Monday, August 21, 2017

Maurice: Rupert Graves

This movie is actually about Hugh Grant's character, and he delivers a convincing and credible performance, explaining why in 1987, it was already a given that Grant would go on to have a notable career. (Analysis of Grant's character Clive Durham will follow at a later date.)

However, I watched the movie mostly for Rupert Graves (Sherlock), whom I almost didn't recognize with that mop of dark, curly hair (see below). Rupert Graves is one of those amazing actors who has been working non-stop for over three decades (yes, he did start working at 15) in film, television, and theatre (plus he's got a wife and five kids: when does he sleep?).

Maurice is based on E.M. Forster's book by the same title. The story of a gay relationship in early 20th century England, the manuscript bears Forster's note "Publishable but worth it?" on the cover page.

He didn't. It was published after his death in 1971.

Maurice is based on a real-life couple that Forster knew: Edward Carpenter and his working-class lover George Merrill. They lived together from 1898 to 1928. There is a lesson in here somewhere about the oddities of English attitudes towards unorthodox behavior, specifically the reason why one is better served living in the country, writing intellectual tracts than acting like Oscar Wilde and bringing libel suits one is bound to lose.

In any case, Forster based Maurice's Maurice Hall, a gentleman, and Alec Scudder, a working-class laborer, upon the couple; reportedly D.H. Lawrence based Lady Chatterley Lover's Mellors on George Merrill specifically.

Mellors is the reason I was skeptical about Alec Scudder.

I am not a fan of Lady Chatterley's Lover which I consider entirely too full of itself--as is Mellors. I've never seen any of the films (merely read, ya know, the book), despite rather adoring Sean Bean. Mellors is the quintessential reverse-snob, strolling about the countryside pontificating (or gruffly allowing others to pontificate) about getting back to nature, the power of connecting to the earth, the meaning of being one with the countryside
Sean Bean as Mellors
blah blah blah.

Let's face it: E.M. Forster, for whose writing I do not greatly care, is yet a better writer than Lawrence. Maurice, which is not considered his best work, is far more subtle and droll than anything that Lawrence could have ever hope for. (This is not, by the way, the "correct" academic attitude to have--one is currently supposed to consider Lawrence the superior writer.)

The appeal of film Alec Scudder is partly the original writing but mostly Graves, who endows this bold young man with unrepentant insouciance and a kind of youthful desperation. He brings to Alec the same out-of-bounds
In Room with a View, the scene where
naked Freddy and his mother start
arguing is one of the funniest.
energy and self-deprecating cheek that he used as Freddy in A Room With a View (Graves felt like he "failed" the role of Freddy; he didn't--he is one of the most refreshing parts of the movie; however, due to the material--A Room With a View is an elegantly lightweight film--and to age, he excels in Maurice).

Rather than being the "instructive" master of the universe who "learns" his lover in the ways of physical lovemaking, Graves' Alec Scudder is as invested in the relationship as his lover--and massively more confused. James Wilby--who was much better cast as Maurice than Julian Sands, the first contender for the role (see James Fox)--manages to convey early on in the London meeting that he recognizes Alec's belligerence for what it truly is: not blackmail but the outrage of a young man at loose ends.

And he recognizes it because he endured the same emotional upheaval. His age and class give him cache, not instant superiority.

"Don't tell me your name--I want to remember--"
When Maurice and Alec run into Maurice's old tutor, Dulcie, at the British Museum, Graves gives Scudder the perfect reaction. He seems to withdraw in on himself, quickly closing the distance between him and Maurice but slightly behind him. He isn't sure if this is an enemy, someone who will lecture him about his "place." He also isn't entirely able to read Maurice's careful reaction to the same man. With the effortless grace of a gentleman of that era, Maurice smooths the meeting over, introducing himself as "Scudder" to the friendly Dulcie. The entire scene is pitch-perfect.

