Is 50 Shades This Generation’s Lazy Romance Insult?

I am a romance lover.  This is a love affair that goes back twenty years and will burn until the day I die. I love stories of love, of hope, and triumph.  So do millions of other readers.  And yet we have, since the inception of the genre, been insulted for our reading choices, been made to feel that we are less–less intelligent, less refined, less worthy (never mind the fact that Romance makes up something like 50% of ALL books sold).

I kind of hate getting into discussions about books.  It’s this totally dangerous proposition.  If I happen to come across someone else who loves romance (or YA), then it CAN lead to fabulous and enthusiastic discussion.  Or it can lead to a great and utter ragefest because someone whips out completely erroneous and unsupported “facts” about “bodice rippers”,  which, in case you didn’t know, is an obscenely outdated pejorative term meant to convey disdain toward the entire genre.   Very little makes me stabbity more quickly.   Because NEVER does anyone who has ever actually READ romance make these statements.  (Include also the generalization that “Romances have no plot”, “Anyone can write one”, and “They aren’t real books.”).

Anyway, last week, a WOMAN AUTHOR, Joanna Robinson, wrote an article entitled “Does the New Outlander Series Have What It Takes to Be More than Just a Bodice-Ripper?”  (Linked with DoNotLink, so they won’t get credit for your clicks), which was full of ill-informed, lazy opinions that proved that a) Ms. Robinson is not a reader of romance, b) She has not read Outlander, c) She’s a completely lazy journalist, and d) She apparently doesn’t grasp that the intended audience of her publication is actually the very women she’s insulting in her opinion piece.

Now, I’m not here to rebut her article.  @LadyRaven15 and Megan Frampton have already done so quite well, thanks ladies.  But what I did want to talk about is the fact that Robinson whipped out the old chestnut “Bodice Ripper” (in the title, no less) AND felt compelled to add in the gybe “in order to become a true hit, Outlander, a steamy, time-traveling romp through Scotland, is going to have to find a way to appeal to more than just your dear old mum. In other words, it can’t just be Fifty Shades of Plaid.”

Oh no she didn’t!

Except, yeah, she did.  And, now that I think about it, she’s not the first one I’ve seen do this.

50 Shades of Gray is obscenely popular.  Whether you love the books or hate them, they’re out there and the terms and all the pejorative connotations that go along with them are a part of the popular consciousness.  While that very popularity has done some great things in opening doors to books that might not have stood a chance before (why HELLO, new adult as a genre!), I sometimes wonder if it’s done more harm than good for the romance genre as a whole.  Because ye old Bodice Ripper insult was bad enough being based on the stupid 80s era book covers.  But all the 50 Shades connotations–because the books have been so controversial–manage to pull romance down to an even lower rung of the ladder of respect (if that’s possible) by imbuing an additional layer of depredation–romance has become “Mommy porn”–a term which I’d like to see stricken from the consciousness of the world because it’s insulting on too many levels to count.  And I just can’t think about that right now because it’s bad for my blood pressure.

What do you think?  Has 50 Shades of [insert whatever] has become this generation’s go-to lazy insult for the romance genre?  Discuss.

8 thoughts on “Is 50 Shades This Generation’s Lazy Romance Insult?

  1. How about, as a general rule, if you haven’t read it, you should STFU about it. I agree, it’s a lazy insult, but it’s just the next in a long, long line of people opining about stuff they can’t be bothered to learn about firsthand which predates the internet. It occurs to me that part of the problem for real book lovers is that “books are people too” and we all know that labeling and trash talking people you don’t know is just wrong.

  2. OMG. YES. Because why should people have to educate themselves before they open their mouths? Because preconceived notions are just as good as facts, and if it’s on the internet then IT MUST BE TRUE. Because people have to put down SOMETHING to make themselves feel better about themselves. *snarl* *wields hockey stick with much vigor*

  3. Probably.

    But consider: it is the insult of the lazy AND jealous. Because think about it…if you believe you are “insulting” someone by comparing their work to one of the most popular series OF ALL TIME, then you’re an idiot.

