Shelf Love

Psycho Killer, Come Kiss Me (Antagonist April #4, Darkly, Madly Duet with Fangirl Jeanne)

Short Description

Fangirl Jeanne answers the question: Why might people, and women in particular, find serial killers to be romantic figures in dark romance in a hetero patriarchal capitalist, racist, etc. society? We discuss the Darkly, Madly Duology by Trisha Wolfe, a dark romance with 2 serial killer main character antagonists.


antagonist april, contemporary romance, romance novel discussion

Show Notes

Fangirl Jeanne answers the question: Why might people, and women in particular, find serial killers to be romantic figures in dark romance in a hetero patriarchal capitalist, racist, etc. society? We discuss the Darkly, Madly Duology by Trisha Wolfe, a dark romance with 2 serial killer main character antagonists.


Guest: Fangirl Jeanne

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Jeanne’s tweet thread on the power fantasy of being the singular focus of a powerful man present in Romantic literature and fan fiction:

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Fangirl Jeanne: [00:00:00] Okay, it's a book, but are you actually acknowledging the problems in the book? And I'm not saying everybody has to, but please respect the fact that I can both read this and enjoy aspects of it. And then also go, this is copaganda trash.

Andrea Martucci: Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media, time, and cultures. Welcome to Antagonist April. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, media critic, author, and fangirl, Jeanne joins me to discuss serial killer romance. Jeanne, thanks so much for being here.

Fangirl Jeanne: Thanks for having me. I'm very excited to talk about, morality and violence and sexy times.

Andrea Martucci: I'm going to title this episode, Psycho Killer, Come Kiss Me. And this was recommended by one of the Patreon supporters, Tata Hababa because I started titling the episodes in Antagonist April, like plays on songs and she suggested this and I thought it was genius.

I was like well, I have to save that for the serial killer one.

Fangirl Jeanne: No, of course.

Andrea Martucci: Content warnings for today's conversation, we're going to talk a lot about serial killers and probably mention of violent deaths and disturbed amoral individuals.

Probably, know, similar content warnings to an episode of My favorite Murder,

Fangirl Jeanne: Yeah dubious consent, mentions of child sexual abuse in the past because everybody has to have a dark past,

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. Take care when listening to this episode.

I'm going to start by summarizing the books that we're going to talk about today. The Darkly, Madly duet by Trisha Wolfe. The first one was published in 2017. The two books in the series are called Born ,Darkly and Born, Madly.

And Jeanne suggested that we read these, which we'll get into why. But let me just give you all a brief run. It's not really that brief, but a run down of what happens in these two books so that the rest of the conversation makes sense.

Our two main characters are Dr. London Noble and Grayson Pierce Sullivan. Dr. London Noble is a world renowned criminal psychiatrist whose specialty is giving testimony in court for very bad people, that sometimes keeps them from getting the death penalty, which makes her a polarizing figure.

He's a serial killer known as the Angel of Maine, because he only kills really bad people who somehow elude law enforcement. And then he kills them with elaborate gruesome, Saw-like contraptions that are also like puzzles. And you know that he's obsessed with puzzles because he has multiple puzzle tattoos .

Book one is about London quote unquote, treating slash assessing Grayson as her patient, as he awaits trial and sentencing. Somehow Grayson can tell that she's also a psychopath. And the reveal is that she's a master manipulator who has been mentally torturing and coercing all of her former patients into killing themselves once they're in treatment facilities, instead of death row,

Grayson is also a godlike genius who can concoct elaborate escapes and plans where he anticipates everyone's moves [00:03:00] and he escapes and captures London. He then tortures her into realizing that the father she knew was kidnapping, torturing, and killing teen girls, which then prompted her to kill him before he could kill her. She kills him with a key and the way we know that she's obsessed with keys is because she has a tattoo of a key on her wrist.

The climax of book one is London embracing her own serial killer tendencies, letting a captured pedophile fall into a vat of acid. Then her and Grayson consummating their twisted attraction in front of said vat. The police arrived to find her chained like she was still there against her will. And Grayson has run from the authorities, allowing London to go back to her life while he's on the run.

Also Grayson tattoos a lock on his own back, which, you know, means that symbolically London is the key to unlocking him just like she is the missing piece to complete his puzzle. That's, uh, book one.

Okay. Book two, this one's shorter because we've already laid out a lot of things that we need to know. Book two starts with London and Grayson meeting up on the sly, conveniently picking up a random guy in a bar who they can tell is a rapist, and killing him together. Again, having sex in front of the body because the time they're most aroused is after they've killed. London is somehow intimately involved in the investigation and hunt to find Grayson with Detective Foster, a disgraced former cop who really wants to nail Grayson, and Agent Nelson from the FBI, who's also taking Grayson's escape very personally.

A copycat murderer is murdering people and Grayson thinks it has to be either Nelson or Foster, yada yada once again, both of these master manipulator geniuses are able to anticipate every move and the story culminates in London concocting in elaborate plan that allows her to once again seem completely innocent, for Grayson to fake his death, for Agent Nelson, the copycat murderer to die in a vat of acid, and to have Detective Foster corroborate all of this.

Grayson and London live happily ever after where she sets up practice in a town, finds a bad person whom she can manipulate into killing themselves to feed their compulsions, and I don't know, somehow she's the dominant in their relationship and Grayson's need to kill is somehow satisfied for this. The end,

Fangirl Jeanne: (laughing) And have to.... I have to let everybody know that I've had myself on mute the whole time so that I could laugh hysterically. I love these summaries. It's so perfect. I forgot that there was a lot of acid in these books.

Andrea Martucci: The vat of acid was part of the denouement for both books.

Fangirl Jeanne: Just, how do you get that much acid? That's gotta be a traceable thing. That's like controlled, like hydrochloric acid. You have to be on a registry to get that much. Like

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, there's a lot of logistical questions that one could ask about all of this,

Fangirl Jeanne: all of it. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: all of it. So Jeanne, why in the heck did you want me to read these books? What attracted you to this series?

Fangirl Jeanne: First off I would like to apologize for sending you blindly into this carnival madhouse of wackiness, but [00:06:00] in my defense no, I haven't I'm indefensible, but I like this book for various reasons, but primarily because I feel like it's so blatantly obvious like the buttons that it's pushing for this type of genre, which is, going beyond the morally gray, antihero love interest into a legitimate, bad person, love interest.

So that we could look at all the tropes and the dynamics that are happening in the relationship. And then with those blinders taken off, re-examine a lot of other books that make things over oh yeah. He's a mass murdering aristocrat land owner, probably slave owner, but he's a werewolf, and he was asleep and punished for a hundred years in hell.

He feels bad and loves her and it's all good. This one is just more obvious, I think, because it is going so extreme, so edge lord with the violence and everything that it's so much easier to go like really.

It's also really indulgent for those of us who really like horror and thriller and crime thriller specifically. Saw. Like when I first read. I was like, oh my God, is this, like smutty Saw fanfic? Is that what I'm reading right now. This is fascinating. And

Andrea Martucci: Cause Jigsaw is the name of the villain in Saw. So jigsaw puzzle, puzzles.

Fangirl Jeanne: No, absolutely. It is very obvious, but if you were a person who are into those movies and it's really funny because it's a very similar, incredibly flawed morality logic philosophy from Saw, which has like Saw's whole thing. That guy is that he's dying of cancer and all this stuff.

And he's upset that they don't appreciate their life. So he has to put them through an incredibly violent, traumatic situations to make them appreciate their life.

And of course the ongoing thing of he doesn't kill people, they killed themselves in the traps that he constructed and kidnapped and put them in.

Andrea Martucci: He's totally passive in this.

Fangirl Jeanne: It's the same kind of like shaky card house logic is at work in this as well. Which to me, I was like Oh, yeah, there are people that absolutely buy into this . And it was fascinating for me to read it from a perspective of being a fan of horror, being a fan of antagonist protagonist, like Hannibal, Killing Eve a lot like this popularity of these people who are like, it's unambiguously, not good people who kill people for no reason, sometimes just because fun.

And to see the logic gymnastics that people will go to, to try to what I, in my opinion is trying to rationalize why these characters are appealing rather than, go, oh they [00:09:00] only kill bad people or, oh, he's got cancer, like she had a bad childhood.

And I'm like, yeah. Okay. But what about you and why are you finding this person appealing? Because that is much more interesting than why that character is killing. It's why do you find that person sympathetic? Why is it only a white person that you find sympathetic?

And it's not just the stereotypical criticism of you just want to fuck them. Sure attraction is an aspect, but I think there is also a much deeper things that I think we'll uncover as we talk about this more. But yeah, there are several series there's I think it's Necessary Measures is a series that's essentially seven psychopaths.

