Hate To Love You
Stories from Shelf Love listeners who have reexamined romantic stories that they used to love and found that their relationship has gone from unconditional love to questioning the value of their relationship. Outlander. The Cosby Show. Harry Potter. Gilmore Girls. We hate to love you!
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] 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. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I am sharing stories from Shelf Love listeners who have reexamined romantic stories that they used to love and found that their relationship has gone from unconditional love to questioning the value of their relationship.
This is a followup to my conversation with Dr. Maria DeBlassie from episode 102, which is the last episode. And we talked about the process of growing as readers. And consumers and discomfort that comes along with that. And at the end of this episode, I'm going to share an excerpt where Maria and I talked about The Pirate and the Pagan, which was something that was cut for time from the last episode and was a little bit off topic with that conversation. But I think is really relevant here, but also I think it's a really interesting example of things that are parts of stories that maybe when people are consuming them initially, or maybe not, they don't really notice. And then you sit down and you think about it and you start to realize that this is a reflection of a particular worldview or an understanding of like, what is normal and what needs to be challenged.
Also in the last episode, I was talking about how I had recently read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, which I want to reiterate, I really enjoyed the book. I think that that's because, Loretta Chase knows how to tell a story and also because the things that happened in the book are framed in such a way, there's a way of framing the same action that can be comedic and can also be very serious and dramatic. Right. So somebody falling down the stairs in Gone With the Wind, for example, is a very bad thing. It's violence. It is framed as something that has an impact. Somebody is either injured in a very bad way or in the case of Gone With the Wind, it is the reason that Scarlet O'Hara loses her child.
Now somebody falling down the stairs in a comedy can be played for laughs. They get up at the bottom of the stairs and they're unhurt and everybody's laughing and it's funny. Right? And that is something that is played up in, Went with the Wind, which is Carol Burnett's spoof of Gone With the Wind from the 1970s, where she falls down the stairs multiple times. And it's funny. And so really that's a fantastic example of the framing and how important the framing of these things is and how that influences your reaction as the reader.
And Lord of Scoundrels is fascinating because the story wants you to have a certain takeaway from what happens. So when Jessica shoots Dane, that is framed as he is getting what he deserves, even he sees it that way and it is played as "look at this fun banter in this relationship" and "look at her asserting her [00:03:00] power and really showing him that he can't have that power."
But I was thinking about this later because I posted about this episode on Twitter and The Smut Report, which is a website that talks about romance novels, they responded. And I don't know who from The Smut Report, because it's a collective actually wrote this, but, they wrote "Ack my loving glow about that scene, (as an aside) where, you know, Jessica shoots Dane) is about to be burst like a bubble, isn't it? Also I'm reading The Maiden Lane books right now and book five opens with the heroine shooting the hero. She misses. And I immediately chortled and I guess it's time for me to rethink my life."
And I was thinking about it and I responded like this. And I think that this is actually really like the through line for this episode.
So I said, "yeah, I mean, I guess first we have to examine the beliefs that some people deserve to be shot, that violence is a solution, or that women hurting men, quote unquote for once is delicious, empowering norm subversion. It is worth pointing out that these are larger cultural problems that these books are reflecting.
" I think we have to acknowledge that part of what makes it pleasurable is that it's masterfully presented to be pleasurable."
When I think about it like that, a lot of the things that are coming up in this media that, Shelf Love listeners are talking about are things that are normalized in society.
So when we're exposed to them in media, we're like, yep. Yep. That tracks, that makes sense. Right. And you really have to step back and think about it and see through the sleight of hand that is essentially happening in the creation of this as a story. You know, this is one of the big themes I'm trying to pull out in season three is really like that work that is done in framing what happens on page or on screen to really influence how you, the consumer view the interaction. And if something is normalized, if something is problematized, if something is brushed off and like swept under the rug, or if something is really like dealt with.
And I think that magic is a really good metaphor for how media creators shape what we pay attention to and what we think is important and how we feel about it. I'll talk soon about this amazing essay that I read talking about The Prestige, the movie and talking about kind of the stages of a magic trick and how narratives use that structure to influence what you see, what you don't see, what you pay attention to, what you kind of ignore until all of a sudden you have the information that's necessary to see that thing.
And how certain things are kind of moved to the periphery where they are there, but you're not paying attention to them and so it doesn't occur to you. Something can be part of the story, but it's minimized or it's not called out as a problem. And so you do not see it as a problem. And in terms of thinking about kind of our personal culpability in consuming these stories, I think that's a really important point is that our brains are wired to focus on what it thinks is important and relevant to us.
