Category Archives: Cultural

Guilty Pleasures

Not specifically on undead, but relative to the romance side of paranormal/zom romance!

I’ve read a few comments and reviews on this doco and it’s been mostly negative. That the direction of the documentary shows those into romance books to be pathetic, sad sacks of loneliness or desperate for romantic attention, and ignores the range of romance readers. There’s one at Dear Author, and one at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

It’s available online at SMH.tv (maybe only for Australian viewers? If you are international, it might not work for you)

Despite or maybe because of the negative images around it, I decided to watch it. I’m still new to admitting I read romance (mostly historical outside paranormals and zombies), but a lot of my friends are romance – particularly paranormal – readers and I do wonder about the difference between the stereotyped Mills and Boon readers and the real readers I know. What is it about the books we like?

So I’ve jotted down some quotes and comments onthings that happened in the doco.

Note: Words not exact because the video was being evil for me and I couldn’t go back to get the words right :S

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Women make male or neutral pseudonym for sci fi (and other genres) – men make female pseudonyms for romance books

“It’s okay for her [my wife] to read these novels to compensate what I can’t give her” – a reader’s husband

Men must be alphas, have to look imposing, got to present a good physical appearance, got to be fit, never fat. The kind of man every woman would fancy – Romance writer

Mills and Boon readers are usually past the bloom of youth, intelligent, and have steamy determination – Romance writer

Sometimes are accused by ardent feminists of being anti-feminist, of  promising women things that they will never have, which I think is ludicrous. Readers know they are reading a work of fiction, they don’t expect it in real life. – Romance writer

A reader takes up ballroom dancing inspired by the novels she reads. She admits to dressing up specially for her private tutor, but not so for her husband.

‘It gets hotter and hotter’, ‘Why can’t we expect that in real life?’ – a reader and her friend

‘There was a lot missing in my life and that’s why I enjoyed reading the books. I think it’s escapism. You just indulge yourself in them and think ‘wow, I wish that was me’ – A reader

Romance reader who likes ballroom also watches competitions and seems to admire other men who are tall and Harlequin-heroesque, pointing out features of men not her husband that she likes.

Writer takes notebook to cafes and restaurants and will note down snippets of discussion or movements. That’s what readers like, little things rather than big things, little words, little looks.

Of course she likes reading. It’s a harmless past time. – Reader’s husband

You used to get a sex scene that faded into dots … but now it’s very different – Writer

The idea that any fool can write a Mills and Boon is a mistake – Writer

The sex scene must always be in the context of a loving relationship. – Writer

This is all fantasy, it’s not the real world. It’s a nicer world and we want to maintain that image – Writer

That’s why you read the books. You want all that romance … At the end of the day, you live in the real world and everyone has their downfalls.  – Reader

A Mills and Boon book is not just happy and straightforward –  they have to work through trials to get to a happy conclusion – Writer

Why do men find it so hard to say ‘I love you’? Maybe because it’s so trite, everyone says I love you. There’s almost an in-built fear of commitment, they don’t really want to say something that will tie them down. – Writer

She’s an extremist [about reading Mills and Boon]. Militant, feminist. – a reader’s separated husband

The dancing reader is not happy. Her husband has joined her in dancing so she can go in competitions, but she envies those couples where the husband/male teaches the female. The husband is nervous, but excited to be working with her.

Women are more interested in relationships and talking about relationships than men. Women like to be told things over and over again. – Writer

We’re all yearning for love … I think a fraction of 1% get to meet their true love. It’s so powerful it’s unstoppable. You have to believe in that.  – Model

In every book I write there is a development in the character. The person at the end of the book is not the same as at the beginning, they’ve both learned something about themselves. – Writer

Mills and Boons create an excitement in my life … but it’s not something I’m setting my heart on, because real life is about different things. It’s about romance in your self, that will save you. Relationships will come and go … but it’s the relationship with yourself and how you develop that – Reader

If you think it is getting a bit stale, you have to throw something in there – Reader’s husband

We celebrate, in every Mills and Boon book, the emotion of love which is in everyone’s lifes – Writer

Real life begins where the Mills and Boon ends – Reader

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After thoughts:

So a lot of this was about true life love and relationships and not just the romances. It feels a bit awkward to have watched someone else’s unfulfilled relationship.

I’m not so sure that reading the romances gave the women an unachievable relationship to desire as the film seemed to suggest. They wanted to be respected, to have some fun in the times they spent together and to enjoy each other’s company and work with their passions.

I didn’t think there was enough breadth in the film – there was no happily married/together couple of which one reads romance, there had to be something lacking or different in the relationship. The people were set up to be seen as trying to live in their own fantasy world, but I didn’t feel that’s what was really going on. Also, the restriction of only connecting with Mills and Boon romance – there are soooo many other imprints and publishers and types out there.

And none of them seemed to read or write or model for paranormal romance. Mores the pity, because I think it brings a new dimension in. I particularly love when the female is the special paranormal, and the male is lesser aware of the paranormal because all too often, it’s men as alpha weres/head vamps and women as the humans. Where once a woman had to be a lady to marry a lord – and there’s more than enough stories about lower class women and higher class men – it’s about changing an entire life-state, not just being able to pick nice clothes and not insult a royal guest. Could argue that romance is the same all around, it’s just paranormal types  ramp up the problems that can be had in any normal relationship. Still, I think it’s a missed opportunity to show only one kind.

