This week I read something on Twitter that made me reconsider a number of cherished beliefs.
Wondering if romancelandia is an escape into privilege and not an escape from reality - @MerrianOW
(I'm not going to define privilege as I trust everyone to do their own reading.)
Merrian stopped me in my tracks. One of the things we frequently discuss in the genre is why certain time periods / plots / races are so popular. What she has said is so blindingly obvious that I'm surprised I haven't considered it sooner. Speaking from my own US perspective, I've often argued that the lack of Civil War based books (as opposed to Napoleonic) is tied into the genre not wanting to deal with slavery now that the plantation novel has fallen out of favor. It did not occur to me that a loss of the privilege in that read - the freedom to have characters so enslaved, to freely treat them as commodities, to have no obligation to turn them into fully developed individuals - was the reason for their demise.
In my own reading I become frustrated with appropriation or racism in the very white section of Romanceland I live in but I don't leave my self defined space very often. I may appreciate a genre novel driven solely by non-white characters but I am unlikely to emotionally connect with it. This is not true of non genre reading, where I am most likely to identify and connect with non-white leads. As well, I am always seeking out the working class historical, but in my contemporary reading affluence is the norm. I appreciate a hero or heroine struggling to balance the budget but a true portrait of life on the edge of (contemporary) poverty doesn't hold me.
Recently I knocked the very popular Jacquelin Thomas for what I saw as a pointless listing of party favors. Looking at that scene (and others from the book) in light of Merrian's comment causes me to revaluate. If I am reading for a restoration of my existing privilege or for access to a higher tier of it, the scene fails. But if I were reading from a different privilege than the ones I currently have (racially and economically) that scene takes on a different meaning. If I had read that scene from a different point in my class history I might have not been so quick to dismiss it as pointless. Yes, it was pointless to the plot, but was it truly pointless to the reading experience of the intended audience? The narrow confines of the genre market make sense if viewed not as escapes from reality, our general perception, but as reinforcements of underlying assumptions of how life should be.
Obviously my thoughts are not fully formed on this. But I believe I will be considering Merrian's words far longer than she likely intended when she composed them. I will certainly be examining my own preferences through that lens as I consider what drives my genre choices.
* Merrian's comment arose during a discussion of recent events in the blog world, specific thoughts about which I considered elsewhere.