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Rhetoretician -- Fiction etc.

Shipping and the Romantic Frame of Mind

Shipping and the Romantic Frame of Mind

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H-G Kiss
A personal pscyhological speculation: 

JKR overtly did not write a romance.  Her story is ultimately about love, but it is the "greater love hath no man" kind of love rather than romantic love.  Yet I found myself always drawn to the love stories in the books to the exclusion of other threads.  In DH, I was more interested in what was going to happen to the couples H-G, R-Hr, R-T, B-Fl than in the final Good vs. Evil and coming-of-age narrative that was the main focus of the book.

Looking back on my past as a reader/viewer/consumer of narratives, I realize that his is actually a consistent theme for me.  I have a distinct memory of being annoyed, as a child, that the Nutcracker wound up with the Sugar Plum Fairy instead of with Clara.  My main concern in The Snow Queen was whether Gerda and Kai were going to get married.  Even in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I fretted more about Rudolph finding Clarisse than I did about his escaping that overgrown ape.  (I feel it necessary to mention that this was at a time when the, er, finer points of human reproduction had not yet been explained to me.)   Later, in Men of Iron, the biggest concern for me was whether Miles was going to get the girl.  And in the Arthurian legends, I was much more drawn to Gawain-Ragnell, Percival-Blanchefleur, Lancelot-Guinevere and Lancelot-Elaine than I was in that stupid Holy Grail.  In LoTR, the Aragorn-Arwen duet is a very minor theme, barely mentioned except at the beginning and the end (and in that beautiful Appendix), but I fixated on it, as I fixated on the later history of Sam and Rosie's happy marriage and many children.

Robert Heinlein wrote a series of novels (usually called his "Juveniles") that were originally serialized in Boys' Life magazine.  These novels all had 17- or 18-year-old boys as their protagonists, and in about half of them there was the beginning of, or the hint of, a romantic relationship with a girl or woman in the story.  But in only two of those twelve books did the relationship pan out.  Heinlein knew his audience better than almost any other writer, and so I can only infer that, for the Explorers and Scouts in the fifties at whom the novels were aimed, too "mushy" an ending would have ruined the story.  But I, reading the books when I was ten, eleven and twelve, was disappointed that Max Jones didn't wind up with Ellie and that Rod Walker didn't marry Carol.

Even in the original Star Trek, the thing that most bugged me about Captain Kirk was that he never found one woman and stayed with her.  (Yes, I know, the woman was the Enterprise, but that didn't cut it for me...)

I wonder whether the "shippers" in so many fandoms, and the FF writers who write lavishly detailed love stories about characters who have only abbreviated love stories (or none at all) in canon, are of this same "romantic" mindset in which I, a middle-aged American male, seem always to have been trapped.  Perhaps some of us are wired to see "pairings" everywhere and to look for them to the exclusion of other things.
  • I find it interesting that you comment on this, because I've been thinking about this lately, too! I was always annoyed that Indiana Jones didn't stick with one woman, nor does MacGyver, Luke Skywalker ended his saga alone, as do most of the protagonists in action/dramas that I enjoy.

    The last fandom I was in, Roswell, has a creator (Jason Katims) who famously made the statement, "A happy couple is a boring couple." Fans of the show loathed him for that philosophy, as it was very apparent in how he handled the pairings in the show. Ultimately, the show crashed and burned, and I'm certain that was a big part of the reason why.

    By the way, I've thought about this in regards to you, too! It's always been interesting to me that as math/logic oriented as you are, that you are obviously drawn to the couples in these stories. The fundamentals of what makes a happy, stable relationship are very apparent in your writing. I find that unusual since most men AND women I know who are the logical, pragmatic types are less inclined to care about the pairings in a story.
  • I've read one Robert Heinlein novel "The Menace From Earth". In that one, romance was the central theme. The menance being a gorgeous older women from earth, visiting the moon. A threat to the 15 year old herione's feelings and plans for her 16 year old engineering partner.

    I think romance is the major component of fan fiction. Many of these are based on movies and TV shows. On the TV show, there is a romance of the week kind of thing. A lot of readers want a more permanent kindof romance, thus the shipping thing. It's really weird how stories spun out from books, such as HP. The slash thing really puzzles me. Mostly written by heterasexual women who write lovingly of male homosexual activity that contradicts the canon characaters.
    What scares me about the shipping is the almost violent feelings it feeds in readers. So intense are they, you would think the characters are real.
    • There's been a lot of speculation in fandom (and in academia) about the whys and wherefores of slash as a phenomenon. The prevailing wisdom runs in one of two camps: in one, you get a sort of romantic/erotic theory that says that these women just like the idea of good looking men being sexual without the distraction of a woman being around to make the writer/reader feel either competitive or squicked (disgusted). (This is the corollary to straight guys just liking the idea of two women smooching.)

