Time did an article about the popularity of the military hero, which I can't find a copy of that's not behind a paywall. However, it's the video that came with it is what caught my attention this week.
Sales figures may prove my opinion one of a very small reader group, but the gleaming man chest?
Doesn't do it for me as a reader. I know, I know. We spend so much time mocking the mantitty in these parts, it's rather surprising (not). The mantitty has never worked for me.
But the context of the video really grabbed my attention. The phrase “seduce the reader” stopped me cold. Kristine Mills-Noble, Creative Director at Kensington Publishing, says in the video, “The fantasy is that this is the man who is going to jump out of planes to
recuse rescue me in any situation. We want to be seduced; we don't want to be overcome.”
I'm nodding at the second part but the first part, not so much. What makes me uncomfortable is the fact that the cover art seems created on the suggestion and assumption that I as a reader in some way insert myself into or be present in the story, and want to interact with the hero – either having him “seduce” me as one of the people suggests, or by being charmed and lured by the image to try the book.
In the succession of images shown in the video, it's a Rockette line of manchest after manchest, shirt unbuttoned (and, yes, still tucked in). There's a cowboy hat, a military rifle, some horses – and manchest. The people involved are thinking about the position of the model, Markus Ricci, and what messages are communicated by his arms and hands, the pose of his body. They're thinking about the image they project from the covers of their books.
Videos like this provide a glimpse into the thought and production that creates a romance cover – and I don't think any of the people involved are doing a bad job at all. They're doing exactly what a market demands. (Also, the part where the makeup artist is airbrushing makeup on the model's chest made me laugh. That must TICKLE.)
As I've said many times while talking about romance novels, the romance genre is written by women, read by women, and, as you know if you've been to a romance writers' conference, edited and produced mostly by women as well. So this video shows women marketing to other women through the production of female-centered narratives. I am aware that men within the publishing industry may have a say in how the covers are made and marketed, and what art is used, but in this video, it's all women, with the exception of the photographer and the model. Women marketing product created mostly by women and produced mostly by women to a readership of mostly women.
What strikes me is that despite being a romance reader, despite reading a ton of books every week, every month, every year, I am not in their targeted market. It makes me wonder at the divide that separates me from the reader who does gravitate toward the glistening mantitty, what differences lay between her and me, since we both read the same genre and likely some of the same books.
Why does that cover image work for her and not for me? Is it because I am not interested in the hero so much as I am interested in the story and the emotions of the characters? Are she and I looking for different things? Is it because I don't insert myself in any way into the story except through empathy for the hero and heroine? Is it because I don't involve myself in a way that other readers do?
The degree to which that video made me discomfited and confused is probably measurable with a yardstick. I kept thinking, 'This is about the genre I love and the books I enjoy – well, except for Janet Dailey but still. Why is this doing the opposite of working for me?'
[Unrelated Space Tangent: In THIS Time video, there's a profile of the Voyager spacecrafts launched in 1977. One is about to break past the boundaries of our solar system into interplanetary space. Check out the cool part with the disk of encoded information and greetings from earth that were attached to the outside of the Voyagers. SO COOL.]
What was your reaction? What did you think?