Gone With the Wind, Lord of Scoundrels, and Variations on the Theme of Growth
Dr. Maria DeBlassie joins me to discuss engaging with banned media, and dealing with the discomfort and joy of growth. Is Gone With the Wind watchable with context? What happens when I force myself to watch it and realize how far into the present its influence reaches? And, I finally read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase and see what the fuss is about: but am I allowed to enjoy it?
Content notes: this episode discusses racism and intimate partner violence.
Maria DeBlassie: [00:00:00] What do you do when you look at your past and you're like, oh, I wrote something that I would definitely not write today?
Andrea Martucci: Wow, I have grown as a person.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: That is the hard part about growing, is that then you have to acknowledge that you used to not be there. And that is painful in its own way. On the one hand, you can be thankful that you are where you are, but then Ooh, like you're cringing, but that's the process.
Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media, time and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I am joined by Dr. Maria DeBlassie and today we are discussing joyful problematization and Gone With The Wind, maybe in some way. Maria is a writer and an educator.
Maria, thank you for joining me. Would you please share a little bit more about yourself for those who haven't caught up with you on previous episodes of Shelf Love?
Maria DeBlassie: Hi, thank you for having me today. So I am a professor writer and Bruja living in New Mexico. My favorite classes to teach are ones on pop culture. So I like teaching courses on occult detectives, romance novels, courtship novels, romance and popular culture, gothic in popular culture. And when I'm not doing that, I like to read the tarot, I love to knit and garden. I lead a very edgy lifestyle. I hoard too many mason jars and I write.
So I have a couple books that just came out. One is called Weep, Woman, Weep, it's under my own imprint and it is a New Mexican gothic fairytale based on the legend of La Llorna. And it's the weeping woman, so scary urban legend, and it's about what it means to reclaim your joy as a mestiza or a woman of color who has a complicated, mixed race heritage. So undoing issues of ancestral and generational trauma, and really allowing yourself to embody joy.
And then I just came out with a second book, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Magical Living. So it's for anyone who just wants to bring a little more magic into their life without complicated spells or rituals, but just awareness and energy.
So in my professional and personal life, I'm all about finding the joy in growth and development.
Andrea Martucci: I love it. And this semester, so it is currently October, 2021. You have been teaching a course. I'll let you explain what the course is about, but you actually asked a bunch of folks in the pop culture and/or romance community to create essays, presentations, infographics, videos, et cetera, around the idea of joyful problematization. So how are these contributions fitting into the context of the coursework?
Maria DeBlassie: Yes. So I think we can all agree we've had a pretty intense past couple of years, and I noticed personally that it was making me feel really heavy about the work I was doing. [00:03:00] So part of what I wanted to do with get back to the joy of learning in the classroom and the joy of just personal growth in general.
So on my website, I started the Bruja professor, which is about, reclaiming learning as a magical experience. So I asked a bunch of people to contribute, including yourself, to show my students what it looks like to joyfully problematize things. To engage with pop culture materials and not just roast them, because some of them are pretty easy to roast, and not just say I love it so it's perfect, but really just to celebrate these things as historical artifacts, as stories that shape us in meaningful and powerful, and yes, sometimes really problematic ways. And I also wanted to show my students that critical thinking and learning can happen outside of the classroom. So a lot of the contributors are digital scholars, fandom nerds, people who just really know their stuff because they love the stories they're engaging with. So I started that area to say, let's reclaim this learning space as a space of joy and community outside of the classroom. And the last thing I'll say about that is particularly because I teach in higher education, I think, academia can feel very much like this elitist tastemakers corner that makes people feel bad about what they like or tells them what they're not allowed to like.
And so I wanted to just blow past that
Andrea Martucci: Yes, as you mentioned, I did contribute something to this course. I created an infographic and I talked about this infographic briefly in my season three opener, sat down to create this infographic and I was like how do you joyfully problematize? And, oh, wow, okay, know the answer to this question.
And I jokingly said how to joyfully problematize in six easy lifelong steps, because it's basically like this ever ongoing journey of just continually doing this and taking a step forward and really thinking about the process of doing this as growth in yourself your ability to analyze media and think about media and then how that really creates personal growth in other ways, potentially as well. So I'm going to share briefly what the six steps I laid out are.
So the first one was to be curious, step two was collaborate.
the third step was to be uncomfortable. step four, expand.
step five, be open to ambiguity. the last step was to curate your experience. You wrote an essay at the beginning of October 2021 about banned books week and an experience that you had with that. The idea of curating your experience. This is a really important question. I mean, I think all of these questions come up in this idea of banning books because banning books is a refusal to engage with something and saying, nobody should consume this. Maria, can you explain what was that essay [00:06:00] about? What happened?
Maria DeBlassie: Okay. A couple of things happened. So first, I started a program at the community college I worked at where my creative writing group celebrated banned books week and we'd bring in banned books and we talk about them and we do research on why they were banned. And I started doing funny photos myself of reading them and then writing up descriptions of why they were banned and why it's important to still engage with them.
That was the time where I was starting to get really interested in historical erasure and how literary canons are made and what gets left out. And in general, I do not believe in censorship, I do not believe in banning books, but it was interesting to explore these hidden histories of deeply iconic stories and seeing why some were banned for really ridiculous reasons.
Like Lord Of The Rings promoting tobacco use. And some far more serious ones or ones where we have to question a little bit more like Gone With The Wind for racism. Now I still don't think it should be banned, but I see why people's knee jerk reaction would be to want to distance themselves from that.