      The other theory is more psychosexual. The idea here is that it's an opportunity for the writer/reader to explore her masculine side more fully—in Jungian terms, to let her animus out to play. Of course, a woman's masculine side is still a part of her, and so you often get these male characters acting not only un-canonically (Harry/Draco???), but like no men you've ever actually met. (This is the corollary of James Patterson's Women's Murder Club series, which is centered around a group of female characters whose femininity is so sketchy or cartoonish as to be unrecognizable.)
  • I can't stay to chat - but I obviously have the same experience with my reading/viewing as you do! The fluff radar goes off all the time for me.

    What's funny is that I'm very hard on romantic sequences in movies - much harder than in novels or stories. Clunky dialogue or actors with no chemistry is an affront to my sensiblilites! For instance, I squirmed through the Padme/Anakin scenes in the third Star Wars movie. Half of Love Actually didn't ring true to me (but the other half did - so I ended up feeling okay about the movie). Hmm. Maybe less is more for me. I do like filling in the blanks.
  • Oh, my friend, you and are alike in this too.

    I was a Spock/Nurse Chapel shipper as a seven-year-old and didn't even know it.

    One of the most interesting things I learned as an acting teacher actually came from an improv exercise that I used to have my students do. It's an old Viola Spolin game called "A/B" in which you have one actor (A) waiting on-stage, and another (B) who decides on a relationship and a problem before entering. The object is for them both to deal with the problem while honoring the relationship—but of course the person on-stage (A) has no idea at the beginning what the relationship or problem might be. I mention it because the thing that was clear as I did this exercise with class after class that it took very little for A (or the audience) to begin to spin stories around who these people might be. We as human beings constantly fill in every available space with narrative; it's an almost involuntary impulse.

    Of course, the kind of narrative that you project onto the tabula rasa of these actors says as much about you as it does about them.

    It's as if every book, every film, every scene glimpsed at a bus stop were some enormous Rorschach ink blot.

    The funny thing is that all of us get quite possessive and passionate about these projections—especially when there seems to be some basis in canon/objective reality. So not only are there romantics who see capital-L-Love in books like the HP series—and there was plenty of text and subtext to see that coming from early in the series (I mean, how can you have a hero slay a dragon and wake Sleeping Beauty and not have a kiss?)—but there were some who identified with particular characters and pairings.

    And then, of course, some of us were simply rational, perceptive readers. ;-)
  • 'You relieve my mind unspeakably', as his Lordship once said. ;)

    I've had this 'romantic' mindset through previous fandoms. I remember being seriously hacked off that Ranger Cole sacrificed himself to save Ivanova to the extent that I was yelling at the tv and still want to reach through the screen and smack him with his denn'bok when I reach that episode.

    For some time, I thought maybe it was just me, or my age, or simply a product of being wired female. Whatever the reason, I'm glad to know I'm in good company. :)
    • "Hacked off" is a britishism I don't quite understand, but I'll confess that I saw that scene in B5 after having missed most of the episode, and not having previously understood that Marcus was in love with Susan. Still, it struck me as beautiful and compelling, if a bit of a nasty trick to play on poor Susan, who never seemed to be able to find lasting love...

      And as for your last comment: The one thing fan fiction and LJ have unequivocally done for me is to show me that there are other people who are sensitive to the same things I am. It's been very gratifying.
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    • Hey, Min. Link away!

      I think straight male readers come to superhero comics for particular reasons that might make them inclined to resist heavily love-story oriented FF. (Suddenly I'm thinking about Kavalier & Clay.) On the other hand, my own comic book reading tended to move in the romantic direction too. I always liked the married heroes better than the ones who avoided entanglements "because it wouldn't be fair/safe to/for her." The thing that always frustrated me most about Spiderman in the Silver and Bronze Ages was that Peter never got the girl -- she always died or left him. (Same thing was true of Thor.) What made Fantastic Four satisfying (to me) was that Reed & Sue and Ben & Alicia were reasonably stable couples, although poor Johnny kept losing 'em. Scott's winning Jean, then losing her, was too much for me.