It's a rich guy, Bruce Wayne slash Carlisle Cullen he's a medical psychologist, scientist who adopts a bunch of psychopathic children, trains them to be serial killers to kill bad people. And those that's an M M romance series. Each one of them finds their loves and falls in love with them.

Andrea Martucci: Can I just say missed opportunity Seven Psychopaths for Seven Psychiatrists.

Fangirl Jeanne: Okay. Now that, that was a musical deep cut that I really appreciate.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Fangirl Jeanne: This trend has also existed for a while. There's another series is the I think it's called the Fire and Ice series by Anne Stewart. And that one's like early two thousands. I want to say. And that one was more of like spy thriller, but in the first book, Black Ice, the love interest actually dubiously consent type of situation has sex with her tortures her for a while. Then, she breaks through the ice of his killer undercover, no feelings guy, and they fall in love. That type of situation repeats itself with each successive book of a killer espionage spy guy who's never felt anything before, but suddenly meets a woman who's usually like a hapless white lady and falls in love. But often my favorite doing the, What is it, the Dread Pirate Roberts of almost like we kill you in the morning, kind of thing, but then doesn't,

Andrea Martucci: And I think it's really important to mention this book markets itself as dark romance. So it is not positioning itself as a book in like horror or psychological thriller or something like that. This book is very explicitly positioning itself as a dark romance.

Going from GoodReads reviews, people are reading this as a romance and some of their reactions are, this isn't a romance, right? But people are coming into this book expecting a romance and the people who enjoy it are seeming to enjoy it as a romance novel, right? Where these are two characters who you're rooting for having their happy ending, happily ever after.

And getting into them as romantic figures, worthy of being romanticized. It's probably clear from the way I summarize this that, personally I [00:12:00] found the writing to be really tortured. It was going hard for poetic and deep and it was just tortured and convoluted and it didn't often make sense, but I highlighted so much of it because I was just like, the worldview that I am seeing here is fascinating.

Like not in a good way, fascinating, but oh wow. You're actually saying the quiet part out loud, fascinating. I would say like early on in book one, I was disgusted in a way that I don't know if I have ever been disgusted before, like by a story and like what it was romanticizing about these characters and the situation how it was building a world.

It's not just that you have two psychopath characters who view the world in this way. It actually built a world where the world was this way, where they were these special geniuses who see the world differently and see the world how it truly is. And everybody else is just a sheep. Everybody else is just their prey.

Like viscerally. I had to take breaks reading this because I was just like, oh, like I cannot with this. And obviously this author really thinks that she's doing something here. And I couldn't take it. It started to be less oh my God, I can't believe you're trying to sexualize the situation. And more it just started hitting so hard on the themes over and over again that I honestly just got bored at a certain point, which is, I don't know. something to think about later, but it was not an enjoyable experience for me.

We were talking on Twitter about this, and I had a moment where I was like, I don't understand why people like this.

And you were kind of like, well, it had some interesting things to say. I was like, oh my God, I think Jeanne enjoyed some things about this. Let me re-examine my own stuff. And I understand that this is going hard on things that are like presented less problematically in books I do enjoy. But I'm really curious from your perspective, when you read this, were there parts that were like hitting a pleasure nerve for you? Where for me I couldn't find anything enjoyable about it and and I'm trying to like, not sound like judgemental here.

Like I'm really curious because I could, I can't see it and I can't imagine it.

Fangirl Jeanne: no, no, like, okay. So I could've very well picked a number of different books that hit the exact same notes that I think are much easier to get into. But part of the reason I wanted to pick this book was because it is so fricking edge lord and it's so pretentious. That was my thing was that this was like the purple prose of the Law and Order sect.

Andrea Martucci: Yes.

Fangirl Jeanne: Let me just drop every single, like faux psychology phrasing and philosophy you've seen on Criminal Minds and BBC Sherlock and all of these different types of things that, justify what is essentially a really fucked up black and white binary idea of what's good and evil. From the perspective of the quote-unquote bad people, which all I [00:15:00] saw was she's a really good representative of how corrupt the psychological medical industry is and how complicit it is with the justice system, quote unquote justice system.

And he's a really good example of how toxic masculinity justifies its actions, even when it's breaking the rules that it knows, like that it said, this is how things are, this is what it means to be good. I'm going to be bad because they were worse. And I know I'm a bad guy. Totally. I'm a bad guy, but I still get to break the rules because I know I'm a bad guy.

Andrea Martucci: He justifies somebody's got to take control. I'm really better than other people who could be doing this. And he definitely has the, like I'm taking out the trash. And there is literally somebody who recognizes him on the street and he's like, good job, man.

So the world that this author has created is a world in which not only does he think that he's not the worst. He knows he likes killing people, but he also is kind of like, well, I only kill really bad people. And it also constructs a world in which other people recognize that as well.

Fangirl Jeanne: And so part of what I think is interesting is that this book, because it disregards a lot of the boundaries around what we would normally want in a love interest, and to make everybody seem like that they're good people falling in love is a disregard to those boundaries. I think to some extent, in a reaction to media pieces, like I've talked about Hannibal, Killing Eve, Dexter, who is a criminal forensic blood analyst

Andrea Martucci: blood splatter analyst,

Fangirl Jeanne: Serial killer, who was groomed by his police officer, adopted father to be a good serial killer killing only criminals that he himself has to vet and prove are bad people. Like I'm like, I see where all of these media pieces came into play to construct this story and allow someone to a find that type of person attractive, and then construct a woman who could also find that person attractive while also this is the part that I think is fascinating. The construction of London's character in which she gets to be a serial killer, but she doesn't know, or won't admit initially, that she's a serial killer. She gets to be a genius, manipulator psychologist, even though she's in her mid twenties because she got a GED at 16 and went to college, la la la,

Andrea Martucci: And is the foremost expert in her field at what, 28 or something.

Fangirl Jeanne: Yes. And I'm like what in the Doogie Howser is this shit. But anyway, but romance again, does that all the time. He's a world-class architect at the age of 25, What?!?

Exactly. So again, like she gets to have power, but she also is somewhat victimized.

So it being revealed that her dad was a serial killer [00:18:00] killing teenage girls. And then it being revealed that he's not really her dad, but she was a victim as well, but she was too young for him when he kidnapped her and her sister, like all these things.

And I'm like, oh, okay. So she gets to be a victim, but not really, there was an attempted rape of her, but she doesn't get raped. And what is that balance telling us about how we look at female leads in romance? How we allow women to have power, but not have power.

And what are the parallels of that in other series, like where we get the uber powered, vampire witch girl, but she's 18. And she's paired with a guy who is a thousand year old, werewolf lair d who's her soulmate and it's been hibernating for hundreds of years before he finds - and I'm like, okay, so she has power, but she's a child. And she can't control her power. So we get to have the fantasy that she has a lot of power and is very desirable, but she really doesn't have a lot of power. And she really is like very vulnerable. Within the dynamics of the relationship has less power. And that's, what's interesting about this too, if like it does the thing where it tells you over and over again, look how powerful, look how clever she is. And even the second book, it has to actually tell you that she's the dominant in the relationship, even though it's really doesn't seem that way. Cause she's like really insecure in the second book of

Andrea Martucci: my God. Yeah.

Fangirl Jeanne: oh, there was some kind of weird like faux dissociative, identity disorder stuff that they played around with her

Andrea Martucci: And I decided like, when I was writing my summary, I was like, do I get into that? And I was like, no, cause it literally doesn't matter

Fangirl Jeanne: just there and this is the part that I'm like, but, no, because this is done in other things it's just magical or possession or something, but like it plays with the concept that she might have an alter that she's a system, which is the technical and that actually just exists primarily to create a tiny bit of possible conflict in the relationship that gets resolved through sexual play involving the alter or something. It's weird.

Andrea Martucci: So exactly that dynamic you were talking about with the thousand year old vampire or the powerful duke billionaire, blah, blah, blah, whoever who she has power, because she has power over him, which we talked about last time when we talked about Manacled. But also this idea that she has power, but he has the power to release her power because she doesn't realize she's a serial killer. She has repressed the memory of manipulating her clients into killing themselves. When I realized that's what the book was doing.

Wait, what? She like had built up this like fantasy that she had like really helped her patients. And they were like able to go on and somewhat rehabilitate themselves or oh, they're not a harm to anybody. And they were all just like killing them. I don't buy it all that she's like this amazing master [00:21:00] manipulator at all. But then this whole idea that she's just got this like selective weird memory and he figured it out and he knows how to release her via torture.

