Let’s talk about romance novels for a bit.
No, not the good ones, like something Nicholas Sparksy, I am talking about the absolute trashy ones. The ones where there’s a billionaire, a sassy wench, lots of sex and a baby at the end. These are the formulaic ones; rich guys meets poor gal (or some similar scenario- for a plot twist, the author may reverse roles). There’s always some kind of possessive sexual tension, he says ‘yes’, she says ‘no’ (or vice versa), one or both of them are not interested in a committed relationship til the other shows up. The protagonist female always has a skinny physique and an incredible ability to pick out the perfect designer outfit, there isn’t a beer belly in sight. You know….those books…
So, last year I was with a couple of friends at a library conference, and we got talking about favorite TV shows of our adolescent era. One friend commented that Buffy was her absolutely ‘go to’ show for dealing with her teenage drama years, and I agreed that it certainly counted as acceptable entertainment on my part as a needy teen, to gawk at so that someone, anyone, in my TV set that could ‘understand’ me.
For me, the particularly perfect duo of the Winchester Bros. AKA the kindly folks at ‘Supernatural’ equate to my adult version of Buffy.
Likewise, I’m apt to sit and simply gawk at any random medical dramas, because I don’t really have to get emotionally involved. Except perhaps when Dr. Green had his last day on ER. Or maybe when they killed George on Grey’s Anatomy.
But really, the emotional intensity I get from watching these shows, is about the same as I get from opening a bag of chips. Maybe even more so for the bag of chips, because the smell is amazing and I know I won’t have just one, which both annoys and exhilarates me (it’s the small things folks).
Nevertheless, the conversation between friends pivoted to the book equivalent of the gawky TV show. What books did you / do you read that equate to the same thing? And, as much as it pains me to admit, I use these trashy romance novels to ‘cleanse the palate,’ so to speak. It’s ridiculous, I know. My other non-watching Buffy friend, struggled with this a little. She couldn’t quite understand why anyone in their right mind would ever want to pick up a “Billionaire Tycoon’s Busty Bride” novel in the first place and heaved at the fact that I did so. In my friend’s opinion, life is short, why waste precious time on reading such crap?
Perhaps she’s right. Maybe I have limited time in which I’ll be able to read all of those American Classics that I do intend to get through but always have an excuse not to. Perhaps, picking up the illustrious copy of “The Highland Lord’s Reluctant Wife” is slowly killing my brain cells. Certainly the eye rolling that emitted from my friend was ample indication that I should be seriously considering these possible threats to my credibility as a librarian.
But, I just can’t get something out of my head.
You know when you see a movie, and it’s one of those Die Hard, blow them all up, got so many extras that we can kill them off in droves, fast cars, loud music, lots of special effects films? With the exception of the critics who might comment on the ‘lack of real story,’ how many people actually leave the movie theater really hating on them? I mean, if you see Gerard Butler, or Bruce Willis, or now even more so, Liam Neeson, square on the cover of the movie poster super-imposed on top of a car exploding, it’s not like you go in expecting high quality drama.
No one ever says “I’m really sorry that Jean Claude didn’t bring more emotional dialogue to that plot.”
It’s not like anyone is surprised when Rambo features a supersized semi-automatic weapon with an unrealistic supply of ammunition. No one questions the reality of the villainous guy with the go-to British accent (apparently, if you need to find a super-villain you only need to look as far as Buckingham Palace); or the half-clad “thrown into things but finding a way to easily adapt by fighting off the clearly well-trained government operative sent to kill her” female lead. Or my personal favorite, everything’s alright in the end, despite the endless deaths, the hero can walk away with the girl and apparently there is no concerned police officer standing nearby who needs a statement. No one points out that these movies are “just for entertainment” or to “clean the palate” or to “escape.” It is just assumed.
So why then are similar books treated with such contempt? Why must grown adults have a recreated cover for their Harry Potter books in case they look silly reading a kid’s series? (Not that Harry Potter can be compared to a trashy romance, but just saying…). Why do we sneakily view sexy plot lines from the small print of our mobile devices? Why is my friend so repulsed by a trashy read? It’s not like this is an overtly different form of escapism than watching some ‘no emotion needed’ TV show or a ‘blow it all up, because it doesn’t matter- Gerard Butler will save London anyway’ film. It’s the ‘same skittles, different day’ as far as I’m concerned.
Sometimes, I want to take a break from the Book Thief, or 1984, or anything Kurt Vonnegut, or Phillipa Gregory. Sometimes, I just can’t follow Clare and Jamie anymore through Scotland, or America and Gabaldon’s thick novels are intimidating. Sometimes, I don’t want to read another YA book dealing with LGBTQ issues, or race or mental illness. I don’t want to complete a Margaret Atwood’s Handmaiden’s Tale comparative study of Netflix season 1 vs. the written work.
Sometimes, I just want to ‘watch’ the trashy book, the read-a-long equivalent to the billionaire saves the day movie plot.
Yes, it’s predictable, but that’s the point. It’s completely unrealistic. It’s utterly preposterous. But, so it is Vin Diesel taking on the Russian mob, and nobody looked at the cover of that DVD and thought “well here’s a story that will give a great emotional perspective on this very important issue.” No one looked over the shoulder of the person buying that film and questioned their life choices.
My point, ladies and gentlemen, is this: if, from time to time, you get to watch a ridiculous show or film just because you need some escapism; if you can watch Angelina and Brad try to kill each other but then turn their violent passions into raging hormones much to the apparent disinterest of their neighbors; if you get to watch as the A-team flies a tank from an airplane; then I get to read about how the “Mistress of the Roguish Jewel Thief” or the “Pirate’s Kidnapped Bride” overcome the wanton advances of the six-packed perfect love interest.
Take your films and your shows and I’ll stick with Buffy, and Supernatural and any of the predictable Mills and Boons I want. You can judge if you like, but remember this post when next you pick up John Wick…
The thing is, whether you read it or watch it, we all need to escape the harshness of the world from time to time…sometimes with an unabashed, unbelievable harshness of “blow-em-up” entertainment. Let us not judge each other for how we do this.
Some gawk, some read clandestinely, but point is, we all do it, so let’s not throw stones.