The Disappointment of Guilty Pleasures

Posted Jul 19 2012, 9:00 am in , , , , , ,

If you visited my blog last Friday, you’ll know that I offered a few different links about romance in the news. One of the things I talked about was a PBS film about the genre of romance titled Guilty Pleasures. When I wrote the post, I admitted that I hadn’t yet watched the film, but I had it waiting on my DVR.

After I published my post, I saw a scathing review by Sarah Frantz over on Dear Author. In addition to being an associate professor, Sarah is also the President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and a former reviewer at Dear Author. In other words, she knows her shit. When I read her review, I started to get that sinking feeling that maybe putting the link for the film with other positive articles about romance was not a good move. 

Then, I decided I should watch it. I watched maybe about half and that’s being generous. The film is filled with stereotypes about readers of romance: woman sitting on her couch eating chocolate while reading, another woman getting a facial with a Harlequin in hand… Isn’t it bad enough that as a reader I have to suffer these stereotypes in real life? That picture of a woman with her chocolate? My husband has teased me for years while I’ve been a stay-at-home mom about my life being soap operas and bon-bons. At this point, he no longer really believes it, but it’s there in the back of his mind. Stuff like this doesn’t help.

The women in this film read romance as an escape. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve said plenty of times that the reason I write contemporary romance is because I love new love. I don’t read it and write it because I hope that it will become my life. I’m not trying to fill some void with imaginary characters. And most (like the vast majority) of romance readers aren’t either. But the film portrays these women as people who blur the line between reality and fantasy.

Then there was the inclusion of interviews with a male cover model. This guy came across as superficial and almost cartoonish. It was like — take his shirt off and it doesn’t matter what he says. Completely insulting (to both him and me).

I will say that there was an earlier review of this film, back in April 2011 over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Sarah links to it, so I am as well. That reviewer states that she enjoyed the film (although she laughed at the male model too), but she came at from the viewpoint of an observer, someone looking in at something she’s not part of. She viewed the couples portrayed in the film as characters and enjoyed their stories. I couldn’t get past the ideas about romance that were reflected in these portrayals.

The only part of the film that didn’t drive me batshit was the romance author. Unfortunately, according to Jennifer Lohman, the librarian who reviewed for Smart Bitches, the filmmaker, Julie Moggin used a male romance author in the film for comedic effect. If I hadn’t read that part of the review, the author portrayal in the film wouldn’t have bothered me much at all. He talks about how difficult it is to be a writer — how you don’t “churn out books,” how sometimes you sit there for an hour, write 3 lines and discover they’re all shit– but he does have some funny moments. For instance, at a workshop he tells participants that a hero can have hair on his chest, either going across or in a line down, but he can’t have a hairy back. Yeah, that’s funny, but it is part of the unwritten rules for romance writers. We want the fantasy. (There might be some women out there who like hairy backs, but I ain’t one)

Overall, I was sorely disappointed in this film. I wanted something that would show how good the books are and that smart women read them. That romance isn’t trash that gets slapped on the page as “mommy porn.” I wanted something that would take down the stereotypes.

Yes, I am fully aware that I want too much. So I guess I’ll just continue to be disappointed.

Any suggestions for changing the attitude others have about romance? I’d love to hear it.

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