So that project had been going pretty steadily and then one year we tried to expand it and we had this real fancy photo shoot. And later there was an image with me holding, Gone With The Wind and smiling, and that image was posted on social media and taken out of context deeply. So there, I was holding a deeply problematic story and looking like I was living my best life and suddenly all these questions arose about like my core values as a human being and like
Andrea Martucci: How could you touch that book, Maria?
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And it was like, was I a racist? We figured it out and I did a write up to be like, "Hey, this was pulled away out of context but it just goes to show you how important contextualizing is for any thing you are reading or looking at. So that was an interesting experience and I thought, whew, glad that's done with.
And then this year around banned books week, I was thinking about all that and I happened to pick up my first book, Everyday Enchantments, and I randomly opened it up and I found myself referencing Gone With The Wind. And I was like, holy crap, I never want to talk about this book again. I was like what is the context of this? I don't even like this story it has no significant value to me as a reader. But I referenced it in a section of my book where I was talking about how wonderful it is to go into used bookstores. And I referenced the, Gone With The Wind cookbook, and I said, I bought that book more for the idea of the thing than the actual story.
So I started really grappling with the idea of the thing, as I said in my book, and started thinking how has Gone With The Wind presented in media? How are we taught to see this outside of its racist context? Because a lot of people don't realize what a racist book it was and I didn't realize it was so racist when I wrote that line. And it [00:09:00] wasn't until my banned books week work that I found that out. In fact, the image of me that was taking out of context, my students and I are literally looking at the book and we're seeing the N word like several times on a page. And we're like, oh my gosh, why does nobody talk about this in relation to the book? So we're laughing and really saying, oh my gosh, it's so shocking how these histories are hidden.
There I was having, I think, the weirdest relationship to a story, I have no real affinity for. I started thinking about erasure, our own complicity in perpetuating certain images of a story.
The way I used the Gone With The Wind cookbook in my own book was very much this kind of like sweeping epic romance, which is how pop culture depicts it. So I started looking into all of that in terms of joyful problematization where we have to look at the way we've been taught to perceive certain media. You know, we've been given like soundbites. Everyone knows, Gone With The Wind with the iconic last line, " After all, tomorrow is another day"
Andrea Martucci: "Frankly, my dear. I don't give a damn."
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. I saw it once 20 years ago and I remember the scene where she turns curtain cloth into a dress.
And then Carol Burnett in the 70s had a spoof on, it, Went With The Wind, where she's literally wearing the entire curtain and the curtain rod as a dress. So I was like, that's really my knowledge of this story up until the point I wrote that line that I did. And it was an awakening for me to see, okay, I've grown a lot as a person, as someone who can more critically unpack pop culture media. And then I just really started looking at what do you do when you look at your past and you're like, oh, I wrote something that I would definitely not write today?
Andrea Martucci: Wow, I have grown as a person.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: That is the hard part about growing, you have to acknowledge that you used to not be there.
and that is painful in its own way. On the one hand, you can be thankful that you are where you are, but then Ooh, like you're cringing, but that's the process.
Learning something is a process of not knowing something and then knowing something. And that means at some point in the past, you didn't know it
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. So I wrote that essay to unpack all those ugly complicated feelings and just realize part of joyful problematization is getting over not getting it right. we're Never going to get it right all the time. None of us are born inherently woke or aware about systemic inequality or histories of injustice. it's a growth process and we need to provide the room and the space to say, rather than oh my God, I can't believe you didn't know this or I didn't know this, instead say, wow, I'm so glad I've grown from that point.
Andrea Martucci: But it feels terrible.
Maria DeBlassie: does was like, so crushed for a little bit. I was like, I need to process this because the image of me taken out of context, that was terrible experience. And then I find something that I did, that does seem like I am actually endorsing [00:12:00] this. What do I do with that? This is terrible.
Andrea Martucci: And this has been part of my process with the Podcast too where I am a perfectionist and part of editing the podcast is yes, I want all of you to have a great experience listening to the podcast and part of that is just cleaning up certain things and making a tight conversation.
And some of it is it gives me the chance to edit myself. And it gives me a chance to say something and then correct myself in the moment and then delete when I said it the way I don't want to say it. And some of this is like really innocuous stuff like I fumbled a word, and some of it I'll say something and I'm like, oh, Ooh, I don't want to say that that way. That does not sound good. And I know it doesn't sound good, but that's what came out of my mouth.
And part of this is for me, I'm like, oh, I need to understand that I have rejection sensitivity, dysphoria where I feel extra terrible when I do something, quote, unquote wrong and other people see it. I feel just like terrible. it's literally all a process of being aware of how terrible it makes you feel, unpacking why it makes you feel so terrible and then figuring out what you're going to do about it. And does this mean that I'm going to stop editing this Podcast? No, but maybe I can let go of some of that pain of like, oh God, I'm the worst person on earth.
How could I say something that way? And just be like, okay, it happened don't be so paranoid that because you let something through once that it's the end of the world and you can never come back from it.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: So Gone With The Wind. When you're talking about that soundbite, it is such a cultural touchpoint that it is like I had seen it. I knew so much about it, but I had never watched the movie or read the book. We decided we were going to do this yesterday. And so last night I'm like, I'm going to watch Gone With The Wind. And my first moment of doubt was I put the movie on and the first text is scrolling up the screen and it's immediately romanticizing the way of life in the South pre-Civil war. And I'm sitting there with like my pumpkin ice cream bar and there's just like a look of disgust on my face.
