Inferior Writing? On Chicklit, Fantasy, and Mary Sue

In the Arts section of DoubleX magazine this week is an article, The Death of Chick Lit, examining how the quintessential beach-reading genre might have to remake itself somewhat to accommodate its readers’ realities in a world in economic recession. The author, Sarah Bilston, argues that women won’t care as much about conflict spurred by fashion, romance, and high-end exploits when, in their own lives, they are struggling to hold onto their jobs and their homes. The argument she makes is an intriguing one, even if I disagree that writers in the “frivolous” genres should make their subject matter sterner; if any time called for an escape from reality, then this is it. But I certainly understand that Ms. Bilston is a professional writer and must, therefore, be concerned about selling what she produces as well, and if her potential audience is largely throwing aside her novels in disgust at just reading the summary, then she runs the risk of joining them in default, no matter how idealistically “keeping the dream alive” in trying times. Fair enough. But what captured my attention–and raised my ire–wasn’t the article itself but the reader comments on the article.

“Like the rest of America and its genius writers,” writes one commenter,

you’re just another ‘trend-spotter’. Like chick-lit hasn’t been suffering since the START of the recession in 2007. You’re 2 years late! But congrats on being another academic whose ‘study’ concludes with “we need more work here” or “______ field needs to re-invent itself”. But then again, your party scene tells that perfectly – getting a glimmer of an idea does not count as executing that idea in itself.

Another chimes in, with respect to Ms. Bilston describing a particular revision that she felt compelled to undertake: “Don’t waste your time cutting up the party scene in your book, it won’t sell any better b/c it sounds like a waste of time to read.” As I read these remarks, I was flummoxed by the fact that commenters feel the need to proclaim the utter lack of worth of a novel that they haven’t even read and to dismiss the writer’s efforts as useless. And I’m having a hard time imagining a similar type of meta article written by a male horror or sci-fi author meeting with the same scathing dismissal of his very craft.

Another commenter broadens the ad hominem attack to point out,

This sort of whiny article is precisely why the writers of chick lit are so embarassed. They should be. They write frivolous books that are basically identical to each other in content and then want to be taken seriously.

I’m not a particular fan of so-called “chicklit” or women’s fiction, and my reasons for that are a lot of the same reasons that some of the commenters give: characters whose lives and conflicts seem so unreal and, yes, frivolous that my interest just isn’t sustained. Yet, reading these comments, no matter my own personal agreeance with them as far as choosing novels to read, I find my hackles raised nonetheless and have to come to the defense of my sister-wordsmiths. Because–as escapist as their novels may be–they aren’t getting a fair shake.

Commenter LaniDianeRich–who identifies herself as an author in the chicklit genre–put it best when she wrote,

Why is it okay for Stephen King to write about grisly evil, for Tom Clancy to write about spies, for Augusten Burroughs to write about his tragic childhood, but it’s not okay for Sarah (or me, or hundreds of other writers) to write about women?

Because the arguments against writing that doesn’t fall into the “literary” genre are familiar; I heard the same spiel about a lack of realism and cookie-cutter characters during a rather uncomfortable writers’ workshop in university where a short story of mine was shredded not on its own merits but by the professor’s assessment that, because it was set in a dystopian future, then it was sci-fi and therefore of inherently less worth than my classmates’ work set in present-day reality. In Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories,” he addresses many of these arguments, suggesting that they have had a long and vigorous shelf-life despite the sheer bone-headedness of such assertions. So it’s not the arguments, per se, against “chicklit” that I find so disturbing as the vitriol that this particular genre seems always to earn. Why?

