“Straight white dudes 18 to 49 are the default mode for life”

22 Jun

Originally posted to the Community section at MyMedia

As I’ve said before in this thread, I am a genre romance reader.

For many years, this was not something I said out loud–and to this day, when people become aware of this, the response is a smirking, condescending smile, often followed by a variant of “aren’t you smarter than that? why do you waste your time on that trash? oh, you like mommy/soft porn?”

I am more than a bit tired of that bullshit. It says a lot more about my interlocutor in those exchanges, than about me, frankly. So, online or IRL, my response tends to be the equivalent of a blank stare; I’m done defending my reading choices, and genre romance brings in enough money that it should need no defense.

One would think…

At any rate, that’s a rant for another day.

Today’s rant is brought to you courtesy of yet another intersection of various interests.

I am a fan of the first three Outlander books (I have read the first six, and I also own the seventh tome). I am a reader of romance. I am interested in how art and literature written by women tends to be dismissed and belittled by ‘the mainstream.’ I am infuriated by how many people use women’s work–and their money–to propel them into a ‘more respectable’ sphere, whereupon they’ll immediately distance themselves from the original source of their financial and artistic success.

Behold, Diana Gabaldon, as discussed in Ceilidhann’s excellent “The ‘Outlander isn’t a romance’ problem:” at BIBLIODAZE

An outdated industry’s refusal to embrace the creative, financial and cultural benefits of work made exclusively by and for women is not our problem. If they want to miss out on a billion dollar a year field that helped to pioneer e-books as a mainstream means and self-publishing as a legitimate literary outlet, they’re missing out big. Clearly Gabaldon’s publishers saw this potential and latched onto it for Outlander, which received a 500k first print (10 times that of a science-fiction debut at the time) and almost immediately became a sensation amongst romance readers. They took the money happily when it benefited them. Gabaldon took the money. To use an appropriate, if hackneyed, term, she bit the hand that fed her.

Gabaldon’s disappointment that a romance marketed Outlander may be ignored by men also signals the driving force of not only publishing but the entertainment industry at large. Regardless of changing demographics and high-profile flop after flop, Hollywood still works under the constantly refuted assumption that straight white dudes aged between 18 and 49 are the ‘default mode’ for life, and everything outside of that becomes a niche group that could never be considered universally relatable. There’s no financial incentive behind getting more dudes to watch the show. The biggest share of that viewership is women, and in an age of ‘peak TV’, gaining any audience over 7 figures is something to behold. Romance on TV is nothing new either, and it’s been popular for decades: From Moonlighting to Cheers, Friends to Futurama, Bones and Booth to Castle and Beckett. Fans come back for the love.



9 Responses to ““Straight white dudes 18 to 49 are the default mode for life””

  1. Deirdre 22/06/2016 at 7:15 AM #

    I totally get why romance readers are disappointed in her, but I just can’t work up the energy to do likewise.

    • azteclady 22/06/2016 at 7:43 AM #

      What irks me most is the need, by so many talented women, to be validated by men. Why, instead of getting more male readers to acknowledge and respect your work as something written as a woman, complete with all those pesky little romance elements, go out of your way to reassure men that no, no, it has ‘broad’ appeal, its not, I repeat, not romance. Where the implication is, “not romance, ergo, not trash, and therefore worthy of you men giving it a chance.”

      In Gabaldon’s case, and since I read the first few books (and got my then-significant other to read them), as romances, it did feel like a betrayal. She didn’t get those large print runs, nor those impressive initial sales, off men readers, after all.

  2. Helen R-S 23/06/2016 at 8:04 AM #

    While I can see her point that most of her books don’t really fit into the Romance courtship boy-meets-girl mould, I think she is condescending about how her books are so much more complex (and by implication, better) than mere romances.

    I’m interested in your comment that you’re a fan of the first 3 books but have read the first 6 – did you not enjoy 4-6? I enjoyed books 1-5 but didn’t like 6 and haven’t read any further yet.