And there are all sorts of narrative tricks and rhetorical tricks that [00:06:00] can influence what we take in and perceive. And so we're not bad people for not immediately seeing through that, but it takes work and practice to really develop the skill, to notice those things.
Okay, so this is a question that I put out on the Shelf Love Patreon discord. Now Discord, in case you are unfamiliar with it is a private message platform. It's kind of like Twitter except private. Only people who are in this channel can see the conversation that's happening in various threads. So if you support Shelf Love at any level on Patreon, tiers start at just $3 a month, you can get access to this private Discord channel. If you're interested in that, please check out Patreon.com/ Shelf Love.
So here is the question. What is a book, movie, TV show, et cetera, that you initially loved deeply, but have since problematized, I E grappled with problematic elements? How do you feel about that media now? Will you still consume it and how, or have you chosen to not reread or rewatch it? I asked if it was okay to share these things also. So I have the consent of the people who, wrote these responses.
So I'm going to start with a comment from EL Jones. And they said Harry Potter, which as a millennial who grew up with Harry Potter, you know, the books were still coming out when I was in middle school. I think the first books had just come out as I was entering middle school. And so essentially, you know, through high school and early college, all of the books finished being published and the movies started coming out.
And so this was a big part of my formative years. Again, I'm 34 years old right now.
So here's what EL Jones says about why they find Harry Potter problematic: " not only for her descent into TERFism-" and as an aside, this is in reference to JK R transphobic comments that she has increasingly made in public forums. Back to EL Jones' comments. "But the novels themselves are fat phobic and ableist and homophobic. Hermione is totally written as a, not like other girls, the way that Harry thinks about her in the fourth book is absolutely horrifying. There are some deep amounts of misogyny in those books, especially the women are always written secondary to the men and only exist to serve the male characters.
And the toxic masculinity that both Ron and Harry display and how fast she, speaking about JK Rowling, came out to say that Remus and Sirius were not lovers after the actors who played them in the movie, David Thewlist said in an interview that that was how he and Gary Oldman played them. And the bullshit colonialism in Pottermore after she mentioned all the other schools. One effing school for Africa? It's a huge continent, Joanne. Not to mention what she said about Mexico and the North Americas and the romance is also shoehorned and fricking awful and what she did to Nagini in Fantastic Beasts."
So some of these references are going over my head a little bit because I'm not super familiar with Pottermore or Fantastic Beasts [00:09:00] franchises, but I've heard enough, like chatter about this stuff in the media to kind of understand what EL Jones is talking about in response to those pieces of media.
I think that a lot of this stuff, it's there, it's in the text, right? It's in the text, maybe it's downplayed or presented fairly similarly in the adaptations that would require a deep textual analysis to really pull out all of those differences. But what's interesting here is I think that I don't know how much chatter there was about this stuff when the books initially were coming out and maybe there was, and it just didn't reach me however I was consuming that media. Maybe these conversations were happening on major media platforms and I was completely unaware of it, but I would say that, you know, myself and my peers, like a lot of this stuff just went completely over our heads, but now I can totally see all those things.
I was watching the fourth movie fairly recently and the way that all of the sort of romantic relationship stuff happens and unfolds once the students start becoming romantically aware of each other. Yeah. There's a lot of misogyny and of course, heterocentrism. I don't think there are any queer characters explicitly in the text, which is frankly a head-scratcher for a school where you'd assume at least 10% of the students are queer.
And yet apparently there are no students that are queer. So. Harry Potter.
Okay. So now, Katherine Grant wrote in "Gilmore Girls. In less of a problematic way than some other examples, I looked up to both Rory and Lorelai when I watched as a teen, but as an adult, I can see most of their choices as unhealthy. And the romance subplots were very much founded on poor communication. If you start picking at the value assumptions of the show, you can find a lot of food for thought."
If you think back to the Lord of Scoundrels example that I shared earlier, it's like there are these value assumptions about, for example, the way we view guns or the way we view the power dynamic between men and women in heterosexual relationships. And a lot of those assumptions really play into us not seeing things. That's the way we've been shaped to view the world for the most part. And we really have to examine those things and really work to see them. And I think that TV relationships in particular because they are serialized and a happy relationship is really boring to watch on TV or at least most TV show creators seem to think that, poor communication is a way to kind of create drama in relationships on TV and create plot.