I’m just as guilty. I’m quicker to distance myself, as a writer, from chicklit than I am from the gaudily covered hardcore “science fiction” novels that sound like a thinner, dumbed-down Star Trek, even though I am a writer of neither and, in fact, as a reader, would probably prefer Confessions of a Shopaholic to a book from the Warhammer series. And, certainly, the Warhammer books aren’t regarded as fine writing or profound, yet they also aren’t subject to the same vitriol as chicklit. Rather, they’re waved off as harmless–if at times inadvertantly humorous (at least to those of us who don’t “get” the genre)–escapism. I remember once having to sit through a movie based on a Tom Clancy novel that my husband wanted to see and being driven to distraction by the sheer improbability and inanity of the whole thing, coupled with a constant hyper-masculine need to show the size of one’s dick and the heft of one’s balls by packing as many explosions, bombs, guns, guys in camo, dark-sunglassed operatives shouting in code into walkie-talkies, careening helicopter flights, and urban car chases into an hour-and-a-half sustained roar. Replace the bombs and guns with diamonds and yachts and the guys in camo with slim thirty-somethings in designer Italian couture and the car chases with posh parties and–from the description that Ms. Bilston provides of her own novel–you have chicklit. It’s no more improbable than Tom Clancy, certainly. (Perhaps significantly less so since people, presumably, do live such padded lives somewhere yet, as of passing it on I-95 this morning, Baltimore had not yet been nuked by terrorists.)

Yet I don’t see Tom Clancy or Stephen King or Dean Koontz being berated by literati who wish these authors would just get their darned heads out of the clouds and focus on reality and people (as they are in reality, of course) and “things bigger than your everyday troubles,” to quote on of the commenters on Ms. Bilston’s article.

And now this begins to remind me of a discussion that generated on my last post where I mentioned that one of the more interesting comments that I received on Another Man’s Cage accused me of writing the novel for my own pleasure (as a woman) and that of my largely female audience because I dwelled on the emotional and psychological lives of the characters. That comment–“written for a woman’s pleasure!”–was meant to be withering to the entire premise of my novel, I’m sure. It was instant damnation. It marked me, immediately, as a most unserious writer for choosing to aim my content at people with two X chromosomes. I have trouble imagining the opposite accusation–of a story being written for the pleasure and entertainment of males–as carrying the same sort of clout. Even fandom’s obsession with “Mary Sue,” that icon of female escapism, I think, marks how little we value typical feminine fantasy as compared to typical masculine fantasy. Fantasy in general is always regarded with distaste by some. But male-oriented fantasy–Warhammer and Tom Clancy and epic CGI-enhanced battle scenes–are laughed off at worst but generally consumed as the guilty pleasure that most people feel when indulging in obvious escapism. But chicklit? We need to be puttin a stop to that! But why?

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12 Responses to “Inferior Writing? On Chicklit, Fantasy, and Mary Sue”

  1. Michelle says:

    Oh, what a topic! I’m sure it’ll spark quite a bit of discussion. So let’s jump right in.

    First, a little backstory on me: Last year, I got a whole bunch of ParaRoms (paranormal romances) as reviewer’s copies. I had never read one before, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The covers looked nice (they still do), so I was drawn in. Mind you, these novels were by different authors – at least three or four, I can’t remember exactly. I read the first (by Katie MacAlister) and hated it after the first five pages. It went on like that. Every book I picked off that stack was worse than the one before. I came to loathe ParaRoms and romance novels as a whole as a mediocre genre. I CANNOT understand why anyone would read that crap.

    I agree wholeheartedly with this comment you quoted: “They write frivolous books that are basically identical to each other in content and then want to be taken seriously.” From my little sample, I got the same impression. The plots and characters where identical – even within a series by one author each book would have the same plot while the author renamed the characters. It’s lazy and bad writing. It’s unimaginative.

    And I must disagree here: “Why is it okay for Stephen King to write about grisly evil, for Tom Clancy to write about spies, for Augusten Burroughs to write about his tragic childhood, but it’s not okay for Sarah (or me, or hundreds of other writers) to write about women?” (Incidentally, I disliked Stephen King and Tom Clancy just as much as chick lit, but that’s not the point.)

    These authors are *not* writing about women. I have not met one woman in real life who in any way resembled the schizophrenic, screeching, illogical bitches (yes, bitches) described in those novels.

    More often than not, romance authors will write alpha males who are unable to do anything but rape the woman they so love. And what happens? The woman likes it, she scolds him a bit. They make up, then they make out. And there’s a happily ever after. How is this writing about women?

    (And if that comment sounds like I’m bitter, that’s because I am. I spent about half a year ploughing through those amazingly bad novels while I could have been reading some worthwhile instead.)