      Romance as a genre doesn't thrill me at all. I don't think I've ever read one all the way through (unless you count Jane Austen). But I seem unconsciously to want to foreground whatever romance is present in a non-Romance story that I do read. Thus the Peter Wimsey novels in which he was in love with Harriet Vane were much more satisfying to me than any of the earlier ones -- although, as I've mentioned before, Peter doesn't become a three-dimensional character until he meets Harriet

      Ron/Hermione always made sense to me in the sense that each had what the other lacked. I really do believe, not so much that "opposites attract," but that lifemates need to support each other, and that support comes from difference more than it does from sameness. A miror isn't much of a support. There's a sad little story on SIYE called "Four Deaths," in which the author imagines what would happen to the others if each of Ron, Harry, Hermione or Ginny died. When you do that thought experiment -- Hermione without Ron becomes humorless and detatched from her feelings. Ron without Hermione becomes utterly unstructured and winds up an alcoholic.
    • (no subject) - girlspell - Expand
    • (no subject) - madderbrad - Expand
  • I think I must be totally lacking in Mary's "fluffy radar"! I never really thought about the romance in HP (other than Hermione and Ron were obviously going to be a couple - something I registered and nothing more) until I started reading fanfiction. There it seem to be the dominant topic for stories. It's interesting to read how other people actually look for the relationships. I'd say that the only times I actually pick up on the romance is when the author gets it wrong (at least in my opinion!). Walter Scott springs to mind!
  • As you know my discovery of HP fan fiction 3+ years ago was a calamitous event, because the first major fanfic I found focused very heavily on the romantic aspects of HP. After which my eyes were opened and I couldn't help but see it - or look for it - everywhere I went. A focus on romance and relationships/friendship/camaraderie is my primary criteria in searching for HP fanfic, along with drama and plot that's good enough not to let the story down.

    I realise now that I quite enjoyed the romantic side of fiction growing up ... as a teen I enjoyed very much the Anne of Green Gables series and the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce (probably only known to Australians), no doubt other stuff. But I think the romance had to be overt for me to see it, and enjoy it; for example, I accepted Aragorn/Arwen, but there was so little of it I didn't fixate on it, as you did.

    Thinking about it, I remember waxing quite enthusiastic about Worf/Deanna in TNG back about 15 years when I was in my TV sci-fi prime ... and talking Nick/Natalie with the Forever Knight crowd. But again, I didn't look for it in every episode I saw of those shows; only noticing it when the relationships were drawn to the fore. So I think I'm a romantic (in fiction; in real life I'm a coward) but didn't "look for them to the exclusion of other things" until I hit the HP fandom.

    But I, reading the books when I was ten, eleven and twelve, was disappointed that Max Jones didn't wind up with Ellie and that Rod Walker didn't marry Carol.

    Ah, memories!! I really must open up all those boxes in the garage and enjoy an orgy of nostalgic re-reading!

    As I said above, I didn't go looking for romance in my younger days unless I was led to do so by the author. I was a little disappointed about Starman Jones, yes - Max's time with Ellie on the planet, coming to her rescue, had surely drawn them closer! - but didn't have any problems with Rod and Carol; it seemed clear that Ron had gone briefly off the rails near the end of his stay on the planet, and needed to grow up a bit. Carol stayed on track and left him behind :-(

    But you didn't mention Heinlein's 'The Door into Summer'!! Jeeze, Ken, even to this day that juvenile is one of my favourite works of romantic fiction, with some of my all-time-favourite paragraphs ... examples deleted. Just in case you've never read the book I won't spoil it for you. But it was a delightful novel by Heinlein, and I think you'd love it.
    • Hi, Brad. It's fascinating how consistent this phenomenon seems to be among me and my friends. I feel like a great discoverer, or something.

      I'm very fond of A Door Into Summer, but it isn't one of the Juveniles. Its protagonist is older than the heroes of the Juveniles, it wasn't serialized in Boy's Life, and it wasn't published by Scribner. Also, for purposes of the point I was making, Summer doesn't really fit, because it is a love story, and the couple winds up living happily ever after. As is true in many of Heinlein's adult works.

      (While we're reminiscing about Heinlein, let me do a little bragging. On various eBay auctions I have managed to get my hands on all three issues of Astounding in which Methuselah's Children was originally serialized.)
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