But if you think about poor communication in actual relationships, you're like, wait a second. Why is that normalized? Why do we not see a problem with that? And why are we not saying as we watch these shows like Gilmore Girls, I'd really like you to learn how to have a healthy, romantic relationship. And, and this is not it.
But I think that probably a lot of the choices on the show work to romanticize those relationships [00:12:00] and paint them as healthy, but they're star-crossed lovers or whatever, instead of really like pinning down, well, you know, actually really they could have just communicated or maybe they're not actually that great together, even though they had a really romantic evening, with lots of music that conveys how romantic it is and you know, that they gaze into each other's eyes and they're both very attractive people saying the right things to each other. Right.
All right. Now DK Jones brought up the manga series Gravitation. "I named Gravitation specifically because it was the first yaoi I read and I have a lot of nostalgia attached to it, but this basically applies to all the yaoi that came out before the 2010s." By the way, as an aside, I apologize. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly. It's spelled Y A O I.
For those who don't know, yaoi, AKA shōnen-ai, boys love, or B L, is the men loving men, MLM genre of anime and manga. Up until the last few years, the most common trope in the genre was rape. Much like bodice rippers. This would go either unexamined or portrayed as a form of seduction. What makes this especially difficult for gravitation specifically is part of the baggage of the love interest is trauma over his own sexual assault. As far as I can remember, there are never any parallels drawn between his position as both victim and attacker and the trauma is overcome with true love and acceptance in parentheses: another thing I hate."
Oh, wow. This is so interesting. I'm not familiar with manga period or this sub genre. So I won't speculate too much about it, but what DK Jones has brought up is really interesting. And I think this is a thread that's gonna come out in the clip about the Pirate and the Pagan around how certain types of sexual desire kind of gets pushed underground and then portrayed in media via sexual assault as a way to sort of abdicate responsibility of people for feeling a particular desire.
So I'm going to put a pin in that and I wonder if there's very similar things when you're talking about queer or same-sex relationships where the expression of sexual desire for someone period or for a particular type of someone really has to get pushed underground and is expressed on page or on screen in a different way. So that's a very interesting.
DK Jones. "My wife wanted to add her 2 cents. She loves scifi media, but the show Stargate and the video game Mass Effect are really hard to enjoy now that she is older and can view them through a post-colonial lens."
So this is something that I think speaks to how, perhaps with more education or more maturity, we have a sense of the wider world and how we are being manipulated to view through a colonial lens something that once we're kind of aware of that colonial lens, all of a sudden everything looks different.
Recently, I was at this park out in Gloucester, Massachusetts. So Gloucester, Massachusetts is on the coast of the United States. This [00:15:00] area that I live in is one of the first places that European colonial settlers landed in and started stealing land from indigenous people and not a historian. Don't hold me to all of this, but anyways, we're talking about 16 hundreds US.
So not, not a ton of Europeans in the land known as the United States at that time. So I'm at this park in Gloucester. And there's this sign as you enter the parking lot. And it says First House. Site of First House erected in 1623, taken down and rebuilt in Salem in 1628 as the great house of Governor Endicott. This was of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Even this idea of the First House, like there were no dwellings in this land before this house was built in 16, 23 or 28. I can't tell it's like very hard to read the sign. So even the framing that this was the first, is such colonial lens of thinking about that land that I'm standing on in this park.
And like, you know, thinking about like standing on this land and looking out at the ocean and I'm like, no, I'm pretty sure that there were other dwellings in this land before 1630 or thereabouts. Right. But this was the first house that's considered a house by people matter in heavy air quotes, right. If I was not aware of the conflicts between European settlers and indigenous people and the colonialism and the exploitation and the violence and all of that, this would seem really benign, but looking at it through a post-colonial lens, I'm like, wow, there's a lot of framing in this sign that makes you believe in a certain history that is not necessarily true.
All of a sudden you start to see what has been erased, what isn't being talked about in that story, you start to see how my takeaway is being shaped by the words and how the events are being framed.
I think there's a lot of space dramas really that are about colonialism. The Expanse is explicitly about colonialism. So I think space becomes kind of like another fertile ground to explore those themes because it is a little bit removed from the reality of how colonialism has occurred. So It becomes like a way to create separation in the audience to understand the themes, or I think probably there's a lot of narratives that are not really trying to talk about that. And they're just kind of telling a story of colonialism from the colonialists lens and, only with audience reception can you kind of unpack that and be like, wait a second. Why are you the rightful owners of this land that you've just conquered? And why are the people who lived there before doing it all wrong? Who are you to say that? Right.