  2. Dawn says:

    I’ve never heard of a para-rom before. But I think it’s safe to say–from the descriptions of her novel that she provides–that Sarah Bilston is not writing para-roms. :) Her first novel, apparently, is about a high-profile lawyer who ends up on a lengthy bedrest during a pregnancy; the novel under discussion in her article is the sequel to that. It seems to me that her novels are more a glamorized version of everyday life: the perfect job, an endless stream of disposable income, a handsome husband, and ever-charming friends who throw glitzy parties on a whim. Lots of wishful thinking but nothing paranormal in sight. 😉

    I came to loathe ParaRoms and romance novels as a whole as a mediocre genre. I CANNOT understand why anyone would read that crap.

    I, too, once ended up working on a chicklit novel–not a para-rom but definitely a chicklit novel. It was a miserable experience. I’m not fond of the genre, to say the least.

    However, as to why people read it … I don’t know, but a lot of people do. To each her own, I say. To play devil’s advocate a bit, my classmates and teachers as a writing student, once upon a time, made a very similar statement to yours: “I CANNOT understand why anyone would read that crap.” Only the “crap” in question was The Lord of the RIngs. 😉

    As for unimaginative, bad, and lazy writing: I hesitate to make the latter charge because that’s really a comment on the author’s efforts that I’m not qualified to make. For all I know, she’s writing to the best of her abilities; for all I know, she puts as much or more effort into her stories than I do. I don’t think that disliking her choice of genre makes it possible for me to conclude otherwise.

    As for bad writing, I’d agree … but that is very much my opinion and it can’t be anything but. :) As for popular opinion, more women read and enjoy Danielle Steel than would ever read and enjoy anything I wrote. So, clearly, someone thinks this stuff is good (else publishers wouldn’t be buying it); I just happen to disagree.

    As for lack of imagination, I also share in that opinion but I also think that substituting explosions and car chases and gunfights with terrorists for character development and style and creating a believable world (even within our own world) is bad, unimaginative writing. But my whole point is that no matter the screed many are willing to deliver against “chicklit,” still Tom Clancy is being left alone. Male-oriented action thrillers are no better-written or less offensive than chicklit, so why the difference in how we perceive and react to each?

  3. Juno says:

    Ah, what a topic.

    So, the majority of cool readers and reviewers have declared that chick lit is shit. (And that Harlequin & Shilouette novels, Nora Roberts and Rosamunde Pilcher are shit, too, I guess.)

    Well.

    That may be true or that may be wrong.

    …So what?

    If there are writers who want to write that kind of thing, more power to them. If there are readers (and look at the sales figures, there are still more than enough of them!), who enjoy those books, I hope they have fun.

    (I may not be a fan of romance novels in general, but I have no problem with admitting that the gentle romance of a few Nora Roberts novels has saved my sanity in times of stress. Or that, while I’m generally not into thrillers, I do enjoy reading Dan Brown. The books are entertaining. They are meant to be entertaining. I doubt the author has ever claimed they are big important literature. (At least not as far as I know.) I normally don’t like chick lit, but I got a number of laughs out of Bridget Jones.)

    So it’s cookie-cutter fiction with cardboard characters. Fine. Look at detective thrillers and try to tell me they don’t have their own brand of clichés. For what it’s worth, look at genuine feminist literature.

    How do those people think that genres work? Similarity makes a genre. And the outstanding books in any genre cut enough across the grain to be more than “just” a genre. (They stand out.)

    Re: Chick lit/romance novels being about women. Or not.

    Yes and no. Some are about women, actually. Some are about alpha males so hairy you wonder if they’re the missing link. Ahem. Others are…well, I personally don’t *get* them, but probably pure escapism.

    The POINT however is, that even though figures MAY be shifting, there’s still a HUGE market of readers out there who LOVE that kind of stuff for whatever reason. Writers want to write that stuff? For heaven’s sake, LET them. Readers want to read that stuff? …then it will be published and sold.

    I absolutely, totally RESENT the idea of anyone, in any way deciding what is “more appropriate” to be published and read “in times like these”.

    What I definitely would like an answer to is the confounding question of why the kinds of stories my friends and I like to read DO NOT exist in the pro-market. The books I would love to read are not being published. I want an intelligent, entertaining plot, strong characters, an explicit romantic subplot with real adult scenes (i.e. both more graphical than what’s available in romance novels and better written). In other words, I want to buy the literary quality I have become used to in fanfiction. (And I am not alone in this. See hit counts and visitor stats of M or NC-17 rated fanfic novels in various fandoms.)