Forster seems to have liked people more than Lawrence (Furbank's seminal biography on Forster backs this up: Forster perceived friendships as the purpose of life and worked hard at maintaining them). Despite being the usual Forster victims of society's class system, all the characters in Maurice are totally ordinary and mostly nice, even the lecturing ones. I cannot imagine anyone in a Lawrence work saying, "Did you ever dream you had a friend, someone to last your whole life?"

And, quite honestly, there are no dead babies. So I consider this one of the more successful Forster-films.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Merpeople Again and USS Voyager

I mentioned in a previous post my fascination with creating aliens for the Star Trek universe.

My previous piece of fan-fiction used a group of merpeople called Pecheans. Another human-Pechean romance follows; this story relies more on Pechean cultural practices.

The characters are not entirely dissimilar to the previous set. Tommy or Tom is an orphan human male whose primary caregiver/foster dad is a priest (creating the lifestyle and beliefs of futuristic Catholic priests is a post for another time). He enters Starfleet in the same way as Miles O'Brien, as a non-commissioned officer. Basically, he is a grunt.

He ends up working in the cargo bays, one of a team that load and unload items for transportation. This can be a complex job, requiring high-end organizational skills since it involves categorizing and properly storing masses of items for easy retrieval.

At this point, Tommy is simply one of a group of grunts, all about the same age, who run around doing what they are ordered to do. In the world of human-boys-will-be-human-boys, they also tend to talk big about sexual conquests, daring each other to "collect" experiences with "aliens." They are, of course, far less experienced or daring than they claim.

Tommy tends to ignore the talk. Until Arrain comes on-board. Arrain is not Starfleet personnel. Rather, he is interning with an inter-species group of astronomers.

Like Liam from the previous story, Tommy is enthralled by the idea of mermen. He gives in to the cheerful ribbing of his mates and approaches Arrain, not because he cares about the bet or is all that susceptible to peer-pressure but because this time he wants to be pressured. Tommy and Arrain are, in Earth terms, 18 and 19 years old.

Tommy and Arrian have what we 21st century folks would refer to as a one-night stand (I go along with Torchwood/Dr. Who's theory that future humans are more flexible in their sexuality than modern-day humans, though still more fixed than other species--less conservative and more self-conscious than Vulcans; more conservative and way more self-conscious than Risans).

Tommy--a rather more intense introvert than Liam--is smitten but stymied on how to express himself. He does some quick research and discovers that although Pecheans don't stigmatize casual sex, they make extremely committed long-term partners. Courtship, which Tommy misinterprets as "dating," begins with an exchange of gifts, usually jewelry, usually ocean-related.

Tommy uses his credits to "buy" (replicate) a shell bracelet for Arrain. It is by any outside evaluation rather cheap, but it is what Tommy can afford and what he understands as "nice."

In the meantime, Arrain has learned that Tommy was dared to approach him as some kind of "notches on the bedpost" bet. If either young man was even five years older, this knowledge might result in a confrontation, even an argument, but not what actually happens . . .

When Tommy comes to say goodbye to Arrain (Tommy is being transferred off-ship), he brings the bracelet. Arrain dunks him (cabins for Pecheans include deep pools). Dunking for humans is not always nice but can be considered a joke. Dunking for Tommy is fairly horrible since he can't swim well. Dunking for Pecheans is way beyond rude. It's just wrong.

Tommy gets out of the cabin as quickly as possible while Arrain sulks underwater about the moron human who used him to get high fives from his idiot friends (I showed him). When he comes out several hours later, he finds the broken bracelet that Tommy brought but dropped in the scuffle. Arrain goes looking for Tommy but finds he has already transferred off-ship.

Arrain justifies his bad behavior, pouring scorn on human insularity which imagines that it is SOOO cool to sleep with non-humans while totally misreading those non-humans . . . humans are never satisfied with their own culture . . . they have to go around co-opting other species' rituals, etc. etc. (a similar argument is made in Diane Duane's Spock's World by a pro-secessionist).