And I like took a picture of myself and put on Instagram and I immediately had the, oh my God, are people going to judge me for watching this movie?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: Even though I had the quote unquote appropriate reaction oh, this is horrifying. I still had that feeling of, oh my God, people are going to be like, why are you watching that? That is absolute racist garbage.
The choice to even engage with it in the first place, I immediately had that doubt, should I even be engaging with this?
Maria DeBlassie: yeah, absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: Obviously I'm able to contextualize some of this and to see, oh, that's romanticizing the South. Oh, we are centering the wealthy white Southerners who are enslaving Black people on their plantation. And we're seeing all of this from their perspective with very little self-awareness and without acknowledging that some people are really happy for the Southern way of [00:15:00] life that included enslaving people to go away.
There's none of that, I'm aware of this. If I was not, oh, there's a lot of rhetorical and narrative choices made in the movie that really just center this experience of Scarlet O'Hara and this grand love story and all of that. And my understanding is the derogatory slurs in the movie are softened from the book, but are still slurs. And I will not repeat them here. Watching this movie, it's like, oh, wow. That's jarring the way they're talking about things as jarring.
So the book was written in the 1930s and this movie came out in 1939. This movie and book came out closer to the civil war than how close we are to when this book and movie came out now in time. Is that weird to think about for you? Isn't that a bit of a mind fuck?
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. It's definitely very weird because it does show you the South as it was. And we still see this today, by the way. But there's a very real sense that there are Southerners who missed the good old days sort of thing. it's interesting too, because the book, there are some versions of it out there that have stripped the awful racial slurs and put in, apparently what's supposed to be less offensive versions, but they're still awful.
And this is a book that won a huge award. I believe it won the Pulitzer or something like that.
Andrea Martucci: it did. Yeah. I read the Wikipedia page. So I know that.
Maria DeBlassie: There we go. Yeah, there you go. So it won the Pultizer. Gone With The Wind, the movie, won like Academy Awards galore, and no one is saying, Hey, this is deeply racist. Except for later, I think HBO now opens with, and I think they did the right thing here rather than removing it from their roster of things to view they open with a content warning and say, here's the context. And here's why we think it's important not to censor it, but also we're not approving the messages herein, this is a historical artifact.
Andrea Martucci: it was also the first film in full color too. So I think in the film history context, I think there's people who are film buffs, who also see this as a great achievement on the technical front.
But you have to parse that apart, right? the story from it as a film, from what the message of the film and or book because I think there's also people who are like, the book is really well written.
Like you read the book and you're just like drawn in and somebody who knows how to do this, can see the brush strokes and see how it is painting this picture. That excuses a lot of things, but it's well done.
Maria DeBlassie: Yes. It's if we're comparing it to another iconic romance novel name, Georgette Heyer is an extremely masterful writer. You can really appreciate her world-building or her just her technical skills, her wittiness, what? She still has some deeply racist, antisemitic classist bunch of ISTs in her stories. But you can acknowledge that both co-exist.
And it was interesting for me because I had [00:18:00] not seen, Gone With The Wind. Like I saw when I was like a kid, I want to say 13 was maybe the oldest I was, but I had no framework. I had no understanding of any of it. It was just on like TV one day. And I just knew it from pop culture. There was a little bit of discomfort there, like in the sense that stories set in the South centering white people always make me a little uncomfortable because he was like, there's a lot, they're probably erasing and ignor ing, but it's not something I really probed.
And it's interesting if we're looking at your infographic on joyful problematization, I think that was probably something when I was younger, where I felt the discomfort and I moved away from it. Instead of saying, I'm going to lean into this discomfort and explore why I'm feeling that way.
Because if I had leaned in, of course, I would have discovered all this stuff and I will say too, like I grew up pre-internet. I was one of the last people to get on the internet and join social media. And so it's so much different now when you have all this knowledge at your fingertips and all these safer spaces online to like joyfully unpack this information versus, being on your own quietly wondering about stuff and not necessarily knowing where to go for information. Wikipedia has certainly helped with things.
Andrea Martucci: you know what I know people are like, don't do your research on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a great place to start doing research.
Maria DeBlassie: Yes. That's what I tell my students. And just use it responsibly as with all things,
Andrea Martucci: and so if we start with the be curious I think that one thing in particular, if you think about the choices made in Gone With The Wind as a text, who this story centers is a key choice that is made here.
And I think that in the romance genre, we can see that there are stories that center, different people in the civil war and reconstruction, and have a very different take on what this story looks like. So people who immediately spring to mind, Alyssa Cole has the justice league series that takes place in the civil war and tells. Romance stories from the point of view of Black people who are living through this who are experiencing enslavement or threat of enslavement or helping others to get out of enslavement and Beverly Jenkins, of course also writes stories that take place during the civil war, post reconstruction, et cetera.
Those are romance novels that center, the experiences of the people who are erased in the narrative have Gone With The Wind and who, I hate to immediately start with humanized, but Gone With The Wind dehumanizes Black people in the south.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah Absolutely
Andrea Martucci: So step one that actually humanizes, but obviously goes much farther than that and also very explicitly center, the joy and the ability to f ind love in Times that are considered like really bleak for Black people in the United States in particular.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. They're more than their history of trauma and oppression, [00:21:00] which I love it. I'm teaching Beverly Jenkins in that class actually, and I wish I could have squeezed in Alyssa Cole too. So I'm hoping someone does it for one of their final projects, but.