Okay. So now Jennifer RNN, Jennifer Romance Novel News said,
"I had to laugh when I read your question from earlier today, as I sit here watching Indiana Jones, which I still love despite its myriad problems and lack of satisfying romantic plot. I cut my teeth on media in the 1980s and was drawn to most things [00:18:00] that promised romantic love or the hope of it.
Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, and Moonlighting to name a few. I will watch all three of these shows when I can, but often cringe because of mores and sensibilities have changed so much. The casual misogyny, sexism, shaming of everything, victim, slut, fat, et cetera, is rife. In some ways I enjoy the fact that I cringe because it does prove how things have changed.
Not that they don't need to change more. I do think that shows from that time that didn't have the same romantic promise such as Magnum PI, the A-Team, Chips and The Love Boat, et cetera, don't still interest me like those that had for me, a satisfying, romantic element. I don't know if I'm more forgiving of shows with romantic elements. I think it is more likely that the romantic plots of the media I consumed stayed with me and they mean something to me. They may be problematic, but I also grew up in those times and it is important to me that I not forget how prevalent many problematic behaviors and beliefs were. Also. These romantic plots were critical to my self development and I can watch Laura and Remington Steele circle each other over and over."
" Also, I didn't really want to get into my love of Indiana Jones as I don't really see it as having a satisfying romantic arc. Highly unsatisfying, really. However, Harrison Ford became my first love when I saw Star Wars and it is possible that the romantic arc between Han Solo and Princess Leia was the first one that took hold of my psyche. So I will always be a sucker for Harrison Ford. And yes, I will watch the first three Star Wars movies over and over again."
Terrible Lotus responded and said, " someone very young, like 21 ish recently said Han Solo in the original movies was a creep. He keeps calling Leia terms of endearment and teasing her. I see their point, but it also just demonstrates the standards between then and now.
And Jennifer responded. "Yes, so creepy from today's standpoint. But of course, then we were always told that when boys pulled our pigtails or made fun of us, it meant they liked us. And it was just all okay. But really not so much."
Like we've talked about a lot on this podcast. It's not that it wasn't creepy then it's that it was so normalized and there were certain narratives about how you were supposed to perceive that relationship that influenced a lot of people to not question it. And so it is the same media and we are the same people, but we are learning, we're growing, we're understanding things better. And I think the hope is that younger people are learning things differently. They're benefiting from the things that we've stopped to examine and are not having those things normalized to the same extent that we were.
DL White had two examples. One was The Cosby Show and if you are not aware, Bill Cosby was accused of and convicted of sexual assault. And so Bill Cosby went from kind of being known widely as like America's dad to, then public awareness of things that he had been doing all along but the public was not aware, of in terms of the way that he was violating women. That [00:21:00] I think then really changes how you can perceive his character, which is literally based on him. Right. So, I mean, it's called The Cosby Show, starring Bill Cosby, and it's sort of this like semi fictionalized version of him. The filter through which you view that has now changed because you know about him and he's not just the actor, he's also the writer, I don't know to what extent, but he obviously had a lot of creative control over his character and the stories that were told.
So DL White also brought up some romance novels. " I should say, I have tried to go back and read some eighties era romances, like Sandra Brown, and oh my God. Heroes did not hear the word no easily. I stopped reading her for a while because I felt like she wrote these gruff forceful men that took what they wanted and didn't stop when the heroine said no."
And EL Jones said, "I remember one of my first romance is being a Johanna Lindsey, definitely writing in the seventies and eighties. The character got knocked up after a forced marriage night and ran off to Hawaii and he let her go. And then he went to Hawaii and found her and demands to be with her. GoodReads says the name of that novel is Paradise Wild, and yes, there is sexual assault. Who was letting me read this at like age 16? To be fair, an aunt got me Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty cause she thought it was general fantasy when I was far too tender to be reading that."
And I'm going to put a pin in that because I'm going to have to talk about Sleeping Beauty eventually, because same.