Do we think too much?

I’ve finished another glorious book of essays about the meanings of zombies, movies and post-humanism. But I’ve stumbled across another book (apart from another one I want to buy) that questions all the research I’m reading and planning on doing.

In Combined and Uneven Apocalypse by Evan Calder Williams, the author questions critiques of zombie works for over-reading the text. Some of the analysis, he says, is not really in-depth but just pointing out what happens in the movie and only a surface interpretation. E.g. Dawn of the Dead being totally about consumerism because zombies are in the mall or an African-American dies by a redneck, therefore the text about race.

“Simply because a film seems to point out problems of social inequality does not mean that it is a radical film, or even one that is therefore ‘smarter’ and more aware than those films hell-bent on entertainment, social critique be damned.”

So I’m trying to think about this and my own work deeper, but I’m not sure how it’s going. Directors of some zombie movies had spoken in interviews about how the movie and zombies are very deliberately placed to examine 9/11 or consumerism or race or whatever. Dawn of the Dead is not just about consumerism because the zombies are in the mall, but about how the humans interact with being in the mall too. Maybe I’m not reading this bit properly.

I’ve seen the ‘reading too much into things’ directed at scholars and reviewers before. Is it always about the author’s intention? One of my favourites, I kissed a zombie and I liked it by Adam Selzer, has zombies reborn through the magic of a big supershop wanting free slave labour. Asking the author on twitter (ages ago) if it was relating to the original Haitian zombies as plantation slaves, he said he wanted a good reason to have zombies in our world. Does this mean that we shouldn’t read into the whole Walmart-like business wanting to use people (or zombies) for their benefit?

You can check out a review of this book here and a preview of the book here.

Technology anxiety and why we need an apocalypse

I was just reading a fascinating article my friend linked on Facebook called ‘Where technology goes next will change us all” by Craig Simms which describes the future of technology as being like magic, that we don’t want it out for all to see, but integrated completely with our lives. He writes of the development of Project Glass by Google to be a turn to cyborgs. “Humans are the next device to plug in.” Wall-E shows a similar future, but has an adorable robot that falls in love and inspires humanity.

This interests me on so many levels, but it’s one of the comments below the article that got my attention and made me think of my dear zombies and cultural anxiety. MariaK1 wrote “I find this article incredibly depressing and if I had money I would be tempted to move to the country and avoid the whole stinking mess.”

I thought of the article completely opposite: a wide viewing of the reach of the human imagination. I thought more of Star Trek and its utopian future rather than the bleak Battlestar Galactica. This is probably due to my upbringing as a nerd.

Technology becomes scary, to me, not just when used for war, but with the unintended side effects. When robots rise up against us, when our lives have such little meaning because technology sustains us so long that we no longer seek to produce anything ourselves but become mindless consumers.

Starting to sound familiar now?

It’s very much a theme of the film Surrogates with Bruce Willis. People don’t need to go outside anymore, they just lay down, hook into a robot, and the robot goes out and does all the work for them. Imagine the muscle waste from laying down so much and doing nothing! Where most of society goes about in these robots, there is a community living in a separate area that are against the use of surrogates and that humanness is the apex of society, not the technology.

So back to zombies. It could be technology used to extend life (Cybermen are sorta zombies maybe?) or radioactive waste that infects people (Redneck Zombies!), or just in general scientific experiments to see how far human life can survive, or maybe exposure to aliens or alien substances (space dust in Fido, facehugger things in Half Life). With the zombie apocalypse, we are forced to strive to survive for any significant amount of time; we must create, build, plant, and grow as the stocks in the stores won’t last forever. Survival is not just for the next day, but for life.

The major theme/moral/etc of so many stories is that technology and its conveniences make us weak and further from nature/true goodness/godliness/whatever and prevents our evolution. That’s why we need a Wall-E, a Greer, a Zombie Apocalypse to ‘reset’ us to this natural state.

Being historical

 

One of the things I constantly have to remind myself of is the historical context. I’m reading White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film by Gary D Rhodes. For me, White Zombie with Bela Lugosi is hugely racist, but in the book and comparing the role of African-Americans at the time, it was actually quite good with racial issues. I cringe for the heroine, Madeline, and all the men slobbering over her and wanting to dominate her, but this was an extremely different time for gender too.

Romero’s movies can be the same, although in a lot of cases, Romero did it deliberately. What a sook Barbra is! At least Fran learns a few things about survival, and Sarah is quite capable and intelligent, even in the face(s) of death. Later and later, with Re-Animator and the sequels, men seek to dominate women again, to say little of the nude women of the Italian zombie movies.

It’s most likely been the same throughout history, asking ‘What were they thinking?!’ of earlier generations. But that’s precisely what we have to ask. What were they thinking? What was the historical context? What was the panic of the time? What were the key events that influenced people? There’s always debate over the conscious and unconscious inclusions or exclusions – what is the extent of the influence of events on authors, such as WW1 and Tolkien (Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth is one I’m interested in 🙂 )?

I just bought a new book (always!), an anthology of zombie stories throughout the 20th century and including some of the most famous authors in the genre, Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and then some not so famous. The first is from W B Seabrook, the one considered to be the author that brings zombies into the US – and then the world’s – consciousness. Researching the context is not quite enough, but being aware of your own expectations, bias’ and assumptions when it comes to critiquing the historical.