At the back of all the bluster, Arrain feels terrible. He realizes that his misread Tommy, confusing his crass if congenial friends with Tommy's intentions. He takes to wearing the bracelet, which indicates a far closer relationship than the couple enjoy at this point.

Finally, Arrain sends Tommy an electronic message, including a picture of his home-world. Sharing images of seas/beaches/fish is another mark of courtship in this culture. When Tommy (finally) receives the message, he responds in kind. (Messages between starships in Star Trek are sent using subspace. Although subspace is faster-than-light, it stills relies on relay stations which still rely on either people or robots to maintain, which means that a disgruntled bureaucratic entity can still keep personal messages stacked up for days.)

Tommy and Arrain continue this correspondence over several months, eventually including voice and video messages alongside the sea/beach/fish images. They decide to meet at Deep Space Nine after Tommy's first rotation as cargo specialist on . . .

USS Voyager.

In fact, Tommy's transfer was to join the build crew for USS Voyager while it was still under construction at Utopia Planitia. Consequently, he was able to visit Earth on leave. Tommy was then transferred permanently to Voyager's crew. Naturally, both Tommy and Arrain--who has continued in his career of star-mapping consultant--consider Tommy's advancement a positive move.

Had they but known . . . !

Okay, that's not fair because they don't.

Arrain is consulting on a space station when he receives word of Voyager's disappearance. Like many people, he hopes that Voyager will be found, a hope he holds onto for over three years. Any sentient being might react the same way--look at Monk from Monk--but Pecheans happen to take their courtships extremely seriously. With the bracelet, Tommy unintentionally established a relationship with Arrain that Arrain cannot easily shake off.

Four years into Voyager's disappearance, just as Arrain begins to wonder if he needs to accept what everyone else (except Barclay) appears to believe, Starfleet learns that Voyager is still out there (4.14, "Message in a Bottle"). Between 4.14 and 4.15, Starfleet contacts friends and family, requesting them to compose messages to send to the crew. Tommy's foster dad (whom Arrain contacted a few years after Voyager's disappearance) then contacts Arrain. Arrain is able to send a message to Tommy (4.15 is one of my favorite episodes due to the letters-from-home subplot--I reference it in a paper).

Voyager's crewmembers aren't able to respond (the network is destroyed). However, in a previous Season 1 episode, they recorded messages for home and left them with a Romulan scientist (another cool episode which rests on a neat twist). Starfleet learns of this event; through diplomatic maneuvering, the messages are retrieved from the Romulan library where the scientist stored them. Among these messages is one from Tommy to Arrain.

In his message to Arrain, Tommy discloses that before he left Deep Space Nine, he deposited a necklace of shells, collected from Earth's beaches, with Quark (to whom he has already paid the storage fee, so Arrain shouldn't let himself be charged too much extra).

Tommy is far more aware at this point in his life as to what the bracelet and necklace mean re: courtship. Tommy realizes that knowledge of the necklace may complicate Arrain's life, making it difficult for him to move on. However, in Season 1, Tommy wanted desperately to contact/connect with the two people in the Alpha quadrant with whom he has a personal relationship: Arrain and his foster dad. (Tommy's message is recorded in Season 1 before he receives Arrain's message in Season 4 even though Arrain will receive Tommy's message after he sends his own.)

Both men are aware that even should Voyager survive its journey back to the Alpha Quadrant, Tommy and Arrain will be 93 and 94 respectively before they see each other again (possibly 72 and 73 as Janeway and Voyager whittle away at the 75-year voyage home). Still, as Voyager becomes capable of maintaining steadier communications with Starfleet, the possibility that the ship will get home increases.

Back home, Arrain is dealing with the (usual) yaoi romance nonsense (a rival to Tommy, who thinks Arrain should give up his delusional attachment to the lost human). However, Arrain's parents wholly support him--the necklace (which Quark still had and yes, of course, Quark charged Arrain an extra storage fee!) is a fairly big deal. Even should Tommy and Voyager be permanently lost, Arrain would still need time to recover. His pre-engagement to Tommy is accepted as a given.