And EL says also "I would like to talk to my brain. I can't remember Hume's writing on epistemology, but a Johanna Lindsey book, sure." And then DK Jones said, "didn't Hume say something about knowledge being proportionate to evidence? Well, Lindsey has a lot larger catalog than Hume." So that made me laugh because it's very true, but also a very apt metaphor for how, what we consume really shapes us and like what we remember and what is ringing in the back of our brain is, you know you can in units read one thing or watch one thing you kind of wish you could remember, but if you read 10 of another thing, like that thing is going to kind of take precedence in your brain.
And I think it really speaks to our exposure to narratives and how they influence us.
So I won't talk about Johanna Lindsey too much right now. I think that she is somebody who definitely grew a lot as a writer as her career progressed. And if you want to learn more about that, I'll once again mention Whoa!Mance, they did an excellent series talking about, Johanna Lindsey's evolution as a writer. Johanna-uary episodes. And so they read some of her earlier work and middle career work and later work and kind of discuss that trajectory.
I definitely grew up reading Sandra Brown and Johanna Lindsey among other people. I think that the way that relationships were portrayed was very much that in these heterosexual relationships that women saying no was kind of like the opening salvo of them negotiating a problem.
The understanding was that the quote-unquote hero overriding her no and showing her how much she wants him [00:24:00] and how much he wants her is a way to solve that problem. And so the no was really just an indication that there was an issue. And then the solution was the hero showing the heroine that she does desire him.
And then that desire was usually equated with love. So if you physically desire me, if I can bring you pleasure and if I find pleasure in your body then therefore that equals love. And so therefore you can't say no to me because we love each other and we feel this passion, et cetera, et cetera. And that's real problematic.
But I read a lot of narratives, like that. Literally Sandra Brown and Johanna Lindsey. That's a very prevalent theme in Linda Howard's books in Judith McNaught's books, many other authors who were writing what is understood to be like romance novels in the seventies and eighties and nineties and on, I mean, a lot of these writers are still writing today.
Not Johanna Lindsey, rest in peace.
But I think that tracking the evolution of what we as romance readers expect from relationships in romance novels, and what we will tolerate is a very interesting theme because as I mentioned in the last episode, I think that you can really see the tendrils of those narratives really reaching into books that are even being written today. And sometimes what you are seeing is the resistance to that tendril. And sometimes what you're seeing is a version that is more faded into the background, but is the dynamic is really still there. It hasn't gone away. It's just become less explicit. So I think that's why it's incredibly important to really not say, well, that's the past and we've moved on from it, but to really be able to like look back at things even if they are problematic, as long as they are not harmful to you. And that is something that, you know, everybody needs to make a choice about if they want to consume something. But, if you can really look at those things and start to recognize them, then you're going to be more adept at spotting it when it shows up in work that you think may not have that present.
And then all of a sudden you look at it, you're like, oh, dang, that's still there. But how do you know to recognize it if you don't know what to look for?
Andrea Martucci: Okay. EL Jones brings up also. "I don't know if I can enjoy Outlander anymore. There's just so much sexual assault. And I think how Jamie's assault was treated was problematic. Also Gabaldon freaks out her stuff is called romance." That's so funny because that's very similar to what Morgan and Isabeau from Whoa!Mance were talking about when they were on problematizing romance episode how some people who are writing stuff that is explicitly romance really don't want to be associated with the genre because they want to be considered like higher brow than what they consider romance to be. That's an interesting layer as well.
And I think ties back to the JK Rowling example where we can start to learn things about authors [00:27:00] that inform us more about the way they view the world. And that can start to also help us understand more about the text, because then we kind of know what clues to start looking for.
Terrible Lotus followed up to the Gabaldon talk. "I have such a love exasperated relationship to Outlander. There are so many things that bother me yet the story kept pulling me in."
I think that really this idea, that stories keep pulling you in, even though you know that there are things problematic and that you really disagree with fundamentally. And it's sort of like, I fundamentally disagree with the way you're telling this story. I think that's so interesting because I think that that speaks to the power of a skillful storyteller where even as you see yourself being manipulated by the story and you don't like being manipulated in that way, you can still acknowledge, like well, you're very persuasive.
So another listener, Dr. Sri Upadhyay who is an Assistant Professor of Psychology shared this about Outlander.
" I watched it recently in the past year for the first time, and it resonated a lot for me with this idea of love conquering time and how no matter what, I'll see my sister again. I lost her to cancer in February of 2020. She was only 23.