Andrea Martucci: I called it the justice league. It's the loyal league.
Isn't it? Oh my God.
Maria DeBlassie: just completely I was like justice. Yes.
Andrea Martucci: It could also be the justice league. I'm just saying,
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, there we go.
Andrea Martucci: look at me being defensive. I don't know. Justice league makes sense.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah. Yeah. it's interesting too, because you bring up those two examples and they're all very different stories of the South at that time, compared to Gone With The Wind. And again, it points to the kind of stories you get to tell when you are not centering white privilege. Gone With The Wind is essentially Scarlett. O'Hara saying oh no, my free and easy life is over now because a huge boot to systemic oppression has happened. And now I have to figure out how to live in a more equitable way. Oh, this is awful. That's essentially a lot of
Andrea Martucci: Oh no, they couldn't enslave people anymore. And so then they had to work in the fields themselves and they no longer were profiting off of the forced labor of enslaved people. And her and her sisters are working in the field and it is represented as look at them, bootstrapping it.
And this is a tragedy that they're having to do this. And I'm like they were forcing other people to do this before, probably with many fewer amenities and any benefits for doing this. And there's no acknowledgement or self-awareness of that.
Maria DeBlassie: No, it's Boo hoo my life is so hard now I don't deserve this. And it's oh my God, if that's not white privilege, I don't know what is. And again, I'm just drawing on memory here, but if we're looking at like the romance itself separate from, all the horrible racism and historical erasure, Scarlet O'Hara is not a good person. She's an awful human being. And I think, again, there's that white privilege. She's very spoiled and I look back and I think, why are we rooting for her? Why do we want her to be with Rhett Butler? Why do we want her to have Ashley at one point? She's just not a nice person. Why do we want to see her get her HEA? Even if you get the racism stuff out of it, like she's pretty conniving and manipulative even with her friends and family, And there was no redemption arc ever.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And so I was curious to go look up what other people said about the romance specifically in this book, because this book is held up as a great romance. Now it would not fit the definition of a modern romance of a happily ever after. So do want to note that, however, it is a formative book for a lot of people who do write romance novels, modern romance, novels, or people who really do romanticize that relationship and consider it very romantic.
So I found an article written by Jodie Piccoult, who is sometimes called [00:24:00] romance novelist. I don't know if she self-identifies as such I've never read one of her books, so I don't know, but Jodi Picoult and she's talking about the romance and how much she loved the romance. And I think in the essay, I would have to go back and read it.
I think she gestures to like, oh yes. And of course there's all this problematic racism and stuff, but the relationship is great. I'll link to it in the show notes. You can judge for yourself, but to think about bringing in different experiences, to understand why people may find this to be a really romantic narrative, I thought this essay was very interesting. I think it was on NPR. what was interesting about it was first of all, how quickly and easily one could sidestep all of the issues with who the story centers and the blatant racism in the story and the blatant romanticizing of the Southern way of life.
And, oh, this was a tragedy and all of that, like that is very much there. But then even just looking at the romantic relationship between Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler, The way Jodi Piccoult framed the romantic relationship was like how much we can learn from this and how beautiful it is and all of that and I was like, did we watch the same? Did we read the same thing here? But what I think is interesting is how many people see it as a romantic story when I find the relationship to be toxic as fuck.
but as somebody who is really interested in romance and romantic narratives, I got to tell you, I see shades of this relationship all over romance, and I see the influence of it. And the only redeeming thing that I could say I could enjoy about the relationship between Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler is that he immediately pegs her as a selfish, nasty creature and he sees through the facade of the Southern belle immediately and he loves it. And he sees a kindred spirit and he appreciates her for what she is. He plays into it and he wants to be with her because she's terrible and he's also terrible.
Just think about that trope. Validation that you see the worst in me and you still want it. In fact, you don't want me in spite of it. You want me, because of it, think about how often that shows up in romantic narratives, but everything about that relationship is toxic. On the one hand, I'm like, okay, no, I can see broad strokes why that is fun. But the execution of it is nothing that I would want to romanticize or want in a relationship. Or if I read it in a romance novel, I would be like, Ooh, like I hate this.
Maria DeBlassie: And you can see it too, how it's really informed the historical romance genre. Every so often Gone With The Wind comes up in my historical romance groups or my Jane Austen groups. And someone will be like, yeah, I really love that book. It was my entry into romance and I love it so much.
And always ends up being like, I get it, it's racist, but that's just how things were back then, which is I hate that line [00:27:00] so much because It normalizes so many things that like
Andrea Martucci: It assumes that is a true statement, but there's so many assumptions that go into making that feel like a true.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And it's historical erasure.
So it's oh, we're on the same base point in history where that was just okay. At one point. And I'm like, that's not actually true.
Andrea Martucci: It was okay for who and not okay. For who? Pretending, like everybody felt the same is erasure.
Maria DeBlassie: exactly. And like we didn't suddenly invent activism today. It was like always going on. So it's interesting that when that comes up and in the groups I'm in, that gets shut down pretty quickly where they're like, Nope, it's racist and you can't pretend otherwise.
But it's interesting when you do have people say, oh, I love this. This is so formative to me as a romance reader, a romance writer, you do see echoes of that in the genre and even really subtle ways, the battle of the wills and the battle of the sexes and the kind of taming of the Shrew narratives.