And of course, Tommy (and Voyager) get home. The television show expended little airtime on the moment of return (the finale begins several years in the future). In my version, select family and friends are vetted to meet their long-lost loved ones at Earth Station McKinley (vetted so the place doesn't get inundated with fans/curiosity-seekers). Arrain and Tommy reunite. They are a far more compatible couple lifestyle-wise than Liam and Enjeru; however, there is the matter of the courtship.

For one, Arrain is slightly further up the social scale than Enjeru--and not a Starfleet officer (Starfleet marriage protocols are not the default). Also, there is a contender for Arrain's hand. Nobody takes the contender seriously, but the ritual of courtship must still be completed. Tommy and Arrain visit Tommy's foster-dad on Earth (in some versions, I kill off the dad before Tommy gets home because, well, that kind of thing happens--but the dad is a subplot with no immediate bearing on the current issue, so I'll leave him alive here), then head for Pechea.

On Pechea, at a party, Tommy presents his marriage gifts, one for the planet and one for Arrain.

While on Voyager, Tommy rose to the quartermaster position. In Starfleet parlance, he will soon reach the rank of Master Chief (one of the highest ranks for a non-commissioned officer). As Voyager's quartermaster,
Mucho thanks to Ed for the
suggestion of the cowrie shell
headdresses below--the Verne
image was for you, Ed.
he experimented with designing various storage devices. For Pechea, he devised a semi-replicated/semi-holographic vessel for use by Pechean visitors and Pecheans who enjoy "surface fishing." It uses holographic emitters for stabilization but is composed of materials that easily break down into smaller form--think of a collapsible raft but even smaller.

For Arrain, Tommy wove together a coat of shells. These are shells from the Delta quadrant; they were collected by Tommy and other Voyager crew-members during away missions; in fact, collecting seashells "for Tommy's boyfriend" became one of the many morale builders that Neelix encouraged during the 7-year journey. It became a kind of ritual, part of ship gossip and dinner small-talk ("Hey, Tommy, did you visit the beach on shore leave? Hey, I brought you back a really nice shell-like thing. Oh, wait--it's an alien--ah, it ate my hand!!!")

Because Tommy collected the shells so slowly and because the collection was so much a part of everyday life, no one realizes how much Tommy's gift is worth scientifically and monetarily (Quark would be drooling). Its unveiling causes some consternation since not only is it the most wildly elaborate, expensive, and unique gift anyone has ever received, Tommy innocently used a Pechean royal costume (see design above, shell skirt, and headdresses) from Voyager's "Google" as his guide.

After receiving permission from the royal family, Arrain does wear the coat. Eventually, it is donated to a museum.

To Tommy, Arrain gives a kitten, which is utterly perfect for anyone who knows Tommy and knows that Voyager didn't exactly encourage (eatable) pets during its journey. © Katherine Woodbury





Saturday, August 12, 2017

Writing Romances: Start with the Problem

Nausicaa begins with the main
character in literal flight.
Manga can teach writers a lot about what makes a story work.

First, manga teaches writers to establish the story's problem early on.

Good genre literature starts with a problem: aliens, a dead body, unreciprocated love, etc. etc. In the world of television episodes, this is the action before the series's intro, like all those patients who fall ill in the 5 minutes before the House theme song comes on.

One of the powers of manga is that the story, by necessity, must begin with action. Think again of House and all the talky scenes that take place in hallways--"Let's walk!" Generally speaking, if it is a visual, it needs to incorporate light and the appearance of movement. The average manga starts with something-happening.

Some stories require context--where and who and what. An introduction that can provide background, action, and problem is best. Although most of Blue Morning takes place when Akihito is a young man of 17/18, the series starts with ten-year-old Akihito arriving at his family's home for the first time: the tension between Akihito and the family butler Katsuragi is established in those opening pages.