I have art and embroidered quotes and merch that has comforted me. For that message alone that we always find the people we're meant to and the mythological elements of the story, it is valuable to me. Fantasy has always given me both an escape and hope. I recently got into tarot as a tool for creative brainstorming and writing, and I think Outlander made me think differently about a scholarly approach to romance slash science slash magic slash adventure as the author blends genres in her stories. And I like that Claire is a scientist, but has this magic too. However it is heavily white person experienced centric story with lots of violence and rape.
I'm aware of the problems with representation, gender dynamics, culture, et cetera, and don't excuse them, but I am appreciative that I found the show when I needed it most, and that some messages really helped me in some dark times during my early grief. I'm not sure if I will read the books, as some have said, it's even more intense than the show, but I do have them.
If anything, I think reading widely helps me seek out more of what I do want to read, refine what I like and figure out what I want to write and change with the fiction I bring to the world. We can't learn and do better without identifying the problems and why they're problems first. That's my take on being a more informed and aware writer and reader and consumer."
Love this because I think it's grappling with, what got us here won't get us there, always necessarily, right? Like that there are these steps towards our own understanding of things and other pieces of pop culture and growing and building out from what has come before it.
But then I think also really how we can appreciate certain elements of media because they resonate with us. Like what Sri was talking about with how the themes of Outlander and love conquering time is really resonant to her [00:30:00] because it helps her deal with her grief of losing her sister at a young age.
We're layering in our own needs to the media. And that creates a relationship to the media that, y es has some relationship to what is there in the media, but also has a lot to do with us and how we are using that media for our own purposes.
And like, this is the thing, right? I have a lot of fond memories of the romances that I read in my formative years. And a lot of that is because I really needed something in my life that helped me process my emotions and helped me envision a world outside of the world that I was living and helped me dream bigger about my future. And help me create fantasies of what my life could be that then actually helped me create a life that I wanted and were all of those stories perfect stories? Were they unproblematic stories? Absolutely not. With growth, I can understand that.
But again, like I've been talking about here, being able to recognize what those problems are, has helped me figure out what I do and don't want. Experiencing things in fictional stories help us understand our own reactions to those things without having to experience them ourselves.
And sometimes that's because it's something that we probably will not experience ourselves, like time-traveling, or certain types of relationships. It's not that there's a problem with our current relationships, but that's just not a relationship that we're going to have in our lives.
And sometimes it's experiencing emotions that we either do experience, hopefully in small doses, like grief or things that we haven't experienced yet, or may not experience. And in understanding those emotions, it helps us grow as individuals who can empathize with other people who are experiencing those things.
So I certainly don't think that like we're tainted by consuming media that is problematic. What Sri is talking about is thinking about using media for our own purposes and Dr. Maria DeBlassie actually chimed in, and shared this article that I will share in the show notes. She said " this article helped me in terms of separating the art from the artist, especially in terms of my love of Buffy."
And she shared this article from Wil Wheaton sharing a letter that he got from somebody about how Buffy this is like a really meaningful piece of media for them, because it really is associated with dealing with grief in their own life. And the letter writer was asking like, oh God, now that I know all of these things about the creator of Buffy, how am I supposed to feel about this? Should I stop watching it out of respect to people who were victimized by that person? What am I supposed to do with this information?
And Will Wheatin talks about how, if it had meaning for you, it had meaning for you and you can celebrate that and you can appreciate it for that. The article also talks about how there were lots of people involved in the creation [00:33:00] of that thing from the actors to the other writers who were not Joss Whedon and so on.
But like, even if the episodes that that letter writer most appreciated are the ones written by Joss Whedon, does that mean that that has to color their appreciation of that thing? And they have to let go of it. And like all things it's complicated, but it does present a different way of thinking about kind of how to manage that.
And I think essentially that's what this episode is about, is really grappling with those issues of like, I love you, or I used to love you. And how am I supposed to feel about you now media?
Now, please enjoy this conversation about The Pirate and the Pagan with Dr. Maria DeBlassie. She was talking about teaching this book in her class. I hope you enjoy.
Maria DeBlassie: One of the books we read in my historical romance class, for the bodice ripper is the pirate and the pagan. And I enjoyed a lot of it, even though it has a lot of problems
Virginia Henley, this is one of the books where in my author newsletter, every month they put together like, here's what I've enjoyed reading this month.
And that was one of the books made me think I need to include a line at the end that says like enjoying something doesn't mean endorsing all the messages, something like read responsibly because there's a lot of problematic content and you definitely see Gone With the Wind echos in there.