That's pretty rampant in specifically, I would say historical romance, right? The uppity woman, who's not nice like other girls. And he loves her because she thinks like a man and she's conniving like a man, which is also horrible
But like when you really start looking at it, you realize, Hey, this is like also really toxic.
And one thing I like to think of with Gone With The Wind is once, you know, it's there, once you know how to look for It, once you really are reading that book or that movie in an informed way, you start seeing how those systemic issues are played out in the genre, in more subtle ways. Again, with Georgette Heyer, her classism and racism and anti-Semitism, it's a little more subtle, but it's there. Even in some of the traditionally published best-selling authors, they might paint a Glossier picture, but the systemic inequality under the pinning, those worlds, the erasure of historically marginalized identities and those worlds are just as bad or problematic has Gone With The Wind.
It's just like a glossy image.
Andrea Martucci: It's just farther in the background. It's like a little bit blurrier and like the lighting is better on the stuff that it's foregrounding.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. Exactly. So it's you don't necessarily feel like you have to question those or they might feel more progressive and in some ways maybe they are, but it's still doesn't undo the toxic stuff they are endorsing.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I recently read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase for the first time.
And Lord of Scoundrels is a historical, it takes place in the Regency period in Europe. And this is a book that is held up often as like really formative for a lot of romance readers. Like particularly let's be honest, white readers. And not just white readers, but in particular let's say it, it is resonant and with fewer qualms talking about that today. And this book was written, oh God. In the nineties, I'd have to look this up, but the book itself actually, there's a lot of echoes of this [00:30:00] dynamic, right?
Lord Dane is the worst, so he's Rhett Butler. Rhett Butler, by the way, he's like basically a pirate. He's like a profiteer. He's held up as like a hero for the South as a blockade runner and getting them supplies but he is profiting off of this. He's doing out of self-interest and Scarlet is kind of like, Hmm, okay. Oh my God, he has money and stuff when nobody else does.
So that really appeals to her. That's very romantic and wonderful for her.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly.
Andrea Martucci: but like that is Lord Dane's character. He's a gambler and he always wins. And so he's basically making money off these other people. He makes shrewd investments. He's a very shrewd businessman. He's not just living off of the money that he inherited, although he certainly inherited a lot of money too. Jessica in Lord of Scoundrels is very shrewd and wise. She's not as superficial as Scarlet, but there's echoes of that characterization.
so anyways, so I'm reading Lord of Scoundrels and on the one hand, I'm like, this is very well written and I see why people are engaged. Second, the love story is really interesting. There are definitely toxic things like Jessica literally shoots Lord Dane and that's gross when you stop and think about it. But the way it's presented in the text is like fun. And he's like, no, you know what? I deserve that. She shoots him in a place that isn't supposed to mortally wounded him because she's an expert shots woman, but he still has a fever and almost dies, but it's just written off like, oh, isn't that fun?
Maria DeBlassie: Uppity wild women. So hot.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. However, he is never violent with her. Unlike Rhett Butler who is physically violent with Scarlet to some extent, and also there is implied marital rape and Scarlet wakes up the day after and is a glow, which is a very damaging, harmful idea that she was unwilling. He forced her but it's okay because she really liked it.
And she really wanted that and is very pleased about it. So that's really gross.
Maria DeBlassie: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Lord of Scoundrels, lots of consent. They're very hot for each other. Mostly very respectful relationship, but then the whole characterization of Dane is he's dark. He has a big nose, he's grotesque in his size and his coloring and his facial features. And this is a core part of this story. And Jessica is characterized constantly as being pale and virginal and tiny and perfect because of these things and genteel and, delicate, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And he, with his monstrous darkness is going to harm her. And how could she possibly love a grotesque figure such as he, and I'm reading this and I'm like, whoa.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And so it felt very analogous as I was watching, Gone With The Wind. I was like, I feel shades of this.
And I also feel shades of the racism and the characterization is [00:33:00] reinforcing a lot of these also harmful tropes, both on the romantic relationship front, as well as the world building. And I was like, oh, this is a very interesting comparison, and both of these texts are problematic.
Do I have any desire to continue watching? I, by the way, I watched like the first hour of Gone With The Wind and then I kept skipping around cause it's criminally long and criminally painful to watch at this point, I got the gist of it. Okay. so I did not enjoy watching, Gone With The Wind. I don't ever want to watch it again I found nothing about it romantic, but you know, I really enjoyed Lord of Scoundrels I definitely see why people are hesitant to let go of it, even despite the problematic aspects of it.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: And I think it's important to note that when we talk about things changing, certain representations becoming more or less common over time that this is very much the work of what is quote unquote acceptable in the mass media.
It's not that other stories didn't exist earlier, or that the stories from the past that were like that was normalized at the time. It doesn't mean that everybody was okay with those at the time. It doesn't mean that it didn't harm people like, oh, when that came out, everybody thought that was cool.
Not really, but like the gatekeepers thought it was fine and it was normalized. It was more pervasive. And there was a cultural, contextual reason why that was so, and why it was resonant with audiences of the time.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. the reverse is also true, just because things have changed today doesn't mean those narratives aren't still perpetuated and romanticized and written about. so in some ways echoes of Gone With The Wind, and Lord of Scoundrels in historical romances today that are supposed to be considered more, I don't know, progressive, but still have those things in there. They might just look a little shinier, a little prettier, a little harder to pig or to root out those issues.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah, they almost go underground. It's really interesting when you think about the echoes and how they are still rooted in these problematic narratives, but then they get presented in a way that becomes more palatable, maybe more palatable period, maybe more palatable to readers who are not seeing the foundations of those ideas.
