Wednesday, June 27, 2012


"Her lips were sweet, the inside of her mouth food and drink for a hungry and thirsty man."
-Karen Rose Smith, Love In Bloom

A few times I've mused on how women can read what is essentially soft (or even hard-core) pornography in the guise of "romance novels" and nobody really seems to think ill of them. They can read a graphic depiction of sex acts in public in a paperback but if a guy whipped out a Hustler people would throw things at him - and rightly so.

The reason I bring this up is that the banner ad at the top for Amazon keeps putting Shades of Gray up as a potential book, which is just bondage porn for women. Its really popular today, and its just a strange aspect of society. I may remove "fiction" from the categories just to try to clean that out. The last thing I want is somebody's kid poking that and getting the product page from my blog.

But it occurred to me that these romance books - naughty or not - are like girl comic books. They really are. They feature implausible, stylized events of romanticized figures doing absurd deeds that you thrill to and imagine yourself doing. Boys love comics because they think it would be cool to be Superman or Spider-Man or Wolverine. Girls read romance books because they'd love to be that girl who is swept away by the handsome, rugged, boyish yet tough Gypsy/Prince/Cowboy with the heart of gold.

And the parallels go much further. Playing the online MMOG City of Heroes is fun but it does drive home some basic problems with the superhero genre in a way you wouldn't consider otherwise. You can get around by "superleap" which is basically what the Hulk does in movies: jump for a half mile or more at a time. It works great in the comics.

But in City of Heroes you quickly spot the problems. You miss the spot you meant to land on and slam into the side of a glass office building. Or you just catch the corner of an ornate stone structure with all your force. Or even if you manage to land properly, you just hit the ground with tremendous force on an area almost exactly a square foot. I'm no math whiz, but that's a tremendous amount of force - especially if you're eight feet tall and weigh 1200 pounds.

Or if you have super speed, you can run at 90 MPH around a corner and hey! Its a car! Or worse, a pedestrian. You can be flying along and hit a power line without even seeing it until its too late. You can punch a villain so hard he goes flying... into a crowd of civilians watching and filming it with cell phone cameras. Or so hard he just dies. Life is hard for a super hero.

Superheroes are innately absurd and unrealistic, but there's another layer of implausibility on top of the idea of flying people and women with truth-serum lassos. Its the basic problems of life that are ignored in these comics, or rarely touched on. There's a scene in Watchmen where the heroes discuss how they changed their costumes to make it easier to take a bio break, but that's rarely even considered. Characters do absurd things regularly and don't face consequences; it was only recently that The Incredibles showed how lawsuits would ruin superheroes in modern life.

And these romance novels are the same thing. Not only do they postulate an absurdly romanticized, fake world but the people do things that you really can't in real life. An ad for dating hilariously depicted this recently:

All those bodice tearing scenes might be fine in imagination but unless you have a carefully prepared shirt like Hulk Hogan, they just don't tear off without a lot of really ridiculous looking work that ruins the mood. And panties don't just tear off either, they give the girl a massive wedgie which isn't exactly going to encourage her to respond positively.

Kissing so hard you bruise someone's lips, pulling hair and all that might sound sexy and maybe its fun once in a while but you know variety is the spice of life, that kind of thing would get old fast, and frankly its exhausting. That really hot guy who is frustrating but passionate in the book would enrage you in a relationship.

Frankly, ladies, guys are hairy and smell funny. We burp and fart and get a cramp in our side, we get a nasty cold and look awful. We have bad days, we get tired, we get angry, act stupid. We aren't always super ripped hunks who tear your clothes off in furious passion. And you don't really want us to be, either.

My mom has always said that romance novels stop at the wrong time. They fade away with happily ever after, and she says that the romance begins when you get married, and that's where the real story is. And I think she's right, but its also where the hard part stops, and there's a reason romances stop at that point. Now its real life, not the fantasy. Now you won the love you were after and you have to put up with their crap.

So its funny, women will mock men for liking comics, call it childish and yell at guys to grow up. And maybe they should but... women? You're doing the same thing. Your childish fantasy is just socially acceptable and allowed. And while our silly stuff gives us an unrealistic look at justice and fighting evil... yours gives you an unrealistic look at love, romance, and men. And that's sometimes a real troublemaker in real life.

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