Every year in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and on the holiday itself, the radio station I listen to every morning engages in a tradition that always gets under my skin. They call it “Romantic Ramblings,” and it involves sending one of the on-air DJs from the morning drive team over to nearest Walgreens, where he (always a he) selects a romance novel off the shelf, opens to a random page, and begins reading the “smut” he finds inside.
The DJ is instructed to select the book with the most extreme cover, and given that he always – always – manages to select a page that contains some kind of physical interaction between the hero and heroine, you have to wonder how random his selection process truly is. No romance, not even the bodice rippers of old, contains sex on every single page but he manages to hit pay dirt 100% of the time. The folks back in the studio giggle and joke while bow-chicka-wow-wow music plays in the background. Despite the bit’s title – “Romantic Ramblings” – there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s more titillating in that thirteen-year-old boys ogling contraband copies of Playboy sort of way.
And every year, when I catch this segment on air, I feel my blood pressure start to rise. Not only is it a weak gag because it involves absolutely no imagination on the part of the DJs, in every way this bit reenforces the worst stereotypes people have of the romance genre: That all romance novels contain copious amounts of near-porno-level, gratuitous sex and little else to recommend them, and, by implication, those who read them surely are after one thing and one thing only.
I sit down at my laptop with every intention of sending a scathing e-mail to the radio station bigwigs and the on-air personalities, letting them know what I think of their idea of entertainment. They would never even consider doing something that offended people of a particular race or religion, for example, so why is it okay to mock a group of people because of the entertainment they enjoy? Then I remember what I learned in a college advertising class – that the more strongly you tell people how wrong they are, the more strongly they will hold on to their original opinions regardless of their validity. Venting might make me feel better but it won’t make a difference as far as the radio show goes. “Romantic Ramblings” will be a staple of next Valentine’s season.
Then I wonder how much of a responsibility I have to try to change the image people hold of the romance genre. Is it my job to speak up when I feel that romance readers are being disparaged or slighted? As a romance genre aficionado, am I charged with carrying the banner into battle? Is there a special pin I’m supposed to wear proudly? Millions of words have been written and spoken in the defense of romance novels, and I certainly don’t need to repeat the arguments here, preaching to the choir. Yet this particular ship of change hasn’t even begun the achingly slow process of stopping much less turning around. Why is this? Is it because romance readers remain such a silent majority?
To be honest, as long as bare-chested men and scantily clad women cling to each other on glossy, full-color embossed covers, some people will believe the worst about books labeled romance, and I can almost understand why. I love my Nook e-reader in big part because I can read what I want with absolute privacy as to my choices. In my home, my bookshelves are lined with romance novels, and I don’t feel any need to hide them from visitors. I’m not ashamed of my reading choices, and my friends and family don’t judge me. But I confess, I don’t like to read books with traditional clinch covers in public. I find them embarrassing because they misrepresent what I’m reading or why I’m reading it.
I know that most people who hold extremely false ideas about romance novels have most likely never actually read one, as is probably the case with my annoying DJ friends. Or, if any of them have (after all, there are two female personalities on the morning drive crew), they’d never admit to it. They may be the ones laughing loudest during “Romantic Ramblings” just to make sure that nobody would ever believe that they have even read – much less enjoyed- a romance novel. I find this to be the equivalent of laughing at a joke even if you find it offensive simply to avoid ugly confrontations, but hey, they are the ones who have to live with themselves.
Maybe if every romance novel reader in the listening area were to contact the radio station and complain about “Romantic Ramblings”, the sheer numbers would shock the producers and they’d put a stop to the bit. Maybe if I got together a petition or started a letter writing campaign, they’d see that many of us aren’t laughing. Maybe I should write an editorial to the newspaper, or start a Facebook page called “Romance Reader Bullying Is Not Okay”…
But then I step back and let it go. Because to be quite honest, trying to change these peoples’ misconceptions is simply not worth all of the work. If they can’t come up with anything better than the tired old cliché that romance novels are just porn for women, they have my pity. After all, they’re missing a lot of good books.
And besides, it’s a heck of a lot easier just to turn the radio station.
– Jenna Harper