Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disturbing Trend in Paranormal Romance?

Down with Destiny
Rose Fox -- August 30th, 2011

"While going over my page proofs today (yes, on paper, with a pencil, because we are seriously old school over here), I caught the term “bond-mate” in two consecutive reviews. I took one out and replaced it with an equivalent term, but this got me thinking about how many paranormal romances seem to revolve around the idea of destined partners, much as fantasy epics often revolve around the idea of destined jobs or tasks.

Does anyone else find this idea really disturbing? It’s like all the worst parts of arranged marriage with none of the upsides. It throws us back to a time when women were property and there was no divorce. You can’t even blame your parents; Fate or Destiny or God has made the choice for you, and you don’t get to argue. Initially dislike the other person? Too bad! Fate or Destiny or God has also slipped you a roofie, and you will be so compellingly attracted to your destined mate that your arousal overwhelms your very reasonable concerns. The super-hot compulsive sex will just have to make up for your partner not being someone you otherwise want to be in the same room with.

In anything resembling the real world, this would be a recipe for marital disaster and profound self-loathing. The compulsive arousal/attraction thing particularly makes me cringe. There’s a word for sex you don’t want but are forced to have, and I think that word is applicable even when it’s Fate or Destiny or God forcing two people to behave a certain way rather than one of those people forcing the other. How terrible would it be to be repeatedly compelled to have sex with someone you’re bound to forever, possibly for multiple centuries or lifetimes depending on the paranormal setting, and to have your body aroused by it every single time even when it’s really not what your mind wants, and to know that you can’t escape because Fate or Destiny or God will inexorably draw the two of you back together no matter how far you run? Even if you loved your partner truly and deeply, how could you bring yourself to touch them, knowing that their responses aren’t under their control and that in this setting there is no such thing as consent because neither of you can really say no?

If the destiny is in some way related to race or heritage or gender–all men are fighters, all elves prefer bow-and-arrow to swords, each man gets one woman and each woman gets one man, the prince raised as a woodcutter will be a terrific king because kingliness is inherited, etc.–you get double extra “no” points. Essentialism is bad enough without setting up an entire fictional world that supports and enforces it.

I could be all analytical and muse about why so many readers and writers find these concepts even remotely appealing, but I’m going to keep it personal. The more I encounter destiny tropes, the more they turn me off. Destined love is the opposite of romantic.

Freedom to choose one’s own path in life is such a fundamental necessity that wars have been fought over it and people have marched by the millions demanding it. Let’s stop mining the emotional power of restriction and the quest for freedom by writing endless narratives of people who not only have no choices but whose character arcs begin with defiant struggle and end with giving in. When destined partners fall helplessly in love, it’s no different from “He loved Big Brother”. [Boldface is mine, because this is chilling!]

Give me protagonists who make choices, even terrible choices, maybe especially terrible choices. Give me all the character development that comes from debating those choices. If Fate or Destiny or God forces them to do certain things, they’re not protagonists anymore; they’re puppets, hollow and voiceless, following their script to its depressingly inevitable conclusion."

Fox, Rose. "Down with Destiny." Publisher's Weekly on the Web 30 Aug. 2011. Genreville. 31 Aug. 2011

To paraphrase yet another author (Tina Fey), huzzah for the truthteller! I really am tired of this trope, and it feeds into all the things that make me feel queasy about paranormal romance as a genre. I'd love to get Freud's view on the whole "teen girls going nuts for monstrous characters they have no choice but to love!" phenomenon. It's just so sketchy.

How do you feel about this? Is there a problem with what these books are telling their readers? (I hasten to add that I am not in any way suggesting that books with this theme be supressed or censored, but still.) Is this potentially damaging, or harmless fluff?



Miku said...

I honestly think it's harmless fluff. Humans are naturally drawn to those things that they can't have. Or things they haven't experienced. Which is why so many people choose to read stories about rape or murder or some kind of scandalous mystery. Because we usually don't experience those things in day to day life. We live vicariously through others.

So I think that's why we are drawn to stories about paranormal romances and forbidden love. Vampires obviously aren't real so many readers are compelled by them because we have a drive to have things we can't have. I get your point about saying that it could be bad to potential young readers (or old! Not trying to pick sides here) but personally, even before I started reading paranormal stories I always had that dramatic thought that there is one person for me out there.

Whether it was instilled in me through my parents saying to me that there is someone for everyone. One perfect person, or hell, even Disney princess movies. Those are equally as bad. Sure they aren't paranormal but they portrait that same idea of perfect love. That perfect mate. So I don't know, I honestly think it's harmless fluff.

Stacy said...

I kinda agree with Miku. I think it's just harmless fluff but, at the same time, it's damaging because people believe it. When I was younger my mother ...had to tell me there's no such thing as "happily ever after" because that doesn't work in real life. You don't meet your soulmate and get married three days later and live happy all the time. There's arguments, disagreements, etc. But you never see that in movies. There's also no such thing as a prince charming or someone riding in on a white knight to whisk you off into the sunset.
On the other end of it, yeah, it is exciting and interesting to read because it can't happen in real life or usually wouldn't. I think that depends on the subject matter though. Mythical creatures can't exactly be real...that I know of anyway

TobiasCamery said...

I can see how it's damaging in an interesting way. For example with all the vampire romance it can teach attraction to something that could be potentially dangerous. I know there's always been that sort of influence, even as far back as falling for a "bad boy" type like James Dean. Or the idea that a girl can tame a bad boy is another running theme that seems to be apparent to me.

Anonymous said...

What a lot of the comments miss are the actual damages these flits with the paranormal have. Aside from the fact teen literature is bombarded withall these "monsters who need love too!", teen girls will obsess over anything. But the teen girls are not the only ones, within the young adult lit circles, or any circle with younger females (under the age of 30 in many cases) who become so obsessed with this "forbidden love" fantasy, they will go to lengths to find that author, or voice actor, actor, writer, whomever and see *all* the different things they do.

Or they can't focus on anything *but* that "forbbiden love". So while trashy paranormal drivel seeps through bookcases, teenage girls (*ahem* young adult females) will obsess over anything that could create a potential escape from reality. Certainly, for many, the escapism carries on until later years, but one hopes that they can mature out of that obsession, coming to terms with a reality that doesn't involve fangs/armor/fur.

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