To talk about just literally the trope of two terrible people, finding each other and being at odds and being terrible together. There are parts of that narrative, as I said earlier, broad strokes. That narrative is fun.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrea Martucci: And it's resonant for us as consumers, because we all have parts of ourselves that we're like, God, nobody could possibly like that about me.
And so that is fun to play with. But when certain characteristics on page are presented as being like fun quirks, and then you step back and you're like, oh, holy shit, wait a second. You think about even just guns, like think about our understanding of guns in real life. Honestly, anybody holding a gun and [00:36:00] pointing at me is frightening, I don't care who it is. That is terrifying. I don't care how good of a marksman you are. That's a dangerous weapon and you're pointing it at me. That's not funny. But in the pages of a book, the scene of Jessica shooting him is presented as wow, look how feisty she is.
He deserved that because of whatever. And even he acknowledges that he deserved that and he admires her for doing this and the narrative wrapping around it makes it okay. It makes it make sense and excuses it.
To pull it back to joyful problematizing. and also in the context of banned books week, there are people who could read that story and maybe not sit back and think wow, that's fucked up.
And you read enough of those narratives without really thinking about that critically, that's normalized. You don't see a problem with that because of all that. But as a reader now, I'm me reading this book and I'm able to see that and I'm like that's fucked up, I don't like that.
am I allowed to enjoy the book, Maria, am I allowed to? And, how am I supposed to feel about the fact that I did enjoy it? there are parts of that that are fun. And should I start a fire and start a petition to say, nobody should read this book, or we we need to add an essay at the beginning of this book in future editions that contextualizes that, or provides additional insight before people go in.
How am I supposed to feel about this?
Maria DeBlassie: I wish I had the answer. I ended the essay I wrote about Gone With The Wind. What do I do now? That line is in my book and I want to rip it out. But obviously my publishers are like we'll think about it and it's like, I just don't want to take it away and pretend it didn't happen so I'd want something at the front of the book too. But I think it's hard when I wrote the essay about Gone With The Wind too that was not a text that had a special meaning to me, it was more, I was pulling on the sound bite of what popular culture told me this thing was? But then I also made the point of saying that's not to say that I'm like super virtuous and that I don't have plenty of problematic stuff on my shelf because I do I love Gothic genre. I love fantasy. I love romance. I'm Just a genre whore, like I just love it all. But that means my bookshelf is riddled with things that aren't perfect.
So the place I got to was basically, and this is what I tell my students, you can enjoy those stories just don't pretend they're not problematic.
You know I think of Bridgerton. I haven't read the book it was based off of, but I saw the show and we're going to talk about it in my class. And that is a really great example of something that is super glossy and looks really progressive and diverse and inclusive.
And yet you have a heroine, at least in my opinion, who is not all that likable who does some bad stuff. And it's written off as well she's a feminist and she gets to claim her agency and you're like, she did some really abusive things and that's not K.
Andrea Martucci: Just Because you call something feminist doesn't mean it's feminist
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. It's no, she did some abusive stuff and it never gets [00:39:00] addressed.
And then you have her dark hero and he is sexualized and racialized and dehumanized. But no one would see it as that because it's like a Black lead, so progressive. And yet I know a lot of students who would really love that. So because they don't know the context again, they have an impact, the full implications.
So I tell them, you can enjoy it. Just don't pretend it's not problematic. I think Alyssa Cole had a really great tweet about that. And I think that's basically what she said. She was like, you can enjoy problematic content just don't pretend it's not.
Andrea Martucci: well, and I think that's where the defensiveness can come in. It's the, hold on, be uncomfortable. So you have to acknowledge that you like something that has problems and resist the impulse to excuse those things away and defend them. I keep using this as an example, like Lord of Scoundrels, I can acknowledge that I enjoyed this book. I can acknowledge a lot of the problems. I would love to have a discussion with somebody about all of problematic elements and also the parts that were really fun.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: The difference is that I'm not saying, well no, it's okay that Jessica shoots him because in the context of the novel, I'm not saying it's okay.
It is not okay for her to do that.
Maria DeBlassie: That's how things were back then, Andrea.
Andrea Martucci: yeah. Exactly. And that's how things were. That's what people thought back then. Oh, it's a sign of the times and I don't want to bring my modern viewpoint to this. Those are all excuses. Those are all not engaging with the discomfort and wanting the discomfort to go away so that you can enjoy it without having to think about that and gesture to it. Oh no. I know that's problematic but it's okay because I like it.
My infographic and I think what you talk about in your essay and in your class is that part of the value of problematizing things joyfully is that instead of saying that you're taking pleasure from discovering these perfect texts, because perfect texts do not exist, and instead of saying that, if you enjoy something, it must be a good thing, shifting your enjoyment to the process that the thing you're taking joy in is the process of engaging with it and the process of thinking about it and talking about it and that is the meat of the enjoyment. And so your goal is not finding the perfect text or defending the perfect text or justifying why something is the perfect text. That's not the purpose.
why do you think it's important to do this? How do you engage with that in your class?
Maria DeBlassie: So one thing I like to say, and this is actually something I learned from a colleague as I was moving more deeply into this and we just both found out that we were genre nerds and watched a lot of similar TV shows, read similar things and we'd have these, we just get involved in these long conversations in the hallways.