Does this not sound a lot, like the construction of women who aren't able to find physical release until they meet the hero where they have this sensual power within them, but they themselves cannot release it. And no other partner, if there was one, was ever able to release it, but suddenly in bed, or on the desk, or in front of a vat of a dead body, he knows, he is the one who has the key to unlock this potential within her and allow her to be her true self, which is a huge theme in this.

Where it talks about all the people who follow rules as these like pathetic herd mentality followers. They're weak. They can't imagine a different way. And they're missing out on the true freedom, the liberatory relief of just doing whatever the hell you want whenever you want and not following society's rules.

Fangirl Jeanne: Would we call them (ahem) sheeple.

Andrea Martucci: We would call them sheeple. This book would call them sheeple. Trisha Wolfe (meaningful pause) would call them sheeple.

Fangirl Jeanne: (both laughing) Absolutely and I was going to say ding ding, ding, patriarchy, baby. Absolutely. That is what's so funny to me.

Wheeling back, you asked did I find stuff enjoyable about this? What I liked was underneath all of the very obvious stuff that I was like, oh yeah.

Okay. Whatever straight lady.

Andrea Martucci: We all live in fear. We all are driven by our compulsions

by the way, that was us reenacting the tone of this book and perhaps some of the actual prose.

Fangirl Jeanne: What I liked about it was just how, I don't think on purpose. It was so obvious about all the things it was doing and all the pieces of media that it was glomming together. For me, the power play between them how interesting and obvious in how the violence, her murderous whatever that was, as you said, a stand in for her sexuality. And for me, I was just like, this is so fascinating. This idea of rather than the hero or love interest unlocking her sensuality, he's unlocking her appetite to murder.

This series gave me an insight into why that idea is so appealing and why it specifically is absolutely being packaged as empowerment when it absolutely is not.

Also we talked about this in DMS about how the series is 100% copaganda. And how few people talk about the fact that serial killer media is 100% copaganda because they think that, oh copaganda means that [00:24:00] it's glorifying the police.

What it's glorifying is the idea that we can tell the difference between good people and bad people and that we need to over police, because t he police, their hands are tied by bureaucracy. That's why we see things where like the heroic, supposedly good cops will break into houses without warrants.

They will torture and beat people in interrogation. Across media, when a person asks for a lawyer, literally exercising their civil rights, that is coded as an admission of guilt. And so across the board, these things, and especially in media, that is glorifying antagonistic type, characters like, Hannibal, Dexter and whatnot.

It's still falling into this idea of enforcing a very specific type of morality onto people and being able to violate those people's rights based on a sense of right and wrong. Like Hannibal, it's always the funny, oh, he punished his, the rude, but that's still constructed on, an idea of who's good, who's bad, who deserves to live and who dies.

And also the rush of power of being able to decide who lives or dies. And that these two characters are repeating a lot of that philosophy as if they are the ones who see better and appealing to that idea within everybody who likes vigilante media. That's Batman.

That's why people like Batman, even though he is literally a millionaire who could save Gotham.

Andrea Martucci: he could build infrastructure. Look. If he actually cared about law and order, at the very least he could fund the police if that's what he thought was needed, but he doesn't do that. He doesn't build a social safety net. He also doesn't fund the supposed justice system. He chooses to take matters into his own hands because he can use his resources better because he's a genius and has resources and has physical power and all of these things.

It's interesting when you start thinking about it, how connected a lot of, the heroes in our media are. Like Dr. House. House is a detective. It's like the medical version of Sherlock Holmes, like explicitly, but you think about Dr. House is allowed to do all these are moral things and rudeness and all of that, because he's always right. He's always the one who solves the case. He's always the one who saves the life of somebody who can be saved. And that excuses everything that he does.

The undercurrents of vigilantism, of true crime stories, narrative forces that are shaping how we interpret the actions of everybody in the news, in fictional stories, across media, that we interpret there is this very clear all's well, that ends well. The means don't matter.

And [00:27:00] certain people, if in the end of the day they solve the problem who cares how they get there. But that is very much built in an idealized fictionalized version of reality where it is knowable who the good guy is where people are in this binary of good and bad.

And as we were talking about last time, there's no context that is necessary to understand what's going on, where people are more complex than just being all good or all bad. And these stories always really rely on the idea that there's this wealth of completely immoral amoral villains running around. Pedophiles, rapists, people who are easy to symbolically just attach, lacking humanity to. I'm not saying there are not rapists and there are not pedophiles. And there are not people who do all sorts of gruesome crimes, but the majority of people who are in jail for crimes, it's property crimes or drug related, or, let's be honest, they're in there because of racism. That is not the majority of crime that happens in this country. And it's certainly not the majority of what is prosecuted and punished in this country and probably other countries too.

But I'm just going to speak from the U S because I know what the best,

Fangirl Jeanne: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: So Jeanne, what do you , hmm- what are some reasons in a hetero patriarchal capitalist, racist system, et cetera, that women and people might find serial killers in dark romance to be romantic figures?

And I'm just going to put a little asterisk here. I'm asking why women would find the serial killers in dark romance here. I'm not sure if that's actually the right question. I'm not sure if it is people, but I want to just be aware that there are socialization forces at play here and that women are socialized differently.

And also that while we are talking about a story with a male main character and a female main character in a romantic relationship. These dynamics are not limited to MF romance. Like these dynamics can show up in any relationship with characters of any gender, because this is the water that we are swimming in.

This is the world that we are all growing up in. And we're talking about like the harmful forces that kind of shape us and how we a view the world. And then B respond to the world or are taught to respond to the world. That was a long caveat,

Fangirl Jeanne: No, it's true why would these particular types of characters be attractive?

First off, Funny enough. Most of these characters are really just like most protagonists in most media, this is an idealized form of masculinity that functions above the law. So he has not only the skill to be a powerful man, but he also operates outside of systems. And so that's even more of a social power.

And then again, that he is a killer, but doesn't kill her, makes her, very powerful, over a very powerful man, a man that even is more [00:30:00] powerful than existing social systems. That's an attractive aspect.

And you talked about House and how he gets away with breaking rules because he's a genius and he always solves it at the end. We're used to talking about toxic masculinity, big bulging muscles, and really strong physically athletic. But we don't talk a lot about what I call aristocratic patriarchy, which almost always deals with non-physical traits of masculinity that's idealized. In fact it's a feature of colonialism and white supremacy of the idea of the intellect of that white man is better, greater, superior, not only to women, white women, but all people of color as well.

Like intellectual ableism is everywhere. We could a whole separate thing just about how it is so insidious in our culture that we literally will not point out someone being cruel, rude, violent, we will call them less intelligent. We will call them stupid. We, and again, similarly, we will call them mentally ill. We'll call them crazy.

And that 100% is rooted in racism and it's rooted in eugenics too.

So we have to ask ourselves, where did this come from, especially this idea of the genius criminal, who almost always is white and always a man both in fiction and in true crime media, like for example Ted Bundy he's such a genius. He wasn't a genius. He was not a genius. He was not that smart. He was just like a sad dude that he got dumped by a girl he really liked. And he took it out violently on other women that looked like her. The dude is not special. The reason he went so long without getting caught is police were fucking incompetent and 99% of the time, the glorious, elusive serial killer stories are not about how smart a criminal they were. It was about how incompetent police are and how like even now we still have, different districts of police that don't talk to each other. And that witnesses and victims aren't believed.

Why we romanticize these ideas is feeding into this idea that not only are these men, super powerful, but that by virtue then makes the systems that can't catch them or that do eventually catch them seems so powerful.

And that's where we get the idea of the hero detective who's opposite of the genius serial killer, it absolutely comes from this idea of that by building up the criminal, you build up the system, that's trying to catch the criminal and it really is just patriarchy making their own propaganda to make themselves look good.

And what's really interesting, is when you read through a lot of these fictional crime thrillers, what you're seeing is it's really difficult to tell the difference [00:33:00] between the good guy and the bad guy, because they're literally the same.

Andrea Martucci: they're doing the exact same things,

Fangirl Jeanne: and it's even more obvious when you go back and look at it. I've been doing a lot of research on serial killers and how much of what the lore around them is so much constructed by anti-gay, patriarchal ideas of what's a normal guy versus an abnormal, mentally ill man, who would do this as if normal regular guys wouldn't do this.

Ed Gein, who, murdered two women, but also exhumed the bodies of other women. His closest relationship with his mother and you'll see this throughout all kinds of media, especially, fictionalized of the bad mother is the reason the guy was a serial killer. Norman Bates, who was based on Ed Gein.

You'll see this again and again, where it's being told to us that bad women are the reason that men are killers.