    • azteclady 23/06/2016 at 8:20 AM #

      I read the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, first, back in 1993/1994. When I finally got my hands on the first and third, I re-read them obsessively while waiting for the fourth. Did the same while waiting for the fifth, and the sixth, and then I just lost steam. I just stopped caring about the whole convoluted ball of wax.

      Later, thinking about it, I realized that the first three felt like a complete story, with a rich and complex world, interesting characters, and the main point of Claire’s and Jamie’s story resolved.

      Until Gabaldon decided to introduce yet another complication, another heartache, and, of course, more violence. Particularly against women.

      At some point it felt like a never ending soap opera (I’m not a fan, I think because I watched way too many as a child).

      So that’s why.

      • Helen R-S 24/06/2016 at 10:35 AM #

        I agree with pretty much everything you say there 🙂 The first few books were much more focused, and I think the later books have suffered from including everyone and everything under the sun.

  3. Bona Caballero 25/06/2016 at 12:51 AM #

    What you say here is very interesting and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

    If Gabaldon considers that her novels are not romance novels, why are all those romance webpages talking about them and reviewing them and the series? If she considers she does not belong here, the romantic blogosphere could very well ignore her.

    It is not very fair to despise a genre as not good enough for your books and at the same time, take every opportunity of free publicity from those same webpages.

    Personally, I only read the first book in the series. I hated it and I didn’t keep on reading. For me it was utterly ridiculous her pretension to be consider among the ranks of people like Michener or Clavell. I’m not going to extend on this as I had written about it in another place but the bottom line is -read the reviews some people who reads historical novels say about these books, they feel cheated, because these books are ‘just romances’.

    To be true, I have to say that Gabaldon is not the only one who rejects the label. I remember Graeme Simsion and some European authors like the awful Moccia (he writes what I see as sexist YA romances) saying things in the same line. Neither of them recognizes that they wrote love stories with a happy ending and therefore it’s legit to label them as romance novels.

    • azteclady 25/06/2016 at 5:29 PM #

      There are plenty of writers who feel their work is ‘above’ genre romance, yet those same writers are always happy to take romance readers’ money, and reap the benefit of romance readers’ enthusiasm over those books. (Jessica Tripler, of the now dead Read, React, Review, wrote about this for BookRiot, here too, and there’s a recent fluff piece at the Huffington’s Post that makes Jessica’s point regarding how a lot of the audience for the show consider it romance, whatever Gabaldon and the producers may want).

      As you say, readers think of the work as romance–good, mediocre, awful, that’s irrelevant–because it often uses all the tropes of the genre. From the meet cute to the happy ending, with all the tired cliches in between (misunderstandings, jealousy, class differences, and so on and so forth).

      But what truly irks me here is the need, on the part of the writers, to distance themselves from the genre romance label. Romance is automatically dismissed as trashy, as porn for women, as poorly written pabulum for a bored, ignorant, uneducated audience made up, natch, mainly of women.

      And so, these writers with the thin skin and desperate need to have their work be recognized as “serious literature,” are happy to take genre romance readers’ money, and reap all the benefits of our enthusiasm and willingness to share it with other readers, while sniffing at the label.

      …and, I’m repeating myself. Sorry ’bout that.

  4. Kat 30/06/2016 at 6:01 AM #

    The more I read about Outlander, the less likely it becomes that I’ll ever read it. At this point, I haven’t even seem the TV show even thought it’s been available on Netflix for a while now.

    I’m not invested enough in this series to care much about Gabaldon’s comments. But I think what I take exception to (in a general sense, as a romance reader) is the assumption that being in the genre EXCLUDES people instead of acknowledging that it does, in fact, make the book accessible to a huge readership. And the implication that it’s somehow the genre that actively works to exclude readers outside the usual demographic of romance (with the man-titty covers, for example) when the truth is the exact opposite: other readers automatically dismiss our books because they’re narrow-minded snobs.

    Instead of holding up Outlander as an example of how romance can appeal across different demographics, and helping to champion romance (even if Gabaldon doesn’t consider her books to be romance novels), the language she uses implies that her books are *more* than romance. She’s careful not to say they’re *better*, but when she talks about how much *more* her books are than the genre, the implication is that they’re better. And that irritates me.

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