And she really taught me, critiquing genres that you love, critiquing stories that you love, it's an act of love itself. You're saying I recognize you have flaws. I'm not going to try and sweep those away and I'm not going to [00:42:00] overplay all the really great things. I'm just going to say, I like that this text resonated with me and that it's given me a lot to think about and it's shaped me as a human being and maybe moving forward, taught me about different ways of thinking. So I think that's really important.
I also think, when I look back to the time when I was writing that thing about Gone With The Wind in my first book, part of that was coming from me, really pushing hard back against academia, particularly white academia. So telling me as a woman of color, what I should enjoy, what I should like. I started out in creative writing and I wanted to write genre fiction, of course.
And that was like, we don't do that here, we do literary fiction. So there was a lot of, tastemaking involved, a lot of judgment about what was serious and also a lot of really antagonistic ways of unpacking our own internalized systemic oppression. So if you didn't automatically walk into a classroom with this knowledge, then, oh my God, I can't believe that what an embarrassment for you.
So I remember feeling those things and thinking I don't like that. I don't like being told how I should feel about things. I don't like this privileged institution. being uncritical about their own perpetuation of trauma within the institution or uncritical about the problems within literary fiction that like fetishizes trauma, particularly trauma for people with historically marginalized identity. I don't like how they avoid certain conversations by essentially appropriating progressive rhetoric to shield themselves. Like I have all the right ideas, so I don't have to make myself feel uncomfortable. I'm going to tell you how you should feel about things.
So when I started teaching these classes, I thought I don't want to do that, I don't want to be that person. So instead, in my classroom provide a space where we say, okay, let's talk about this. And how do we feel about this? Everyone's going to have a slightly different opinion and we're not going to judge anyone about it. We're just going to say, how does this inform our reading? And also how does this inform our lived experience? Because the media we consume does shape what we think about love, sex all the big identity issues. And I realized, and I shared this with my students, part of me pushing hard against that in academia, I kind of went into the opposite direction, which in some cases was really healthy and positive where I got really interested in trashy books and, I championed them and I was like, Yeah. let's do this and I came, I was very playful with my energy. And and that led me to a lot of the really exciting work I do now. But there was also some toxic things there too. Anytime you're moving to another extreme to compensate for something there's other stuff where I realized, oh, I was maybe flip about some things I didn't know enough about like Gone With The Wind
Let's champion trashy novels, but let's also be clear that they are not perfect things. One of my favorite things is monster [00:45:00] hunters, I devour that stuff, but you have to be real about how a lot of the quote unquote monsters in the early iterations of that genre are rooted in racism and xenophobia and homophobia and that's an unfortunate history that can get passed on today if we're not being critical about it.
Joyful problematization for me is a way of saying we're not shaming anybody for what they don't know, we're saying let's learn together. You have that, I forgot how you framed it in your infographic, but there's like a community collaboration. There we go. Let's collaborate together to learn from each other's diverse perspectives to become better consumers of media and as a by-product more conscious human beings and that itself, like that's beautiful. That is joyful. That is social justice. That is progress. And if we get over this idea that texts are somehow perfect, they aren't, there's no such thing as a perfect text, but us as human beings, we're not perfect either. And we're going to make mistakes on this journey. But if we embrace the mess, the beauty that comes out of it is going to be awesome.
Andrea Martucci: I think as you were talking about that, I was thinking exactly of that last point you made about human beings, we're not perfect. Reading a book about perfect people is really boring. Like, Let's be honest. And I think that's where a lot of the tension comes with, and I'm going to talk about texts that talk about romantic relationships specifically, but this is not limited to those texts, but I think that a lot of our sense of self and how we feel about ourselves and the validation or the shame that we feel, it comes from our relationships with other people. We form our sense of self in relationship to other people and the feedback that we're getting from the world, which is mostly experienced through how other people present the world or react to the world.
And so much of what we're talking about here is just like, how is the narrative framing what is desirable? How is the narrative framing, the choices that characters make and how things are described and who is centered and all of these things. What's really interesting to think about in these conversations is the idea that we don't want to read about perfect characters.
I don't want to read about characters who always make the right choices, but I am going to be critical about texts that romanticize choices as being good choices or making sense when those conflict with values that I hold true. it's like the difference of a text justifying a really shitty thing and making it be like, that's totally fine.
No text, please. Don't try to convince me that is fine. I'm going to find that really problematic. And I'm going to want to engage with that, but do I find it problematic that a character could be selfish and still lovable? No, I don't find that problematic at all because people are selfish.
Like we're like, we're [00:48:00] all selfish, right? That's fine. are we going to treat this? Like, It's super cute. And this is the person we're rooting for, or are we going to engage with growth of the character in a particular direction?
And I think that requires self-awareness on the part of the author, it requires self-awareness on the part of the consumer to spot that, see it for what it is and question it. And that's essentially what this is all about. That's what we've been talking about.
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly. And I think we were talking earlier too about the moments we've had, where that defensiveness might come in, right? Where that oh my God, what have I done? And joyful problemization kind of tables that and says, deep breath, let's just explore what this means in a neutral non-judging way.
And it also, I think for me, it's been helpful because, and I, again, I think this is something that's always been there in academia and online, but this past year, this past two years has really magnified this idea of call-out culture.
