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Reader Shaming--A Not-So-New Form of High Entertainment

I hadn't planned on posting again today, but I was more than a little angered by an "article" I read earlier and I felt the need to come here to vent.

One of my facebook friends posted the article, Descriptive Language: Nora Roberts vs. Vladimir Nabokov, to her timeline and having read both, I decided to check it out.  Bad Idea.  If you could have seen me while I was reading it, I probably looked like this:



No.  Seriously.  I looked like this, except maybe a little more jaw on the ground--my mouth was so wide that a bug could have flown in it.  Where does this child get off insulting an entire community of readers and writers just because she didn't like one book that she read eight years ago?  Let's put aside the fact that Kelly, the "author" of the article, read Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts when she was 12 and that she shouldn't at 20 feel the same way as she did about anything she read or watched when she was a tween, and focus on the fact that just because she didn't like something no one else should ever like it.  Her argument simplifies down to--I was disgusted by the use of sex in a romance novel and that makes all romance novels icky and anyone that reads them stupid.
Sure, there is a very lucrative market for novels like Dance Upon The Air because there are plenty of people who can delude themselves into believing that sex is this magical, “glorious” act that washes away problems while “swamping reason” and is most intensely consuming sensation ever felt.  And these people are more than happy to imagine jumping aboard this “mad carousel” and enjoy the ride. But there are many people who will find Roberts depiction of sex and relationships hilariously stupid. Of course there are people out there that don’t like Lolita, but I don’t believe that anyone finds the work laughable. (The bold text is mine.)

To Kelly, anyone that enjoys the sex scenes in Dance Upon the Air (or in any romance novel, really) are deluding themselves into thinking that sex solves all problems.  Oh, Kelly.  If this is what you believe, then you are the deluded one.  Anyone that has ever read a romance novel (and paid attention to more than the sex scene--as you apparently did not) can tell you, the sex doesn't magically fix things and that sometimes it makes things even worse than they were to begin with--something that happens in real life.

What I think Kelly's real problem with Nora's sex scenes was that she enjoyed them, and her enjoyment of them conflicted with the idea that sex is bad, so she convinced herself that she didn't like it.  Because of this, Kelly now feels the need to shame those of us that don't have a problem with them, making us out to be little more than porn addicts, who "get off" to them, but what she doesn't understand is that the sex scenes aren't what make a romance novel and they aren't what makes someone want to read them.  What makes a romance novel is the emotional connection between the protagonists, be they man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, or human and vampire/werewolf/etc.; the sex isn't necessary to the happily ever after--many books not even including them in the narrative.  This is the thing that Kelly fails to grasp.  She has judged an entire genre based on her experience with one book--that would be like judging all of television based on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  Just because I don't like that one show doesn't mean that (a) no one else is allowed to watch it, (b) anyone that does watch it is a stupid, redneck that prefers to live in a glorified car than a house, or (c) that all television is mindless.  That is extremely short-sighted and so is judging all romance novels based on Nora Roberts or E.L. James (who Kelly also insults in her article).

The irony in the article is that while Kelly blasts anyone that enjoys Nora Roberts's sex scenes, scenes that are between two consenting adults, she lauds Nabokov's book.  In Kelly's world, sex between two adults is bad, but sex between a grown man and his step-daughter is perfectly fine--she even finds Humbert Humbert "sympathetic."  I read Lolita in college and there is NOTHING sympathetic about a man, who takes his position of authority (a position he only had because he was able to convince Lolita's mother that he loved her as a way to get to Lolita) over a young girl and uses it to continuously molest her over a period of several years.  Nothing.

The worst thing about Kelly's article is that she uses her narrow opinion to denigrate women, implying that we are low, base creatures that are ruled by our sexual organs.  She obviously considers herself superior to those of us that would stoop to read such low-brow literature; she is above such desires because that is how "ladies" are expected to behave.  We have been taught that if we like sex, then we are dirty and that no man would want us.  We were taught not to dress provocatively because that meant we were asking for it and that men could just take it whenever they want, irregardless to our feelings.  It is not Kelly's fault that she still believes these things, but it will be if she doesn't challenge herself to change that.


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