    The question arises, why, if there is a market, and there are writers, are there no books? I definitely see a trend in publishers’ decisions to dumb down genres, and ESPECIALLY where romance aimed at a female audience is concerned. Now, I don’t know how it’s done in the US, but at the publisher I’m working with, which does only romance, everyone I’ve worked with so far, is female. So what’s up with that? Is it the old story that we’re too goody-two-shoes to admit what we really like? Too embarrassed to stand up for our frivolous pursuits that grant us moments of respite when times are tough?

    …seriously, to the best of my knowledge trashy literature hasn’t killed anyone yet. What’s the big deal? People bashing bad lit are really pathetic. THAT is really frivolous IMO. Not reading a cheap romance novel to relax, but to spend time to be destructive, ridiculing others and what others enjoy, especially when that enjoyment is so harmless.

  4. Pink Siamese says:

    I suppose it depends how one defines “inferior writing.” I define inferior writing as lazy writing, the sort of thing that is comprised of nonsensical grammar, fuzzy syntax, rickety storylines, clunky figurative language, and one-dimensional character development. By this definition, every category of writing, from newspaper articles to classic literature, has its fair share. Singling out any specific genre as an example of “inferior writing” is full-on logic fail. Honestly, if one is going to get all elitist, The Bourne Conspiracy belongs right up there (down there?) with Bridget Jones.

    As for the sexist implications in the derision of girlie-lit, I could write a book. But not tonight. I’m too tired.

  5. Independence1776 says:

    I don’t read chicklit myself. Well, there’s one light fantasy series I adore that probably falls into that genre– the main character is a grown-up “Buffy” who, while dealing with demons, must also contend with her family (including a teenager and a toddler). It’s light reading, which everyone needs on occasion.

    As for Warhammer, from what I’ve heard, most people don’t like them or consider them serious scifi. And yet, I tend not to read the hard scifi stuff because I either can’t find characters that sound interesting or the science is so blatant and the author expects his readers to understand higher-level physics or whatnot (I do much better and enjoy the biology based stuff) to understand the plot! Tom Clancy– I’ve read some of his books and liked them. But once I start them, I can’t put them down or begin another book because I’ll never pick it up again. Seriously– I started one two years ago, left it for a couple of weeks over Christmas, and still haven’t picked it back up. (And from what you said, I think the movie you saw was based on that book.) So is *that* poor writing? But you won’t hear him called on it.

    As for chicklit itself, if it sells, then it’s a good thing. I don’t understand the hatred toward it– people obviously like them! (And as you said, it’s much the same with scifi/fantasy.) There’s nothing wrong with different tastes.

    Like Juno, publishers aren’t publishing the types of books I want to read. I want three-dimensional, non-cliched characters. I want a non-cliched plot. If there’s a villain, I want good characterization. Or better yet, no villain at all and have shades of gray. (No more Tolkien rip-offs!) And like her (and others), I find more of what I want to read in fanfic that original fiction these days. Part of it may be that the fantasy/scifi section in my library is terrible, but I also don’t have the time and money to browse my bookstore. And yet every time I go into those sections, it feels weird because I’m female and females aren’t supposed to like that kind of fiction.

    So, in the end, I think it comes down to women choosing what they like to read, people not understanding it, and bashing the readers for it. And that isn’t right.

  6. Michelle says:

    See, lots of discussion. All done by people who don’t even read (or like) the genre. We’re quite a group:)

    Okay, I’m jumping back in.

    However, as to why people read it … I don’t know, but a lot of people do. To each her own, I say. To play devil’s advocate a bit, my classmates and teachers as a writing student, once upon a time, made a very similar statement to yours: “I CANNOT understand why anyone would read that crap.” Only the “crap” in question was The Lord of the RIngs. 😉

    I see the point you want to make, but for me the comparison limps. I don’t like LOTR *pauses and waits for the flying tomatoes*. The summer I spent reading it was the most miserable of my life I was soooo bored. Still, I can see the literary merit of the novel. I can see and understand why it is cherished by so many people, why it inspires academic texts and discourse. I don’t share the love for the book, but from an objective standpoint I can understand it. With chick lit? Not so much… Truly, reading those books nearly gave me an ulcer. I went from fairly amused to enraged to angered to bored out of my mind.