Andrea Martucci: And also Ted Bundy spurned by a woman. If only that woman had loved him, it's her fault that all his victims died. Cause she didn't rehabilitate him.

Fangirl Jeanne: right. She didn't care. She hurt him. The reason this idea is appealing to women? Probably a better way I could say it is that we're taught those of us who've been socialized as girls, we're taught to believe that it's all our responsibility, both how we present ourselves, but also, via dress codes, via how our sexuality is policed, we are taught that we're responsible for men's sexuality, as much as our own. And a way that you can process that trauma is to say maybe I could fix it. Like I could protect myself from this bad stuff by carrying weapons when I go out at night, by not wearing short skirts, by loving bad men, because that's all they need.

They just had a bad mother. And then if I loved them, if I stick with them through this, then I have control over the situation. There is a false sense of empowerment that can come from consuming true crime consuming, horror movies, consuming the terrorizing and murder of women from this idea that, in these controlled environments of we know how the story ends, we know what she did wrong, then we're gonna figure out how to not do that, or we're going to come up with ideas, how to fix it.

And so these narratives, especially like this one where it is a power fantasy for this woman to not only be a genius psychologist who can manipulate these bad men into killing themselves. So she doesn't even have to actually kill them and, do any masculine type of actions. But that her genius can be recognized by a man who's incredibly powerful and dangerous as well. And his passion for her, makes him [00:36:00] a better person or at least her monster rather than a general monster and that she can control the situation through his passion for her without her ever having to really enact direct violence.

Like I think it's very fascinating that the times in which she kills, especially in the second book, he is always there and so much so that she puts her hand on his hand when they kill someone with a knife and that he's holding a guy as she kills him. Each time he functioning as a conduit for her to access violence much in the way that a lot of other romances, a man acts as a conduit for a woman to access her sexuality in an approved way.

That's fascinating to me because that's talking about how we're still adhering to patriarchal rules about what women can and can't do. And it is fascinating that even in a story where we're allowing a woman to be a serial killer, to fall in love with the serial killer and they get to kill people together but yet, somehow she still can't fucking escape patriarchy.

Andrea Martucci: I mean, I found myself very distracted in this story by what seemed to be a lot of internalized misogyny that like seeped out of the pores of every line. Part of the world building is that everybody is a sheeple, but them, and part of the way that you know, that everybody is a sheeple is all of the men are weak, pathetic, and ruled by their impulses or ruled by women who are all of the worst stereotypes of shrewish, controlling, women who use their sexuality and childbearing-ness to control men.

It got so blatant where one of Grayson's weird things is that as he goes through the world, he can just instantly assess everybody's problems.

So he sees a woman on the bus asleep in a waitress outfit. This mother who has worked all day as a waitress and her daughter is there. And he instantly judges her because how dare she fall asleep and not watch over her daughter on this bus? Where a creepy man, i.e. him, could hurt her daughter and conveniently he also notices that she has track marks. So she's a bad mother and he decides that he's going to scare the shit out of this woman by telling the daughter who's not afraid of him because obviously she recognizes that he's a good man who isn't going to hurt her, a complete innocent, he's like, oh, tell your mother that the Angel of Maine is going to find her if she doesn't stop doing drugs and stop falling asleep on the bus with you.

So he goes around and is telling everybody else how to live their lives. And can instantly tell that everybody is falling short. Women, bad mothers. She's obviously raising her daughter on her own and working to exhaustion and has a weakness that he uses to morally judge her and threaten to kill her for.

There's a cab driver at some point, and he [00:39:00] instantly assesses that this guy is tired and this woman keeps calling him on the phone and there's an OB GYN card. And he can instantly tell that this guy's girlfriend got pregnant and needs a serial killer to tell him to quit being a cab driver and go be with his girlfriend.

It's so weird, at every turn, there is a demanding woman, the landlord's wife is going to sneak around and snoop in his apartment, where she shouldn't be. Because that's what women do. They don't have their own power. So they have to seek to get power through men by trapping them, by getting pregnant, by using their resources. They fail when they have any sort of power of their own, like being a single parent, it was just like literally every page. I was like, oh my God, we get it Trisha women suck.

And we know that people are villains cause they're overweight. The fat phobia is just One of the characters that we're to understand is weak and pathetic has gained a lot of weight recently. And then they make multiple on page jabs at this person. The language around it was just contemptful.

Everybody is weak. Everybody who falls prey to all of these sins that Grayson and London think are the worst possible things. And yet, somehow these same urges that are so contemptible and make everybody else weak, they are also driven by their urges. And yet this is what makes them strong.

Every single person on earth is terrible, except for these two people and Grayson thinks everybody's terrible, except her. And she proves that she's the only one that's worthy of him. Not just by existing, she also has to prove herself by escaping his traps, by showing that she is the only one worthy of being granted his power and rising above the sheeple .

Fangirl Jeanne: And these themes are common through a lot of romance A lot of media in general. So I want to point out that internalized misogyny, especially in the Smurfette dynamic in which there's only one girl and it's the heroine and she's better than all the other girls. I'm not like other girls. We see this dynamic over and over again. And I think it's really important to point out that not only stems from misogyny and patriarchy, but specifically a type of white supremacy, that's about individualism, that's anti community.

There can only be one, there is a chosen one, there's a chosen dude. And then likewise, there's a chosen woman. And the idea that part of how white supremacy works is that it isolates people from each other. It segregates them into separate communities, but it never community builds.

It does not want people to work together because once people work together, then we start to see each other's humanity. And that goes against making the rarefied ideal of the singular billionaire, who will save us all with all of his money and his sexiness and his, BDSM [00:42:00] red dungeon.

The same thing with the women, like women cannot have community. If she wants to be special, if she wants to be good, if she wants to be desirable, she cannot have friends around her. That subtle subtext especially rom com movies that are sold as women movies, but they're really more for men and they're more for those patriarchal ideas of men just can't do anything, so women's gotta fix them. Those things are just reinforcing ideas. Again, putting burdens on women while also isolating them and not allowing them to have support systems that could possibly make them realize that they don't actually need these piece of shit dudes. Weaponized incompetence.

So I think it's important when we talk about like internalized misogyny and how it comes out in stories where the only other women in the story are evil. Queer and evil or competition, that's coming from an idea that women have to isolate themselves. And that is a problem with the character and that we should be looking at characters regardless of gender. And if they don't have a support system, if they don't have friends that exist outside of this relationship, then what's going on with them? That's a problem.

And this the same thing for the guy, like if he does not have a family or a support system, and let's think about how often in stories we get orphans, we get lone wolves, like again, we're seeing this genre that almost, we're seeking to find what is essentially family. That's what romantic relationships are, a way to create family without giving birth to somebody or being blood related to them. So it's so fascinating that idea of creating family has an aspect of it, which I totally seen is rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy, if that isolating yourself from any other actual family. So that it's only just you and him. And and that's also capitalism.

Andrea Martucci: The billionaire fantasy is not, I'm going to harness this billionaire's power to make the world better. The billionaire's power only benefits the heroine in most cases. It's a fantasy of, this lone wolf will choose this f emale partner to be his chosen one mate, and then they are going to go on being excellent together.

Nobody else is allowed in there and they're hoarding resources, which sounds a lot like capitalism.

This book loved to talk about nature versus nurture. And like everything was either like a statement on just inherently what people are. Like, people are inherently good or bad. People are inherently weak or strong. And that sounds a lot like white supremacy. That sounds a lot like the foundation of eugenics which somehow has come up a lot. These conversations.

Fangirl Jeanne: Absolutely. The whole, like you brought it up with the the anti-fat ness and throughout the books. And honestly I've read other Wolfe books, it's all throughout the [00:45:00] books. So this is a thing, but you also see in just the way that the quote, unquote, bad people, the pedophiles and rapists are written they're described in a way, it's very clear that it's leaning heavily on socialized ideas that are rooted in eugenics that you can tell whether somebody's good or bad by how they look. And that is absolutely an aspect of anti-fat.

But also, this has always been a thing for me as someone who's consumed a lot of horror and a lot of crime thrillers is that lazy writing. You can always tell if someone has put in real effort or if they want you to sympathize with the person doing bad things who the author creator wants you to sympathize based on who's the quote-unquote ugliest person in the room. If somebody is sweaty, but not in a sexy way. Does somebody have dirty clothes? Or do they look unkempt? Do do they possibly have darker skin than another person in the room? If someone is not adhering to the social ideas of what is considered attractive, almost always, that's going to be the bad person.

