Monday, June 01, 2009

You Don't Mess With the Romance Posse

This morning, I was sitting at my kitchen table, enjoying my McCafé beverage as I trolled through my internet stops, listening to the local morning show that I've been tuning into for pretty much forever, when the DJs said something that caught my attention full stop.

It seems that Eric and Kathy (of WTMX out of Chicago) have determined it would be a fun lark to have their morning show producer, Swany, read a romance novel and report back his findings. Apparently this bit resulted from a prior discussion on how the romance genre business has been booming of late - sales up some 7%, which is nothing to sneeze at given the current economic crisis.

I didn't catch, exactly, how they went about choosing which book Swany was to read - I sort of got the impression they solicited suggestions from listeners - but Swany is all set to dive into that well-known, highly regarded icon of romantic fiction, "Palaces of Desire." Eric was enthusiastic over the prospect that the cover might feature a little Fabio action. Naturally. What's a trashy novel without a little Fabio man-titty?

What's that you say? You've never heard of this particular book? Well, let me enlighten you. It was written by Karen Alexander and released in January of 1978 by Ballentine Books. And after a good half-hour of Googling, I can assure you that you will find absolutely no more information than I've just shared other than where you might find a used copy at a bargain price.

But, really, what more do you need to know? Even if "Palaces of Desire" is a work of literary wonder on par with Jane Austin's backlist (which I have my doubts given the zero buzz about PoD, anywhere, bespeaking of its longevity as far as quality), the title alone does all but take out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune as far as touting romance novels as not much more than Porn for Women. Too, given the publication date of pre-1980, we're probably looking at at least a certain level of bodice ripping and alpha-maleness, not a little bit of purple prose, and maybe a virginal widow if we're oh-so-lucky. Pure Old Skool Romance at its hideous best. Definitely not of the epoch that we romance readers are most proud.

As any self-respecting romance novel reader and pseudo-writer would have done, I allowed my panties to get in a respectable twist. Because without directly stating it, by choosing a book with the title "Palaces of Desire", Eric and Kathy were making fun of romance novels. And it goes to follow that they are indirectly mocking those who read and love romance novels. In promoting this viewpoint on their radio show, they were also affirming to the masses that it is not only understandable to mock the romance genre, it is perfectly acceptable to do so. Without apology, even.

And thinking I should walk the talk, I fired off an e-mail to DJs Eric and Kathy to express how I felt about this. I tried my best to be firm yet intelligent, saddened yet eloquent, discouraged yet hopeful they might be able to see the error of their ways. I suggested that the rest of the morning team read books in other genres, so that the ridicule and mockery might be spread rather than heaped on romance's already sagging shoulders. Too, I offered up the lovely Beyond Heaving Bosoms: A Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels as an antidote to their delusions about romance being not much better than poorly written smut read by ignorant fools who just don't know any better. And, finally, I suggested that if they were going to go through with this farce, a least choose a well-written romance novel that has a chance of standing up proud and tall to represent the genre properly.

I guess my e-mail wasn't as diplomatic as I'd hoped. Eric's e-mail response was incredulous. As in:

"You have GOT to be kidding me!"

He went on to say that this idea is all in fun, all in response to the booming sales of romance novels, yada yada yada. Net net, no mocking was being done, you fishwife freak.

At first I felt embarrassed for having come across as a shrew, probably causing Eric to picture me as a frumpy, middle-aged housewife with my cats slinking around my slippered feet as I padded around in my mumu, wondering if the mailman might like to come in for a cuppa and maybe a little something-something. Being once Catholic and always a woman, I instinctively replied to Eric in apology form. Sorry for coming across as harsh and seeming to not get that this was all in fun. No intention to offend, of course.

But I did follow that expression of shame with a request that if they are going to do this, take it seriously. Have Swany read a good romance novel. Have him give his honest opinion, without the filter of snark and ridicule. A reminder that many people listen to this Chicago-based radio show, and that Eric and Kathy could do a service to romance readers by helping us gain respect rather than perpetuate the genre as a joke. In short, use their power for good, not evil.

Know what I did next? I went and tattle-taled. I invoked the Power of the Bitches. My little blog gets very tiny traffic, but the Bitches? They are fierce. I asked them to post a little bit about my experience because I wanted to know if I had done the right thing by taking the Mix to task for this "just for fun" radio bit. Had I maybe overreacted? I hoped that a blog post at Smart Bitches might generate some outraged responses that I could use as balm to my wounded romance-lovin' sensibilities.

And what book should producer Swany be reading? What book represents the very best of the genre, a book that would wipe the smirks off their faces and have them begging for more right after they issued public, on-air apologies to everyone who'd ever been laughed at for reading a romance?

That Queen of All Bitches, Sarah, replied to my cry for support with her own salvo - an e-mail full o' whoop ass sent to Eric himself. I know not what she wrote, nor do I have the effects as of yet. I'm hoping she'll keep me posted.

It's not that I don't want Swany to read a romance. In truth, it would be kind of cool if he took this very seriously and read a well-selected title genuinely chosen because of its quality and not its ability to illicit giggles out of 13 year old boys. I'd love to get his insight. I'd love to have him admit that there's more to a romance novel than man titty and Fabio hair. And I'd love for Eric and Kathy to treat this book with the same respect they'd give to something they'd choose to read for themselves.

I can ignore slights on the genre for the most part. But this time, for some reason, I just couldn't let it go. Maybe it's the prospect of tuning in to the local country station all summer so I can avoid hearing any mention of Swany's progress that pisses me off so much. Or maybe it's imagining all of the commuters sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, smirking self-importantly with each mention of "Palaces of Desire", knowing that they'd never stoop to reading such crap.

Maybe I should check out "Palaces of Desire" from the library and read it myself. Maybe this book is kick-ass. Maybe it'll do the genre proud and Eric will end up with egg on his face when Swany raves about it. I can only hope.


Anonymous said...

Go, you! -- willaful

Anonymous said...

They were complete ass faces. Seriously, emailing The Bitches was probably the best thing you could have done. Forgive the cliche, but go girl!