    I absolutely, totally RESENT the idea of anyone, in any way deciding what is “more appropriate” to be published and read “in times like these”.

    Still, of course there are people who make exactly those decisions. And like with the movie industry, publishers nowaday aren’t brave. They’re too scared to try something new, something fresh. So, years ago they found chick lit sells (you can substitute chick lit with fantasy and crime novels – it seems that’s 90% of what’s on the market today). And now they’re publishing more of the same. Again and again and again. It will run dry eventually, but that may take years. Years in which the books you and I want to read won’t be published.

    How do those people think that genres work? Similarity makes a genre.

    Yes, though the books I read were not only similar, they were totally alike. It looked like the author had written one outline and had then made ten books out of it. While, on the other hand, there are similiarities in crime novels – but they aren’t all alike. Which is evidenced by the fact that there is (still) no working definition of crime novel/detective novel, because while everyone reading it will be able to say “Yes, that is one”, but it’s hard to pin down actual rules for it.

  7. Niki says:

    Sometimes I wonder how much the reputation of a genre feeds into its “overall quality” (for lack of a better term)–that is, people get an idea (like by reading a few cheesy books, or just listening to the opinion of someone who isn’t into something and not checking the thing out for oneself) that an entire genre is cheesy, and as a result, more cheesy stories get published, more people who like (or at least don’t mind) cheesy stories are attracted to the genre to add or create a demand for more cheese, and people who are too scared of looking cheesy stay away from it all and don’t take a chance on adding something different to the genre.

    I agree with the need to ask why “chick-lit” is bad while those testosterone-soaked stories of explosions and tough-talking guys are okay (or at least “better”), too, and was going to say something on that, but just forgot what, argh.

    Somehow this reminds me of a video I saw the other day of some actor from a sci fi TV show answering questions on a panel at a sci fi convention, and I guess one of the questions/discussions had to do with how “obsessive” or pathetic sci fi fans and geeks are. The actor responded with something like, “You know, I’ve never heard of sci fi fans leaving a convention and then going out and burning cars in the streets.” What I got from that, of course, was that sci fi fans (even the ones who dress up at conventions) are really no more pathetic than, say, sports fans or music fans (and I’ll add: let’s face it, sports fans, whether your beloved team scores a point against a reviled opponent doesn’t really matter more than any of the fantasy that happens in someone else’s beloved comic book). The geeks just get more acknowledgment for being “obsessive” because for whatever reason, their fandom isn’t as cool (or “normal”) as others.

  8. Lois says:

    As a female, it’s perfectly acceptable (if a little unusual) for me to be a fan of both Warhammer and Georgette Heyer, but I have wonder what the typical male reaction to a man who admitted to enjoying chick-lit would be.

  9. Rhapsody says:

    Oh I have read and enjoyed chicklit, but I also like(d) Tom Clancy a lot up until he went for the cheap and poorly opcenter books. In this world I sometimes do wonder, like you why testerone filled movies and books are not frowned upon whereas the softer books (chicklit or just candlelight whatever novels) are being pictured as crappy books. While reading the comments and disdain (in your article), I could not help to think that such commenters do not dare to admit that there is a softer side that they try to hide, accompanied by the bravoure like: you are too late, its rubbish and what more. Testosterone books and such disguise a lot, for example a perceived weakness such as chicklit or fantasy (trust me, people will deny reading this because which macho woman/man will enjoy books about a fantasy world). It is the same vibe that I sometimes get from fanatic feminists, as if showing your underbelly is such a great risk.

  10. Dawn says:

    Wowsa–lots of long comments! :) Thank you, everyone, and sorry to take so long to reply back. As ever, I appreciate your thoughts!

    Juno: I can’t agree with you enough, which you doubtlessly know since we’ve ranted to each other on this point before. :)

    So it’s cookie-cutter fiction with cardboard characters. Fine. Look at detective thrillers and try to tell me they don’t have their own brand of clichés. For what it’s worth, look at genuine feminist literature.