And regardless of whatever, the conventionally attractive person is doing to them, it's going to be justified some way in the narrative, but off the bat, that narrative is mirroring back to me that I can tell who's good or bad based on how attractive they are. And that is that is an easy shorthand for bad writing in conflicts when you have the good guys and the bad guys across mediums: movies, comic books, romance novels, especially, and you will see how much those ideas of who you can see signaled as good or bad is based on bigotry. 100%. It used to be really obvious back in the day because they were just Native Americans or white people in brown faces, Native Americans, and they didn't need to do anything else.

You knew they were bad guys because look at them or they were the Mexicans, like again, white dudes mustaches.

Andrea Martucci: Also, they act differently than what is considered acceptable. And obviously this is played up in these stories explicitly, You can cast everything that is done as, savagery, and not like us, other, they look different, they act different. They don't have the same norms as us, which is an incredible threat in these stories. And when you combine both the repetition of conventions of the other always being bad, threatening evil, et cetera, with beauty standards that are white supremacist and capitalist have all of these underpinnings of the same shit, where guess who's considered more attractive. White people with European features, lighter skin, considered slim, dressed in a particular way. These all become markers of attractiveness. So not only do you have the otherness, but then also what is [00:48:00] considered attractive and desirable is shaped to be what is familiar, what we see over and over and over again, reinforced as these are the good guys.

You can tell it's the good guy, because he rides in on a white horse and it's not just that character is always the hero, it's that everything around them supports that they're the hero. It ends with them winning. So of course they're the best, right? And these guys are dead on the battlefield. Of course they're not good. Nobody cares what they were doing or what their motivation was because we're not telling their story. So all of this just continues building and building in our minds.

And you're talking about this is lazy story writing because there's no thought gone into Hmm, how am I going to characterize the character that I don't want you to like, okay, make him flabby. Ooh, that's how you'll know. They're disheveled, they're huffing and puffing.

It's not just a neutral description of this character. The language that is used is supposed to reinforce this contempt and disgust and distaste for this character, and then reinforced by their actions that shows them repeatedly to be weak and pathetic and easily outsmarted by these God-like beings who are naturally imbued with superiority.

Fangirl Jeanne: it's confirmation bias.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Fangirl Jeanne: 100%. You brought up something in DMS. There's a scene in which the quote unquote pedophile that we know is the bad one who is in one of his traps. And he's talking about the kids that he preyed on and she notices that he gets a hard on and the framing of that is that, oh, it's further proof that he's disgusting.

Right? And then you mentioned, you're like, but doesn't Grayson in the beginning of the first book, talk about getting hard ons while he's torturing people?! London gets turned on about watching people be horrifically tortured, and yet that's different. Again, this is such a revealing thing to show us of what we consider to be horrifying and what we consider to be, whew, titillatingly, whew quote unquote taboo. I hate that word.

Andrea Martucci: I think the edge lord description is really accurate.

Fangirl Jeanne: Absolutely. And that there is somehow an appropriate, non bad way to be turned on by human suffering. And if you're a flabby dude in a dirty shirt, who's being turned on by thinking about how you've tortured children, which is a reinforced thing the genre of like with Dexter, his first murder in episode one that we see on screen is a pedophile. And he himself says, I am a killer. I know what this is like, but never women and children.

And I'm like, oh, okay, first off that is linking the idea that grown adult women are as weak and vulnerable as children. Woo. But but then again, it's also telling us clearly stating to us a morality that aligns [00:51:00] with the audience.

Well, Yeah, no, I would never want children to be killed. I must side with this guy who even though he's about to kill this other dude, I agree with him. And that's how narratives can construct a form of confirmation bias that we don't even realize we're being pulled into.

And we don't realize how that reflects how we view the rest of the world and other people. And a great example of this is thug. Cause I see a lot of people use this, especially just in casual conversation. And it's been brought up by the Black community, especially on social media that is a loaded word. It's been a loaded word. It's been a racialized word for a long time. A lot of white people ain't go it means criminal. No it doesn't. And we have a very particular visual conception of what we think that means. And especially those of us who grew up in the nineties and watched a lot of media that sensationalized the crack epidemic specifically in California.

And that was absolutely I like I can see in my head all the many times in media, especially television, Cops, the TV show we were reinforced that the face of violence and terror, even to other Black people were Black men, Black, young men. And that solidified in our head to the point that we could see those young men being gunned down in films and we were only sympathetic for the ones who were following the white ideals of going to college of being respectful of authority. We could only sympathize with those young Black men dying, but the other ones were faceless, characterless forces of violence. That, again, that's copaganda, that leaks out into other genres of how we construct who's a good person. Who's a bad person and how we can tell so, in a narrative right off the bat, just based on a couple of things.

Andrea Martucci: To come back to the word thug for a second. I don't actually know the etymology here, but let's just imagine maybe in the late 18 hundreds, early 19 hundreds, the word thug is starting to be used. In those days, like Irish and Italian guys are racialized other as well.

So the definition of whiteness now different from in the past. So even thinking back to probably when this term started to be used, it was always, probably talking about a racialized other.

I want to talk about body size because I think thugs certainly connotes a sort of like large ness like you're big, but you're dumb. You're doing things at somebody else's behest

Fangirl Jeanne: The big and the dumb, right? Like again, there's that association of someone's intellect being associated with their body type again, which also is associated with their class, which then also associates them with criminal behavior.

And it plays into this idea of the bad criminal is not as intelligent as the [00:54:00] brilliant criminal who is always the thin white, usually rich guy.

Andrea Martucci: I thought there was like this really fascinating review about these Born Darkly books that was like, I can't get into this because he got caught. And I was like, oh, so you're on board with everything else. And the problem you had that he got caught, and that was a sign of weakness.

But that is such a truism: the smart criminal doesn't get caught. And of course he gets caught. So then he can like enact his brilliant plan. It's just further proof of like how he's outsmarting everybody. There's not a jail that can hold him. He's invincible essentially.

But to come back to body size specifically, it's very interesting because big white men are desirable. Big men who are not white, for example, they're Black or brown or big women, are undesirable, which I think gets into that intersection of both the heteropatriarchy and also racism and white supremacy, where on the one hand, we have to reinforce this gender essentialism about men being big and women being smaller.

And this is so prevalent in heterosexual romance especially, but also I think you can see these dynamics play out in queer relationships as well, where there's like the larger partner who is considered dominant and more masculine and the smaller partner who is femme or the more submissive partner.

Isn't it interesting how big white man desirable, but big Black man threatening potentially thug. so, Hmm. okay. Interesting. But then also the gender essential ism of consistently reinforcing the desirability of big man, small woman. This is transmisogyny as well, because it also then reinforces the idea that for example, a trans woman who is large is threatening because it's assuming size as threat and women are supposed to be small. So therefore being a large woman, because you're a trans woman or, fatphobia, particularly with women where to be a large woman, you're taking up space, you're threatening, you have too much power.

And therefore you are a threat

Fangirl Jeanne: And that's the gender essentialism goes all the way around, right? Cause I think that there is a great deal of gender essential ism in the queer coding of male villains who are weaker. They are a effeminate, not adhering to the ideals of toxic masculinity yet somehow are still a sexual threat to the woman. And need to be stomped out by men. Like we see transphobia, anti-trans sentiment and ideas exists throughout all of how we define who's the woman in the story that we're [00:57:00] supposed to identify with. Who's the man in the story who we like or desire or want her to be with. That is reinforcing our own bias about who we think deserves love.

Who we think is attractive or a sexually appealing as well as by virtue of that, who does not qualify to be in this who and the ideas of how all that's reinforced, even in physical descriptions, about like how delicate she is, how pale.

Once you realize how much white supremacy is in romance, you will not be able to unsee the pale creamy, Milky, like all of the codes for white skin that you see describing women in romance and all of the weirdly ways that like the hero, the strong man, his skin has to be a little bit darker, but not too dark.

But, sun kissed or, of slightly caramel, but it's masculinized and how that idea also can reinforce why we might reject stories where there's a Black heroine or fat heroin e or even a fat male love interest and how that may seem novel, because our society and our media has coded a fat guy as undesirable. We don't want his attention. He's the guy that it's in the quote unquote friend zone. Or he's a physical threat to the woman.

Andrea Martucci: The strength of the size it's masculinity associated with larger and stronger and powerful. And because of all of the connotations that we associate with fatness is weakness. It's moral and physical weakness, it's not strength. And so physical size desirable, but not fatness.

Fangirl Jeanne: The ableism in these books, which are a huge aspect of how we characterize who's good and bad. I remember laughing a lot.

Andrea Martucci: If you're searching for a quote, I bet you, I have it highlighted. What are you thinking of?