How a character deals with an opening problem can also provide context. Rabbit Man, Tiger Man starts with Uzuki saving Nonami, which will greatly complicate his life from that point on. We know Uzuki is a doctor because he knows how to tend Nonami's wounds and where to go to get the proper supplies. We know Nonami is potentially dangerous because, well, guys who lie bleeding in alleys yet instruct their helpers not to call for help for fear of reprisals generally are dangerous.

The basic rule of plot: revealing the
secret is more interesting than hiding it.
The story's opening is all about pushing the action forward--what gets the ball rolling? Kare First Love starts with a non-propitious meeting between Karin and Kiriya, establishing several volumes of misunderstandings. Hana-Kimi begins with Mizuki already established in a boy's school as a girl-disguised-as-a-boy; she leaves the reader in no doubts as to why she is there and for whom. Maiden Rose begins in the middle of a battle. (And there's the tank!)

Rule 1 for Romance Writers: start with action.

Lisa Kleypas's Devil in Winter begins with the heroine standing in the rake hero's office informing him that she wishes them to marry, so she can get away from her horrible relatives. Great! Let's hit the ground running!

Other romances are equally effective, but some, unfortunately, employ what I call the "boring biographical approach"--those biographies that begin with "So-and-so was born in year 18__ in the town of R__ to parents Mildred and Rufus So-and-so. The family line goes back to . . ."

Snooze.

Start by giving me a little vignette, a insight into the person's life. Give me a reason to learn the boring stuff.

Likewise, good romances, like good mysteries, start with a reason for us to worry or fear or delight or ponder about the main character's next actions. The vignette doesn't have to be melodramatic--it can be as quiet as Only the Ring Finger Knows, which begins with Wataru listening to a friend complain about Kazuki whom he will soon meet at the water fountain. Or Apple & Honey: His Rose-Colored Life which begins with Natsuki contemplating what a strange extroverted guy his boyfriend is.

Even Maiden Rose actually begins quite quietly at a train station (the battle scenes occur within 3 pages). But the quietness is belied by the tension between the characters. Why are they meeting? What does their relationship entail? What will happen to it next?

To be continued: The problem itself . . .

Monday, August 7, 2017

Lords of the Underworld: What They Read

Reading list is below.

Introduction: Several years ago, I read through nearly all of Gena Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series, which, at the time, took me up to The Darkest Surrender (Strider's book).

The series is based on the following premise: Greek immortal warriors are forced to carry the sins/demons unleashed when Pandora opened the Box. Each warrior has his own sin/demon and his own book (the latest book, The Darkest Promise, focuses on the only female warrior, Cameo).

The books are pure erotic escapism produced by a writer with decent style--the text is readable, not clunky. The books are usually well-plotted (some shaggy dog moments) with decent pay-offs: though rarely profound, the conclusions are often psychologically satisfying. I am particularly fond of the pay-off for Strider, who carries the demon of Defeat. He hates being challenged. How can a guy like this find a successful relationship (with someone other than a doormat)?

Are Showalter's readers truly so
reluctant to read about a Dr. Reid-
or is that the publisher's assumption?


He can! He does! The point of each book is that the hero gets paired with his special someone. The sex is raunchy and explicit but generally speaking, the books' resolutions are rather conservative (though the frat-boy household gets a tad unbelievable after awhile, even for a fantasy series).

I have read beyond The Darkest Surrender but I became progressively disgruntled even as early as Paris's book. The heroes are increasingly samey, performing the same testosterone-driven behavior: I must hit something! Some of the surprising and touching nuances of the earlier books are lost as every single male in the series became a mean, lean fighting machine. *Sigh.* When even computer-whiz Torin was stripped of his computer-whiz abilities and forced to conform to the same Herculean archetype, I gave up. (I may gave Cameo's book a try.)

And I pondered, What could help keep these characters distinct, so they don't all blend into big grunting guy who eats rocks and tosses his weight around?

My idea: Figuring out what they read!

Here is a partial list of what the Lords of the Underworld might read--in some cases, the reading choice satisfies/pacifies/manages the character's demon; in some cases, it reflects personality:

Maddox (Violence): Sports Illustrated; he reads Encyclopedia Brown to his kids. He's a down-to-earth guy.

