – as @BarryEisler said to Jane and I, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but as I went from the vampire ball to the pajama party….” – and there’s a very much in-your-face assertion of some elements of the genre that many of us wish weren’t so constantly in-our-faces. But beneath all that is a solid network of people who form a family of sorts, one based on books, reading, writing, and a celebration of the relationships between the reader, the writer, and the books.
At the Princeton conference, at the very end we talked a tiny bit about the intimacy that is created – and often presumed upon – when a reader and writer share content that is about intimacy itself, and generates emotional, personal, even sexual response. Seeing the different ways in which that interplay in and around that reader/writer/product intimacy can reveal itself has given me a lot to ponder, from the academic analysis at Princeton to witnessing the Mr Romance pageant and the interaction of the RT attendees.
What was most telling, and most appreciated, was the crowd response to the Mr. Romance contestants who did not act on stereotype but displayed instead actual character. When the pageant had them act out or perform the plots of different Dorchester novels, two of the men did something unexpected. While most of the contestants ended their reenactments with monster kisses complete with bending the model backwards and planting one on her, one contestant (and I’m sorry I don’t recall which one) invaded the cover model’s personal space and pulled her against his chest, and then kissed her very softly on the forehead. (Cue the audience: “AWWWWWWWWW.”)
But the winner, Charles Paz, walked to the end of the stage, turned around, approached the model, and took his suit jacket off and draped it over her shoulders. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand after that, and the subtext was delicious. Watching him named as the winner made the crowd even more joyful: the good guy they liked had won.
Maybe next year any academic conference about romance could be held AT Romantic Times, as sort of an on-site workshop and study opportunity.