Fangirl Jeanne: There's so many, so I just want to see yours

Andrea Martucci: oh no, I've got the perfect one. Are you ready for the one about Hitler?

Fangirl Jeanne: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. This is Grayson's head.

"We are predisposed to violence because it exists in the very atoms we're made of. Murder. War. Hitler. Ghengis Kahn, Alexander The Great. They killed in the thousands. Millions. They killed for power. They wielded fear and mercy as a weapon. Evil in its purest form. Civilizations were built on the blood they shed.

I've heard scholars argue that these men were mad, but what is genius if not madness? Mental illness is a common euphemism for evil. Very few sadistic killers are actually insane. Quite the opposite. They have to be in control of all of their facilities to get away with murder. And to profit from it.

Someone has to wield that fear, that power, and those who are too weak to stomach the natural order can [01:00:00] only hide and judge from their safe corners. We are gods and we must be feared. I laughed to myself. Or I'm probably just insane."

Fangirl Jeanne: That was like a perfect summation of the completely fucked up and flawed thinking behind all of it. It's really important, yes. Grayson is a serial killer. Yes. He's a bad guy. At no point in either books, does the narrative ever challenge his thinking? If anything, it reinforces it. And it is absolutely echoed by London in her own internal monologues.

First off I absolutely hate the whole, like war is in your nature to destroy yourselves. It's really important to understand that our whole historical text and perspective widely constructed by white colonialism and down to the point that we measure technology based on weaponry. It's really important to undo that whole narrative of mankind is destined to destroy itself. No, No. Capitalism is destined to destroy itself

Andrea Martucci: Because it's about power and domination

Fangirl Jeanne: Yeah, and consumption and continued, unfettered consumption, and eventually you're just eating yourself. My most popular way to get an argument about this topic, it's talking about Terminator Judgment Day where that is a thing that's repeated by a murder bot to human beings.

And I'm like we had indigenous cultures existing in the Americas for thousands of years, like civilizations, thousands of years with agriculture, intercultural systems of trade. Just look up the history of yams in the south Pacific. Fascinating. Anyway

Andrea Martucci: I'm looking at my bookshelf cause I got that book, An Indigenous People's History of the United States talking about how complex the political system was and yams.

Fangirl Jeanne: And like that the constitution is based on Native American culture. So like this idea that war and violence are a natural product of human nature it is absolutely bullshit. And it's based in racist science, that actually was a product of colonialism use to rationalize owning human beings and slaughtering human beings, specifically indigenous people and Africans. And I think it's really important for us to deconstruct that. I'm sorry. So I had to just do my little, like I got it up to my stand and said my peace about that.

But like the other part, I love the let's just list bad things, Hitler. I love those because you see that in media too. like the bad things,

Andrea Martucci: But I didn't miss the part where essentially he's like, yeah, I'm like Hitler. Some people call them genius. Some people call me a genius. What's the difference? I don't know.

Fangirl Jeanne: And that idea like of that greatness and badness that is [01:03:00] like propaganda. Colonial imperialism, loves that. Another great version. I see people unironically quote this who are fans of Game of Thrones, is that every time a Targaryan is born the gods flip a coin and it's greatness or madness, and people try to justify it too, because incest is an aspect. In that story, again, reflecting real history of incest in families. Again, ableism, because you're assuming that incest always produces some kind of mental illness.

But you're also characterizing mental illness as a bad thing. And at no point, are you ever looking at the fact that the people who told you these things, the people who are telling you these histories and telling you how these great men went mad and did these things are all white dudes in power who did terrible things like genocide, sexual assault, enslaving people, and we're trying to justify well, I did terrible things, but it was great as well. We wouldn't have this great nation if we had -no, not really. It was a great nation before you came and killed a bunch of people and replaced it with your "great nation."

So again, it's following a very simple pattern that we see in all kinds of media that justifies specifically men's violent behavior. And tries to let glorify it by calling genius or madness. Ooh. But it's not it's really just justifying violence and specifically men justifying their violence without having to like really dig into it.

And an aspect of that is he's mentally ill, which we see that reflected in media right now. Like news media, whenever a white guy shoots a bunch of people. No, he was mentally

ill or he


Andrea Martucci: He needs help, but that Black guy over there, he deserved to have a cop decide right then and there that he was guilty and be put to death.

Fangirl Jeanne: Again oh, he's no angel. And again, we have been indoctrinated. We have absorbed these racial ideals of what's a thug and what's just a misguided young man. And those archetypes are reinforced in this media that tries to tell us that when a white guy does murder, he's a tortured genius and when a Black man does murder, he's just a thug, he's just a criminal. He was born to be a criminal. And then that enforces our ability to sympathize with one more than the other and informs these fantasies of that. We're going to have fantasies about criminals, but only if they're white criminals. And we've talked about this before about mafia and mafia romance is huge, but primarily only focusing on white mafia, so Irish, Italian, Russian mafia, and I'm waiting for the Yakuza romances.

I'm waiting like the. And [01:06:00] any, you only find like criminal romance involving Black men typically it's only like an urban romance, which is primarily written by Black women and some Black men. I'm looking for the soap opera level of like criminal things. But again, I look at these things and I recognize that what the market is appealing to is a white sensibility who wants the social stigma as part of the titillation of what makes the romantic and sexual relationship exciting.

Andrea Martucci: And this book is not subtle ever. We were talking about erections earlier and I like sent you a note " Power is an erect penis" and then like the next line I read was I was like, oh, she literally just wrote this in the text.

How much more obvious can you get about what is strong masculinity? What is weak masculinity? Enforcing that masculinity is tied to a penis is transphobic and gender essentialist. So there's this point at which they are together going to murder this guy who is obviously a rapist. They can tell just by looking at him because he tried to hit on a woman and of course the narrative enforces, he is a rapist. He is a rapist. Okay. Like they, weren't just wildly guessing and they have a delusion in their head that this guy's a rapist, he's a rapist. Okay. So they've kind of captured him and he goes,

"what are you undercover? The man's spits. This is entrapment, Grayson jabs the point of the knife deeper. Come on. You're smarter than that. Would a cop use a switchblade? The guy says nothing. How's our friend doing? Grayson asks me. And this is in London's point of view. I let my gaze rove downward. A little wilted. His once erect penis now flops, flacidly over his open jeans. Grayson has stolen his power, his control, his virility."

This rapist captures London in an alley, and when he thinks he has the power, he has an erection because that's where you keep your power when you're a man, of course, in this text. And when Grayson shows up and asserts his dominance as the true predator with power, now he has robbed this other man of his power. I E with his wilted penis.

It's so on the nose you're like reading it and you're like, oh, okay I get it. And then "Grayson has stolen his power, his control, his virility." It's like, thanks, Trisha.

Fangirl Jeanne: It is so funny because it reeks of somebody who's read psychological textbooks but does not understand that the whole idea of that is in his mind, it is not a real thing. It is how the rapist sees sex, sees a situation. That's how he sees it. And so often London's internal monologue, it is repeating psychology without understanding the context of it and just regurgitating it as if it's true analysis of human behavior when it's no, no, no, like that's what's happening.

right? This is, [01:09:00] but again this is an aspect of the ableism throughout this.

So a lot of times what we're seeing in media is a regurgitation of a misunderstanding of someone's psychological disorder or what has been portrayed by police in the quote unquote justice system justifying imprisoning or, punishing marginalized people based on these mythological ideas about criminal behavior, that you can profile someone's psychology and tell, it's the same thing. It's the same thing of you can tell whether someone's good or bad based on looking at them. It's a version of that of, you can tell whether someone is mentally ill or not based on these 50 questions that a certified experts going to ask them and just know. Again, like that's not how any of that works.

And it's really dangerous because a lot of the ways in which we characterize, especially in fictional media, the sociopaths or psychopaths are honestly listing a lot of the same criteria for diagnosing autism and other neurotypes which, it's dehumanizing first. And it's a misunderstanding of how neurological types, other than what we think is normal, how they function and how someone's inability to be able to understand emotions does not mean they don't have them.

And inability to empathize in the way that we consider is neuro-typical empathy does not mean somebody doesn't have the ability to have compassion or sympathy with other people. So like all of these levels, all of these stereotypes of like he's dead in the eyes, lots of people can't make eye contact or imitate social emotions in their face and their expressions.

And that has nothing to do with whether or not they have sympathy or compassion.

And you see that a lot in especially true crime media where people go, you can tell, look how dead in the eyes he is. No, you can tell because he was convicted of all these murders or he confessed and that, and now you're going back and trying to diagnose him based on the fact that you already know he did these things. And now you're just picking up on behavior that you think indicates someone is this mythological, evil person with no emotions and no soul, which isn't true.