You have Kat and Rourke who are really battling each other and trying to out connive each other and outwit each other. Kat marries him for his money. Seduces him and was like, I need your money so that I can protect my family name. And he discovers it and he flies into a violent rage and it's abusive.
There's marital rape and 90% of the stories is like cat and mouse game between them trying to one up each other, but also realizing that they deeply love each other. So how do they heal from this rift? And there's some really fun bananas plots to it, like just like over the top.
But then the core romance itself is actually really toxic. Once Rourke flies into a rage and realizes Kat was playing him and she confesses to him because she realizes, oh, I love you. So I want to come clean about this. And he's like, you awful slut. I can't believe he did this to me. And the rest of the, story is about like how do they heal from that?
Andrea Martucci: and that like the fundamentally it's like, maybe they shouldn't. Maybe they should heal separately and not be together.
Maria DeBlassie: absolutely. And there's this whole subplot where Rourke's brothers, So Rourke, Lord Rourke he's this, hand to the king, very, very upright guy for King Charles, so set in the 1660s. And there's a subplot with his pirate brother, Rory, who's like super sweet to Kat. And you think they're going to run off together, I'm sorry, there's going to be some spoilers if that's okay.
Andrea Martucci: How long ago did this book come out? Like it's okay.
Maria DeBlassie: 1983 or in 1990, I believe. So it's like plot twist. Rourke is Rory, that's his secret identity. And he used it to get close to Kat so that he could find his way back to [00:36:00] her. And if he couldn't have her as a Lord, he'd have her as a pirate. And it's like super weird and you're like gaslighting.
But a couple of times my students asked what is Kat's racial identity? Because she's described as like dusky and exotic and all these things. And I was like, oh no, she's white. That's just how they describe people who are really sexual. They like give them racial connotations and that's super awful. And a lot of the over the top sexual scenes, fetishized enslavement narratives, and like harems and how people do things in, the quote unquote orient.
And it's Yeah. that's super terrible. and that is racializing and that is not okay. But then we talk about like ravishment fantasies versus like rape because there's a lot of rape here. But in order to joyfully problematize, again, I asked them to put this in the historical context. I am super glad that these narratives aren't normalized anymore.
Although you can still find echoes of this and a lot of modern historical romances, but look at the traditional bodice ripper, why would we want to see certain nonconsensual things? So when Kat is separated from Rourke and she's falling for Rory, the pirate, it's so interesting the way it's framed, because the pirate does stuff to her. So he goes down on her and he performs oral sex, and then it's framed as technically it wasn't sex. So it's technically not cheating, which I don't think anyone would. I don't think that that would hold up today in a monogamous relationship. But so it's technically it's done to her.
And then when they have sex, she's asleep and dreaming of Rourke. So she's thinking she's having sex with Rourke. And really she wakes up and finds Rory on top of her. But she's like oh no, what has happened? And that sounds like a really bizarre, scary thing. But in the context of a bodice ripper, I'm like, look at this, she's unconscious, it's stuff happening to her.
So she is absolved of any accountability, which means she's absolved of any sense of shame. She's the innocent here. And again, I think the way we talked about women's sexuality has changed and it's needed to change. But at the time, even in the nineties, when this was written I think of it in terms of non-con kink culture, where a reader's opening a book and consensually playing nonconsensual scenes, because it frees them from the shame associated with sexual desire.
Andrea Martucci: And also critically, it is actually her husband. So she's not actually cheating on her husband. So you get the fantasy. I am having problems with my husband but what if I had this great sexual relationship with this other guy. She's absolved on multiple fronts?
Maria DeBlassie: Exactly because her body and her heart knew it was really her husband, even if her mind was a little confused, which again, huge problems. So she gets to play at adultery. She gets to play at being a sexually [00:39:00] awakened woman who wants to sexually explore within the safety of a heteronormative monogamous marriage, where she is absolved of any of the guilt or shame associated with those choices. And the reader is too right. We get all the titillating fun of her having a Lord and a pirate and the king wants her, King Charles, the second wants her too. So it's like best hits of historical romance heroes, right? A Lord. A pirate, a king.
And yet she doesn't have to bear the weight of making any conscious decisions about any of that. So you know, it reframes forced seduction or rape in those stories for my students while also still saying, yeah. That's super bad in those stories. Like we do not want to perpetuate rape culture, even if we can acknowledge maybe the work it's trying to do on a more progressive front.
Andrea Martucci: 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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