Lucien (Death): Philosophy books, including works by Dante and Virgil and tomes by people like Seneca. For fun! He does this for fun! (His anarchist mate, Anya, reads Camille Paglia and Cosmopolitan.)

Amun (originally Wrath): He enjoys being read to by his mate, Sienna, who reads him classics like Treasure Island.

Sabin (Doubt): I hate to say it but . . . self-help books. Not only is his demon/sin Doubt, but he is something of a literal-minded-step-by-step thinker.

Kane (originally Disaster): Manga by people like Miyazaki; he also really loves Miyazaki's movies.

Amun (Secrets): People's diaries--not his friend's diaries! Diaries from history by people like Benjamin Franklin. This not only satisfies his demon/sin but gives him some objectivity about so-called secrets.

William (not a Lord of the Underworld but an important character): Edgar Allan Poe and, naturally, H.P. Lovecraft

Reyes (Pain): He deliberately reads non-stimulating, tedious stuff, such as all those assigned books from high school: not Shakespeare but The Pearl, everything by Thomas Hardy, The Separate Peace, Ethan Frome: oh, the Pain!

Gideon (Lies): Really out-there ironic stuff. My first thought was Monty-Python, so . . . the reading equivalent of Monty-Python.

Torin (Disease): Tech magazines, such as Wired--also cyberpunk, such as Blade Runner (and yes, he does have an opinion about the film's voice over).

Cameo (Misery): She tries to stop herself, but she always ends up reading stuff by Sylvia Plath.

Strider (Defeat): Calvin & Hobbes (in the yaoi version of Strider's life, he is introduced to Calvin & Hobbes by Paris who also gives him a related t-shirt which he wears constantly--because Strider IS Calvin)

Paris (Promiscuity): The most extensive reader of the group, Paris reads everything from romance novels to world histories. Paris is the most familiar with human customs/behavior and could fit the most easily into human life. I speculate that once he tired of the frat house and the war with the Hunters was resolved, he would become a professor of History, specialty Revolutionary War, at an upstate New York college. Or a Professor of Popular Culture at a NYC college.

It always vaguely surprises me how unwilling creators of romance can be about giving their male characters the same love of literature and/or history that they have--to Showalter's credit, Paris's enjoyment of romance novels, and his ability to discuss them, is in the original texts, which is what gave me this idea.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Collection Review: H. Rider Haggard Lives Again--Gorgeous Carat

Not all yaoi is the same (for an explanation for why yaoi is not referred to as BL in America, go here). Though generally used to refer to romance, it sometimes crops up in reference to what might best be termed school-yard-relationships or adventure-stories-with-close-guy-pals, a genre that is sometimes labeled shonen-ai.

Gorgeous Carat is closer to shonen-ai than to yaoi. There is no explicit sex or even sex at all between the main characters; in fact, the exact relationship between the two is never completely clarified. They are . . . friends? lovers? companions? slave and owner? mentor (Florian is technically older) and wildcard?

It is irrelevant. Their relationship is so close, they seem to occupy the same space despite being greatly unlike each other in personality and temperament. Ultimately, however, what they do is more important than who they are.

What do they do? Jewel heists! Kidnappings! Rescues from the Eiffel Tower! Trips to the Far East! Escapes! Bondage! Murder mysteries!

The time period is the late 19th/early 20th century. The milieu is high society in Paris with excursions abroad. The tales are rapid-fire action with all the ups and downs and crazy shenanigans that make the series rather more like Scooby-Do (thank goodness) than sappy soap opera. It's fun! It's raucous! Who knows what will happen next?!

You Higuri also created the somewhat darker Cantarella series--about the Borgias. Sometimes, I think Westerners, like myself, forget that European culture/history is as fascinating to others as Eastern culture/history is to them.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Complaint 4: What's All the Protesting For? Male Claims About Romance

Male analysis of yaoi specifically and romance generally will often contend that real men, straight or gay, do not think like the male characters in these genres. (I've encountered this claim in manga and romance analysis by self-labeled straight and gay male readers.)