That's not how that works. And a majority of the people who do violence for reasons that our media justifies as good and right it's recontextualized into a fictional narrative that says, you know what, it's understandable that he murdered his wife Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Andrea Martucci: Do you mean things like war or the justice system like the death penalty or like what police do or.

Fangirl Jeanne: Isn't that question, though, so you did the survey. What's the difference between someone killing as a soldier on a battlefield and someone killing someone in a bar fight [01:12:00] right.

Andrea Martucci: that's answer.

Fangirl Jeanne: the right. It's context. Rather than going then that means we can do whatever we want because context - no. That means we need to be much more focused and understanding about what went into the choices that were made behind those actions, because we want a simplistic answer if that person's not bad and that person's good but none of these situations are that simple.

Ooh, who would keep dead body, parts of a human being as trophies? American soldiers. You can Google World War II human body part trophies, something like that. A lot of World War two soldiers, especially in the Pacific conflict, brought home pieces of Japanese soldiers that they took as trophies and some families still own those pieces of bodies.

Andrea Martucci: It's almost like when you dehumanize someone, you no longer have the same problem with what you do to that person or do with their body or the same rules don't apply because it's almost like they're not a human to you anymore.

It feels like people are perfectly capable of doing these things if the first step in the process is turning that person into not a human.

Fangirl Jeanne: Right. Okay. Now think of that and think of how many different romance fantasies, fantasy romance, or even science fiction uses non-human characters as cannon fodder for their heroes to be able to just plow through people. We talked about this previously. I'm not saying that I'm immune to this and I'm not judging people.

I talked about how hot it was to see Draco Malfoy plow through a crowd of death eaters, and just fucking murder everyone. What I'm saying is we need to recognize how we make those choices and what works with us.

Another great example in pop culture is the first Matrix movie. And it's the lobby scene. I used to have it as a screensaver on my computer, and it is them mowing down human beings in the coolest, slow motion action scene that people still love to this day but even within the context of the film, they are killing people. Those are human beings. Of course, the narrative tells us Matrix weaponizes the human beings in the Matrix against us, because they will fight to stay asleep, blah, blah, blah.

Andrea Martucci: Sheeple?

Fangirl Jeanne: Right? Sheeple!

Cool. We use this context all the time to be able to enjoy the fantasy of violence. And that's the part that I think was really key for me to talk about this book was that we do this in a lot of other genres, but because they're aliens because they're werewolves because they're vampires because they're not people, we allow ourselves to enjoy the fantasy of violence.

This one was just really obvious about it. And and it was really funny for me, [01:15:00] that I was like, I don't know how you're going to react to this. That was in my mind. I'm like, I don't know how she's gonna react to this. Maybe she'll like, get, maybe she won't, I'm interested to see if she comes away with the same stuff.

So when you were like, my stomach's turning, I'm like, oh, she really saw.

Andrea Martucci: Could you imagine how differently this conversation would go if I didn't spot the things that are stomach turning? I definitely had the sense while reading this though, that the author treated everyone but the main characters as non-player characters, they were cannon fodder. They were there to be dehumanized so that we could excuse the killing of them and, or be like they deserve that. And then further reinforce that these characters, while doing things in an edge lord way, we're supposed to find titillating like, Ooh, look how dark and edgy this is, as dark romance.

Yet at the same time obviously some people read this without that like stomach churning sense of oh, wow, this is just taking these things that are usually not said out loud and saying them out loud

I'm really trying to not say all this being like well, I guess I'm just built different. Like I have a podcast with like 118 episodes where I sit and I think and talk about this stuff and try to notice patterns. I'm sitting down reading this, like the way you read something you're going to have to write a paper about, I'm underlining thing, you know, I was resistant to being transported into this world,

Fangirl Jeanne: That's okay. Let me reassure you. Sadly, that's a way that I consume most media to some extent, and it's not because I do it on purpose. It is by virtue of the majority of media isn't made for somebody like me. I'm used to picking out things that I like most of which has some kind of problem in it that I'm like, okay what else? Oh this is an interesting dynamic. Oh, they did a really terrible job with this, and then I hit my limit sometimes.

So don't feel bad but what I think is part of what's great about these books is that they go so extreme that you're able to go, what were the tools engaged by the author in writing that allowed these other readers to be transported.

And for me, my perspective is what we've gone over. They used a lot of tried and true confirmation bias to help the reader go well, this is really horrible and it's horrific, but also it's happening to bad people.

So as the two people that I care about, and the narrative ensures that the only people that we really could care about are the two leads because everybody else is a blank slate or just a puppet.

They don't have any depth.

meet death

Andrea Martucci: around, walking into walls,

Fangirl Jeanne: Absolutely, NPCs! And what I think is valuable getting out of this and then refocusing that understanding of all the tools that were employed, all the tactics employed in this narrative to allow people to not only experience the like romantic sexual titillating fantasy, but also allowed them to enjoy the violent fantasies in a way that they could be like there was [01:18:00] bad guys.

The fact that we don't look at how often our media is allowing us to enjoy violent fantasies and enjoy violence against women because the women being who are being hurt are shown as supposedly equal, or they asked to be involved in the combat or blah, blah, blah. But we don't recognize how gendered the violence still is when they're involved.

And then that extends, we talked about anti-trans sentiment anti-gay sentiment. Those same types of things we see violence against individuals who are marginalized, the violence is very specific to their marginalization, but the narrative has set up the situation in a way that we can go, oh but they put themselves in there or they did this bad thing. And it's that justification of he's a bad person, so I can call him fat. I can make fun of how he looks because he's a bad person.

This type of targeted narrative choices that we make sometimes reinforces really harmful, dangerous thinking and there's a lot of narratives that do it a lot more cleverly.

We see the typical response to stuff is it's just a book. The dude bros who are yelling at women who are talking about violence against women in media, in the same tone from fans of books that go I want to enjoy this thing, it's just a book.

Okay, it's a book, but are you actually like acknowledging the problems in the book? And I'm not saying everybody has to, but please respect the fact that I can both read this and enjoy aspects of it. And then also go, this is copaganda trash. I love dark characters having fun fucking with each other and I would do a lot of things different with this, and I'm still looking for a better version of this, but it's still copaganda and it's racist, super abelist.

This is what I have to sit with a lot of time with media is that I know that all these other people who are enjoying it too, aren't seeing all these other aspects. I always get really nervous, anybody follows me on good reads. I always have a conflict of should I use the star rating? Should I not? Because I usually use star ratings based on my enjoyment of a piece of media. Not on whether I recommend it to people or not. That's what reviews are for me.

Or saying, don't do this, like that's what reviews are for me. This is me constructing a way to tell you that this has got complete garbage and set it on fire, or, oh, this is garbage. But if you like this other garbage, you might like this garbage. It's judgment free, but I disagree with this reinforcement that people want to say that media doesn't inform things.

Or then I'm some kind of like scary censorship police saying that, people are gonna go out and murder people cause they read serial killer romance. It's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that it's reinforcing bigotry that people already have, and they're not examining it. And that exists in your favorite fantasy book as well, that's telling the story of a pale skin man owning a [01:21:00] brown skinned man and they fall in love. And somehow I'm supposed to not think that's a problem because one who was enslaved, was a soldier. That's still a problem. Yeah. We weren't reading these things in a vacuum.

That tells me a lot about what is appealing to readers and romance and how we associate social stigmas and quote unquote taboo, but we have an interweaving in how we, especially those of us assigned female at birth, view sex as an feature of something that is horrible, violating, dangerous, scary, violent.

And how these different subgenres of romance are telling us about our relationship to violence, to manipulation, to lying, like why are these aspects of romantic relationships? So again is it romanticizing it? We're romanticizing a lot of things in our romance. And I think that it's not useful to say this is bad. This is good. It's more what's happening here? Why does that sell.

Are we allowing ourselves that titillation of violating social norms and stigma but in a safe way where it's not actually that bad thing.

And for me, how does that relate to how marginalized identities have been marketed in romance? How often are m/m romances, how many gay panic stories were such a big part of popular? Wherein that same type of sex is dangerous, love is dangerous. Love is illegal. Love could get you killed. Like how much was that appealing to an AFAB audience?

Even as it was a very legit gay story, queer stories. That's fine. But why and so then why do we like tragic gay stories? And if we were to talk about killing your gays as a trope problem in media, then let's talk about why it's appealing and how that mirrors romantic tragedies being really popular to the point that it's really difficult to try to parse what Gothic romances are actually romances and aren't just romantic tragedies and why women associate sex and love so much with violence and death.