And I think there's a time and a place for calling things out, But I think a lot of people end up using call-out culture in a lot of ways to address their own anxiety or their own discomfort because if they're the ones doing the calling out. if they're one of those voices, they don't have to worry about being called out themselves. And I've picked up a real anxiety With students who are like, I want to talk about these things, but I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing because I don't want to get called out for what I don't know.
So if we just remove that from our communication toolkit and say no, we're just going to take it down a notch and joyfully problematize some stuff, it's amazing the growth that happens, it really takes out the tension of those conversations.
And also I think gives permission for students, people to be flawed. Like one of the things I talked about my essay was like, if you are on the internet, if you write in postings and publish them on the internet, like you fundamentally have a paper trail of your growth, which means you're going to find stuff that you wrote maybe even a year ago, 10 years ago, whatever and you're like, I do not agree with that anymore.
So we need to be comfortable with that paper trail and say yeah, I've grown and I don't need to be called out about that but I would love to have a conversation about that.
any creator should realize yeah, I'm going to look back on some stuff and be like, I definitely wouldn't have written that today. Yeah, that is problematic. Let's talk about it versus feeling like you need to defend your creative work to the death because if you don't, you're invalidating yourself as an artist or something
Andrea Martucci: I hate to pick on Loretta Chase here. It's the difference between somebody bringing up problematic aspects of Lord of Scoundrels and Loretta Chase writing- this is all hypothetical people- Loretta Chase writing a long screed on the internet about how it was justified and it was the way things were done back then and blah, blah, blah. The [00:51:00] difference between that and a response that is like, yeah I agree with that. Again, it's how you've grown and I think also I'm not saying that everybody always has to respond to like every piece of criticism.
I think that there are plenty of moments where that would be blatantly inappropriate, right? Somebody writing a bad review, but it has certainly come up over time that people have written problematic texts that are discussed. Like Julia Quinn, for example, who on this very podcast I have discussed problematic statements.
I think at a certain point, people need to decide for themselves, am I continuing to dig a deeper hole by not saying anything? Or do I need to address this? And that's a choice everybody needs to make, but if you remain silent on something and people are asking for accountability and you choose to remain silent, even if you feel differently, that's a choice too.
Maria DeBlassie: Yeah, absolutely. That's a great example especially with Bridgerton coming out, I feel like Julia Quinn could have been in a really powerful space to be like, yes, I've had a lot to learn and I'm still learning. Here's how I'm trying to rectify this. I welcome conversation. Versus total radio silence and real awkward energy, which does not help anything.
I think she's a really good example of why joyful problematization matters too, is because when you don't have that, when you don't just say yeah, let's talk about this. You have her response, which is, I'm just gonna pretend this is not an issue and that it never happened. And that makes things worse.
The way I run my classrooms too, is I'm transparent with my students. Yeah, I've been teaching a long time. I know some tricks, I know some stuff. I have a certain knowledge based on some things I'm not going to get everything right. And to the best of my ability, even I want my classroom to be a safe space. That is not always a guarantee though, because I'm only one human and stuff's going to happen. Or I just don't always catch everything.
Teaching in the classroom 15 years ago, it was very different from teaching now and I'm learning, I'm growing, I'm changing, but I also rely on student feedback to let me know what I missed so that I can keep the good moving forward, but not perpetuate the less good or the less useful or in some cases the harmful. I learned about content learnings for my students and I'm still learning how to better frame those in my classes so that we can safely explore charged material without anyone feeling like their safety is compromised, but, I had to grow into that. I had to learn that from them.
But if I had just said no, I'm the authority, I know what's best. That, that doesn't help me. That doesn't help them. It's unproductive.
Andrea Martucci: right. You know what, I'm going to try to be comfortable with the ambiguity of where we're leaving this conversation
It's so frustrating. I want all the answers but. You know what I'm going to leave more growth for the future, more conversation for the future
Maria DeBlassie: the growth and the answer is in the conversation,
Andrea Martucci: Yes,
Maria DeBlassie: Just letting those ideas out there and bringing them out into the light. I think that's where the growth is.
Andrea Martucci: [00:54:00] absolutely.
Maria, thanks so much for doing this. By the way, this was like super short notice. Like I emailed Maria last night. I was like, Hey, you want to record tomorrow? Thank you so much. I appreciate it
Maria DeBlassie: Yes. Always happy to be on. Thank you for having me.
Andrea Martucci: you are welcome.
Maria DeBlassie: Also too for writing that wonderful infographic, my students got so much out of it. Just to let you know, our first exercise, I said, pull something from romantic media that you like and joyfully problematize it. And it was loads of fun with what they came up with and I think it really set the tone for the class. So thank you so much.
Andrea Martucci: you're welcome. You're welcome. I did something. I was going to say I did something right. And I was like, no, I did something period. I'm glad that it helped your students grow and have a great conversation.
so Maria again, thank you for being here. Where can people find you online and keep up with what you are doing?
Maria DeBlassie: People can find me at my website, www.mariadeblassie.com and I'm all over social media. On Twitter is where I talk a lot about this stuff. So @enchantmentll
Happy, joyful problematizing.
Andrea Martucci: Hey, thanks so much for spending time with me today and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast app to get updates when new episodes are available. That's Shelf Love, two words. You can also sign up to get my free email newsletter, find recommendations and blog posts, and get transcripts for every single episode going back over a year at this point, all on my website, ShelfLovePodcast.Com. If you'd like to get in touch with me, you can email me at Andrea@ShelfLovePodcast.Com.
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