Romance Is Everywhere, Get Used To It

This article first appeared at the Writers At Play blog, March 5, 2008.

What is it about owning up to liking a love story that freaks people out? We’re all looking for love in some fashion or another, we all want and need people in our lives who value us, and I think it’s safe to say that most of us want a sexual partner who fits that description as well. And yet, the Romance genre, a genre of books written mostly by women for women, is denigrated by just about everyone except those who read and write it. Feminists routinely miss the subversive message in much of the Romance genre. The debate has recently been reignited by a recent article by Charlotte Allen in the Washington Post.  (A link roundup of blogosphere reaction follows this post, and Dear Author has a good summary of the Obsidian Wings comments).

Despite this attitude, Romance pops up everywhere. Right now there are two TV series with plots that could have been lifted right off of the Romance genre aisle in your local Borders: Moonlight and New Amsterdam. Both of these new shows depict immortal detectives looking for love and both reflect the paranormal trend so popular in the Romance genre right now.

Moonlight’s Mick St. John, played by Aussie actor Alex O’Loughlin, is a former musician turned against his will into a vampire by his wife in the 1940s. That relationship has gone south, but Mick just wants to be a normal boy again and live happily ever after with the girl of his dreams, reporter Beth Turner. New Amsterdam’s John Amsterdam, played by Dutch actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (left), is immortal, a gift from a Native American woman whose life he saved in 1642 New Amsterdam (present day New York). This gift continues to grant him immortality until he finds The One, his soul mate. This shamanic figure tells John that he’ll “feel it” when he finds her. In a subway station while chasing down a possible murderer, John’s heart literally explodes when he comes in proximity to Dr. Sara Dillane.

These stories are both incredibly sappy great love stories, and I’m going to really enjoy picking both apart, but I already understand the power of the Romance genre. These shows are doing well so far in the ratings—among an audience not sold on the Romance—for one big reason: They use the paranormal to dramatize what we’re all really after, to matter to someone. (Just like the Romance genre does, but let’s keep that  secret for now until people really get hooked.) These shows demonstrate that we humans would trade immortality to be special to just one person.

Where else have you seen classic (and well-done) Romance genre stories showing up in popular culture like TV and movies? Like science fiction, I think Romance is operating under the radar all over the place and people just don’t realize it.

Reaction to Charlotte Allen’s Washington Post article:

Lisa Paitz Spindler a.k.a “Danger Gal” knows how to mix Science Fiction with Romance. Check out her blog, where Danger is a Gal’s Best Friend.