    Exactly! This was always my point when I was a writing student, and stories were neatly dichotomized as “literary” or “genre,” with the understanding that “literary” was fresh, original thinking about Life while “genre” was formulaic with little value beyond cheap entertainment for mouth-breathers. A couple of my co-students were smacked down for bringing so-called “genre” stories to workshop (as I was myself smacked down), and you know what? Those stories were, on a whole, more original than what the majority of the class was producing, the formula of which was to start in the moment in the life of a character (usually a thinly veiled self-insert), which was usually pretty interesting, and once we’d seen that moment in his or her life, then the chin tipped down and the navel-gazing began. Right before I went to Ireland, I was reading pretty much only Irish authors, and I checked out a book of (literary) short stories, and while some of the stories were brilliant, too many were marred by the author’s tendency to tip and gaze at the end and tell me what larger lesson I needed to take from the story. While not all of the stories were that way any more than all romances or thrillers or fantasy stories are formulaic, the majority were, and it was no less formulaic than the “genre” stories that get accused of the same.

    The question arises, why, if there is a market, and there are writers, are there no books?

    I wonder if it has anything to do with our culture’s lingering discomfort with the notion of women enjoying their sexuality. I know when talking even to forward-thinking, progressive people, they are sometimes surprised at the sort of content to be found in fandom. One of my smartest and most progressive (male) friends once laughed off the notion that women would ever enjoy m/m love scenes the way that men enjoy f/f; he was surprised when I told him that many–dare I say most–women are turned on by m/m. And I keep remembering the recent study on female sexuality that I wrote about here where reporters later expressed such surprise that women were turned on by “kinky” stuff: same-sex pairings, non-con, and so on.

    Or even the reaction that women in fandom get and fear when their employers or sometimes their families find out that they write NC17–het or slash–and have been fired from jobs over this. Yet you never hear much about men being fired because it’s found out that, on their own time, they watch porn.

    I think that the complexity of female sexuality still has a taboo feel to it, at least here in the US. So entertainment that involves sex and is meant to be consumed by women must necessarily be a little tawdry.

    That’s just one feminist and author’s hare-brained theory. :) I’d be interested to hear how your experiences or impressions differ.

    Pink Siamese:

    Singling out any specific genre as an example of “inferior writing” is full-on logic fail.

    Yes, exactly! And if you ever feel like writing that book inside of an eensy WordPress comment block, please do come back. 😉

    Like I told Juno, some examples I’ve read of formulaic “literary” fiction rankle me worse than the supposed badfic within the genres.

    Michelle:

    Still, I can see the literary merit of the novel. I can see and understand why it is cherished by so many people, why it inspires academic texts and discourse. I don’t share the love for the book, but from an objective standpoint I can understand it. With chick lit? Not so much…

    Ah, but this is exactly my point. :) While you can see the literary merit of LotR, even if you don’t like it much yourself, then there are plenty of people who absolutely cannot and are willing to brush it off in the same way that you brush off chicklit as utterly worthless. These people are, by and large, “experts” with advanced degrees in either creative writing or literature. Their voices carry much more weight in an argument than mine does, and they used those voices to silence creativity in their students because they felt that this creativity was subpar or even harmful to us as budding writers. And they were fully convinced that they could “prove” the substandard quality of the genres in which we wanted to write when, at the end of the day, we continued to simply like what we liked. It wasn’t subject to disproving.

    I do not think that you have to see any worth in chicklit or anything else. Personally, I can find very little worth in the testosterone-saturated “action” genre where people brandish guns at each other more casually than I wield a butterknife. Besides the fact that I oppose, on principle, as a pacifist, the glorification of violence in these stories, they are just … tacky. And, to me, they all look and sound the same. I can’t find any merit. But plenty do, so I let them have their fun. Just please leave me out of it! :)

    Years in which the books you and I want to read won’t be published.