Andrea Martucci: Or angsty romance, Or dark romance like we're talking about. I read this, I was like, I do not like this. If I was not going to talk about this in the podcast, I would not continue reading this for pleasure.

If you want to read this, read it. If you enjoy it. Great. I defend the right for this to exist. I also defend the right for people, in fact, encourage people, to have a conversation about it and to not be like well, I didn't like that, but I don't want to be mean to the author. So I'm not going to talk about it. we should be having a conversation about this.

And if somebody hears this conversation is like no way in hell [01:24:00] am I going to support that? Good. Cool. That's your decision. Do that. And if enough people make that decision and decisions like that start to shape what media is produced because of supply and demand. Cool.

But also the only way people will start asking, all those questions you were asking about, like, why do we find this interesting? Why do we connect these things together? The only way people really start to figure that out is if they are able to have conversations about it and hear conversations about it. As we were talking about, so many of the things in this story are in subtle ways or in ways that are less problematic to most people like gender essentialism. I notice gender essential ism now. But like I didn't use to, and even now yeah, I can still enjoy a book even while noticing that it doesn't completely take me out of it, but there are other people who it would completely take the story. But the only way people will start to even notice that stuff that is more subtle is if they hear conversations and have conversations with other people and start to be like, huh? Why is that? I never thought before that was normalized. And I just encounter it all the time and I didn't think there was anything wrong with it. And there's nothing about my lived experience that creates a problem for me with this. So why would I stop to question it?

Fangirl Jeanne: And if I take this on face value and we are feminists, we are sex positive and we are embracing, women's desires and celebrating them. I'm like, then why don't we dig deeper?

To me the thinking is like someone turning to me and saying I've just always had missionary sex. Cause it just works and it's fine. I'm like, yeah, like if that works for you, that's great. But I'm like, there's other stuff you could do

Andrea Martucci: and you don't have to do it, but like you should know that they exist.

Fangirl Jeanne: right. And I'm like what about missionary sex do you enjoy, like you just said, missionary sex. That's just a position. Are other things happening there. Are you touching yourself? Is he touching you? Are you talking to each other? Like again we say these things because when you say, age gap, there's so many things that could fall under that, that I would not like. So I'm like, I need more information.

That's just the beginning of a conversation where you say this is age gap. Okay. Tell me more. And I feel like this idea of I just like what I like, and I don't want it and I'm like, that's fine, but I'm going to dig into why I like a thing, especially if it's doing stuff that is disturbing or is a problem.

I want to know why that appeals to me. I want to understand it. And I told you reading these, but specifically reading these and seeing your reaction and me it gave me a wonderful opportunity to really zero down into what about it actually appealed to me. And sent me down a rabbit hole of what I wanted from this book like that I felt like it was teasing me with, which was fem Dom dynamics, where they're both equal parties consenting does not happen in this book, but it was something that I wanted. And I went and found a [01:27:00] fanfic that I really liked that was doing what I wanted this book series to do. And so then it sent me down a rabbit hole of looking for feminine domination that wasn't about humiliating men. And that is a thing that exists, but it's really difficult to find romance again, because gender dynamics are so frozen in a lot of these types of things, even in BDSM romance, which you would think would be exploring a lot of things, but it's still super into. toxic masculinity. Even when it's being really like queer and progressive, there's still a lot of those same power dynamics, like, we don't find men who want to be hurt by women who want to be subservient as attractive. And that is a thing I'm like, that's weird. Because a lot of times, a lot of romantic dynamics involve a man humbling himself, apologizing and groveling for the woman to love him.

So we do like feminine domination, but we only like it when the woman who's humbling the dude and dominating him is doing it under a very particular type of dynamic that appeals to patriarchy. And she has to be really small and weak and beautiful and all these things and, and I'm like, huh, that's very interesting.

For me, this was so fruitful because I was able to better perfect. What I like, which will help me better find things that will appeal to me and help me better understand what appeals to me and how my understanding of gender and gender dynamics plays into what I like in romance and erotic content. And so I'm like, I mean, I get why people don't want to go that far, but I'm like, this feels like an antithesis to women's pleasure to just shut the door and not go further.

Andrea Martucci: It's a stepping stone, right? And like I observed this with people getting into romance where do I think the Duke and I is the greatest romance ever written. Absolutely not. I have a lot of problems with it, but I think that a lot of people like watch Bridgerton and they were like, oh, this is interesting.

What is it that I like about this? And they read it. And I talked to one person who was part of my, research into Bridgerton who started reading romance with reading the Duke and I, read them all, loved them and then started reading other stuff. And she was like, oh, now that I've read this other stuff, in comparison, I understand that this isn't that great, but it helped her understand like, oh, there's something about this that I really like.

And when you haven't experienced something before, a little taste, like the table scraps of the full meal, you're like, what is this delicious flavor? And then you come to realize that there is a full table of options available.

I love the explanation that you gave, because I think that yeah, there's absolutely an argument for tasting flavors that you've never tried before and trying to get a sense of that appeals to me.

Or like, that's interesting. It's not quite right, but I am interested in trying, like that was a key lime pie. There was something [01:30:00] about it. That was interesting, but that key lime pie wasn't that great. Let me go find another key lime pie that was made differently. Oh, turns out I like key lime pies like this.

But if you're like, no I only ever liked apple pies okay what other pies have you tried? Nothing. I've never tried another pie. Do you just like apple pies or have you never really tried anything else before?

Fangirl Jeanne: Fantastic comparison. Cause literally me saying, I think apple pies are fucking trash. I think they're disgusting. And I hate them it's not saying that everybody who likes apple pie is a terrible person with no taste. I'm saying they are disgusting to me. I hate the texture and everything about them.

That's just me saying, I don't like apple pie. It's about the pie. It's not about the people. So like again I feel like if you're wrapping so much of your identity into what you like, that there's something there you need to parse. And it's not work that I need to do, but I also want to talk about the fact that the part of that process that I explained to you is an aspect of being who I am, being a queer person of color in a world that does not make media for me, I've always had do this.

Like Bridgerton Season one, I did not like, it really hated it. But there are bits of it. I've really loved. I loved seeing a fucking Black queen.

I love to seeing a racially diverse, period show. I loved when he licks the spoon. There's all these little bits that I enjoyed out of it. But there's a lot of problems with it. Same thing with season two, I loved season two way more than season one, but I understand that I like ignored a lot of stuff that I didn't find interesting and just focused on the thing I liked, which when I know this, I go oh, I should try to find other, romantic material or other stuff that I might like that has this kind of dynamic. And what did I like about that dynamic too? Helping me parse out, what did I like about this, enemies to lovers type of snarky dynamic that I would like more and what did I feel didn't cross the line into disrespectful.

I understand that not everybody has had to do this their whole life with media. So it might be a little bit easier or may seem like, I overthink things a lot.

It's just a have to, but I think it's beneficial and that's the part that I've been trying to figure out ways to give grace to people when they like things that I don't like or they're doing this stuff of why, talking about how we consume true crime and stuff as a way to try to figure out how to not be victimized, because we've been told our whole life that we're in charge of everybody's sexuality and protecting ourselves.

And I extend that type of grace to people who like nonconsensual, rape fantasy type of things. There are things that I have consumed on my journey of understanding what I like about romance that absolutely was rape. It was 100%, there was no questioning about it.

And I remember feeling there was [01:33:00] stuff about the dynamic that appealed to me. What about this was appealing? That I didn't have to say that I wanted a thing when I wanted a thing. That my partner would just know everything that was perfect. And then I didn't have to go through this mess or feel guilty about it because, like exploring those aspects of why these things appeal to us is really informative and helpful. And so rather than closing the door and saying, all this is bad, it might service us better to really go what about it did I like? What was appealing?

Like you said, if we have an atmosphere that's more conducive to discussing these things about what we like and what we don't like without judgment.

I think it serves us all better.

And I really want to thank you for this opportunity to talk with you about this book and for trusting me, good or ill to read these books and digesting them with me. I love talking to you, and this was so much fun. Thank you.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you. I enjoyed it so much as well. I was taking great pleasure in writing really snarky messages, in direct messages to you. It was fun.

Andrea Martucci: yeah. And if you want to hear Jeanne and I talk more about this, Jeanne just offered to do a Patreon only episode. Where can people find more of your brilliance on the interwebs?

Fangirl Jeanne: You can find me at @fangirlJeanne and that's J E a N N E. Pretty much on all social media or

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources.

If you want to join the conversation about the topics that we discuss on Shelf Love, I'd encourage you to check out Shelf Love's Patreon at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith, and John Jacobson.

See your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.