    If someone said I was writing “Fifty Shades of Space” or some such, I would laugh – and say that I WISH I had a tenth her success. 😉

    And then I would thank the idiot who thought s/he was insulting me. 😉

    I find that most people uttering such insults:
    A) have not read the books (I haven’t either, but then I’m not insulting works I haven’t read)
    B) don’t understand why the books were as popular as they are
    C) are madly jealous of anyone’s success
    D) are not very happy with their own lives

    Little people, with little insults.

  4. I’m not sure I would call it necessarily “this generation’s” insult. It’s a bit soon to gauge that. As things stand, though, it’s certainly a fad insult, like how Twilight-esque was a common insult for a while and has now seemed to taper off. Time will tell if the term will replace “bodice rippers”, but I doubt it will, considering how easily “bodice rippers” flows off the tongue and how readily it insults both writers and readers of romance as silly women with escape rape fantasies who have no idea of what Real Life(TM) is actually like.

    I admittedly haven’t read Fifty Shades of Gray or the Outlander books. I know enough tidbits to know they’re likely not my cup of tea, but I’m someone who snickered all the way through the Twilight saga and could still appreciate it. I even have a lot of respect for Stephenie Meyer as an author for narrative decisions she made that folks generally don’t do—like the way she had Edward leave and the anti-climactic climax in Breaking Dawn.

    Sure, there are aspects of the series that I find disturbing or problematic, but I look at the series based on what it is, not based on what it isn’t or what I think it “should” be. I’m a little rueful about what it could have been, but I honestly think Meyer did a brilliant job at accomplishing what she wanted. And accomplishing what she wanted is what matters.

    If I want something else, I can (and plan to) write it.

    I may write Twilight jokes into some of my stories, but I also write death jokes, mockery of my own plot decisions, and other silliness. Recent scene in my First Draft Friday project had the narrator give a brief run-down of the family relationships in the messy situation she’s in, and the people she’s speaking to blink blankly and she gets distracted puzzling on how on earth to make a family tree, considering details like the FMC and MMC—who’s the FMC’s cousin once removed—have another cousin (her direct cousin; his once removed, on their mother’s sides) who married the FMC’s cousin on her father’s side [who adopted the FMC’s grandson as his heir]; and that paternal cousin took the MMC’s half-brother’s daughter as a mistress and had a child with her; and that child’s been kidnapped by the MMC’s brother-in-law to be sold as a slave by his wife. And all that is omitting several other characters in this particular family tanglevine.

    But I’m also downright used to lazy insults like those used by the reporter. I’m more annoyed by the bad reporting than I am by the bad analogies, because it’s just another example of the kind of academic laziness that led to news reports that, when my aunt and uncle were shot several years ago, resulted in some articles claiming the the opposite of the truth, as far as which of them survived and which of them didn’t.

  5. Yes, it has.
    I was just thinking of this because I saw some stupid linked thing on someone’s Facebook wall, all about “if Fifty Shades had been written by a man”. Talk about stabbity. It really bothers me when the worst of any style or genre (and not just in writing) becomes popular and well-known, to the point where mass generalizations based only on that one item begin to take affect.
    Lazy journalism is doubly annoying because it’s a complete waste of space. What is the point of an article like this? Why can’t we open doors for more intelligent conversation more often?

  6. Romance readers and writers have been slammed for ages. And mostly by people who, like you said, have never read a romance. I’m not interested in 50 Shades of Gray. But I’m VERY interested in romance. You can’t hold up 50 Shades as the “norm”. And Outlander is not like 50 Shades. And Regency romance is different. And sweet, contemporary is different. You can’t even lump all romances into one category, really. I love the hope and happy endings that romance is supposed to have. Does that make me unintelligent because I don’t want to dig into some literary tome? (Although I can and have.) When I want something that will make me happy and take me away from the struggles of real life for awhile, I reach for a romance. I read a LOT of different genres, but romance is what makes me smile…at least eventually.

    1. One of the particularly irritating things about this comparison for me is that Outlander isn’t a romance. It has strong romantic elements, certainly. But it doesn’t adhere to the strictures of the genre. It’s it’s own mashup.

      1. That’s true. I don’t see how anyone could compare the two series.

        Btw, I got to hear Diana Gabaldon speak at Buildin’ the Dream in Arizona. She was amazing and funny. Very encouraging.

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