    I do lament this. Once upon a time, my dream or goal as a writer was to get a novel published with a major publisher. I’ve since revised that goal considerably and would sooner have my work available as I want it–not dumbed down to what is acceptable in “the industry”–even if it means that I must offer it on my website for a voluntary donation from readers. My hope is that the Internet will continue to open opportunities for a better variety of literature, and once people start consuming their literature more and more from independent sources, the publishing industry may follow suit. Or sink. In any case, I don’t think the tunnel is without a light at the end of it. :)

    Okay, time to move to a new comment block …

  11. Dawn says:

    Niki:

    The actor responded with something like, “You know, I’ve never heard of sci fi fans leaving a convention and then going out and burning cars in the streets.” What I got from that, of course, was that sci fi fans (even the ones who dress up at conventions) are really no more pathetic than, say, sports fans or music fans *snip* The geeks just get more acknowledgment for being “obsessive” because for whatever reason, their fandom isn’t as cool (or “normal”) as others.

    Yes, exactly! I remember that I once had friends who would go downtown during Baltimore’s big anime convention and get a table at an outdoor restaurant and make fun of the “nerds” in costume for the convention. (The funny thing being that I knew these people through a gaming group so they were, themselves, “nerds.”) You don’t see that kind of mockery being levied against, say, overweight football fans who sit painted and shirtless in the snow at Green Bay Packers’ games.

    But, of course, sports fandom is much more mainstream. Blow-em-up action movies aren’t aimed at a male audience but at an audience, and it is assumed that they are appropriate for anyone to see. I don’t feel embarrassed buying a ticket for GI Joe like many guys would feel embarrassed buying a ticket for Mama Mia. They’re more mainstream, so it’s harder to pick up on their flaws, even though they are much the same as in more targeted genres.

    And most people, it seems, like to hate something, even if that something is frivolous. And of course it’s much safer to hate something that is generally regarded as being stupid or worthless to start. (I.e., it is safer to pick on those nerds than that Packers’ fan! :D)

    Lois:

    Well, I remember when I was younger I used to really like the book The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I’ve moved beyond it in my later years, but I’m not ashamed to say that I loved the book ten years ago.

    So when the movie came out, I wanted to see it, and Bobby took me to see it. The show was sold out, and there were only four–four!!–men in the theater, most of whom loudly made fun of themselves for having their arms twisted into seeing the movie. Bobby doesn’t buy into the traditional gender-role crap, but even he was slightly embarrassed, I think, and I was mortified for him. I didn’t even enjoy the movie for the conviction that I’d somehow done something awful to him.

    Now he asks me, at times, to go see action movies that are nostalgic for him, like GI Joe or Transformers. He knows that I likely won’t enjoy them–I even threatened to bring The Road to Middle-earth to read during GI Joe but he decided that the reviews were so poor on the movie that he’d wait for it on DVD–but I don’t think the same mortification at being a woman at a man’s movie ever applies. And I know Bobby doesn’t feel particularly bad about asking me to accompany him, either. So I definitely think that we are “allowed” to like–and admit liking–a wider range of genres than men are.

    Rhapsy:

    In this world I sometimes do wonder, like you why testerone filled movies and books are not frowned upon whereas the softer books (chicklit or just candlelight whatever novels) are being pictured as crappy books.

    Yes! Ideologically, I am much more bothered by the action genre than the romance genre. The gender dynamics in many romances aren’t always ideal, but I feel more threatened by the casual way that deadly violence is treated in the action genre and the racist/sexist undertones that accompany most of it as well.

    I think you’re on to something when you say that this genre–versus romance or chicklit–allows one to maintain an aura of toughness that romance/chicklit doesn’t. And, of course, this “masculine” type of power is still valued highly. Most people tend to respect those who are assertive and take control and appear to have the answers. Relying on emotions, of course, is weak, so readers who relate to and admire heroines that rely on their emotions and intuition must be weak as well.

  12. Rhapsody says:

    I feel more threatened by the casual way that deadly violence is treated in the action genre and the racist/sexist undertones that accompany most of it as well.,/i>

    I agree, much of what we see these days, it nearly feels normal, but in fact it isn’t. I am not necessarily a pacifist, but I find the emphasis on violence, weapons and such worrisome. As if we all should be Goliath’s.

    Relying on emotions, of course, is weak, so readers who relate to and admire heroines that rely on their emotions and intuition must be weak as well.

    I sometimes wonder how certain feminist will abstain from anything remotely femine like emotions and such. As if striving for the masculine traits make them better. It is a vibe I do sometimes encounter.

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