Okay. I am mostly willing to go along with that, partly because as a woman, I'm not in a position to argue and partly because I tend to see yaoi characters at least as archetypes and tropes anyway. (There are characterizations common to all, and there are gendered characterizations as I will address in another post.)

Yet I confess to being somewhat flummoxed by the insistence. The whole androgynous thing leaves me a tad nonplussed, yet generally speaking, I don't find the problems and worries and desires of romance and/or yaoi male characters to be all that foreign from those of male characters in, say, Shakespeare. Or Homer. Or, for that matter, Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman.

On the modern end: take Gus and Rusty from Major Crimes. Major Crimes is the brainchild of producer James Duff who is married to Major Crimes actor Phillip Keene (they've lived together since 1993, marrying in 2013).

The orientation of Major Crimes producer & husband-actor doesn't guarantee the reality of any of the show's fictionalized relationships--this is television after all. I mention the context since Rusty and Gus have never struck me as any less real than other television relationships. Neither do they strike me as substantially different from the yaoi characters that I encounter in my choice of manga. The same issues crop up: 
Worries about work versus time together. Jealousy. Selfishness. Commitment. Levels of commitment. Sacrifice--or not. Uncertainty. The need to hear, "I love you." Issues over PDA and other issues related to physical intimacy. Discussions about the future. Moving in versus not moving in. Wondering "where we are at." Wondering about marriage. Not wanting it. Wanting it. Approaching the relationship from different angles. Different personalities. Different styles of expressing affection. Wanting different things. Moving at different speeds. Feeling bereft. Hurting when the relationship goes bad. Missing the other person. Wanting the best for the other person. Getting irritated at the other person. Growing "old" together. Falling into patterns. Feeling comfortable with everyday routine . . .
I recognize and care about all these things. Am I truly supposed to believe, as some men so urgently insist, that men don't care about them too? Despite The Importance of Being Earnest, Romeo & Juliet, Rusty & Gus? So Jean Cocteau just--what?--produced Beauty & the Beast (1946) by accident?  Of course, Cocteau was bisexual. But what about He Said, She Said, the movie with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins in which the man's story, directed by the husband of the female co-director, is more romantic than the woman's story even as it tackles similar issues/concerns?

Parsons-Spiewak
When, in October 2013, Jim Parsons called his relationship with now husband Todd Spiewak "an act of love, coffee in the morning, going to work, washing the clothes, taking the dogs out—a regular life, boring love," he was . . . lying? Because that sounds like a good life to me, a woman. And remarkably similar to the yaoi I read. Not to mention other romances.

The first English romance, Pamela, was written by a straight man. The stupidest yet possibly most famous romance novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was written by a man who showed tendencies in both directions. And then there are those lush, emotion-filled (and often depressing) novels by E.M. Forster, who was definitely gay (I know women who swear that no movie has ever been more romantic than Room With a View, and Maurice isn't that far behind). Finally, there's the book I've never read (leading to the movie I've never seen) but know about anyway because of its ubiquitous presence in our culture: Love Story by Erich Segal (husband to wife Karen; father of 2). 

Another classic couple: Kate and Petruchio

Some of the sappiest descriptive essays I've read were written by young men about their girlfriends.

And some of the most practical, everyday relationship advice I've encountered was written by men.

Consequently, I am eyebrow-raising confused when (some) men--straight and gay--claim emphatically that men don't care about all that romance-relationship stuff that women get so obsessed about, don't think about it
Thanks to Ed for reminding
me how many of these couples
were created by men.
the same way, and certainly don't have the same interests/concerns/ideas/attitudes as those men in those books that women like.

It is true that women write and read more romance (by a fairly hefty margin), including paperback Harlequins, shojo, yaoi, and gay literature, but that supports less the idea that men aren't interested in romance and more the fact that women tend to be more language-oriented while men are more visual-oriented.

I'm beginning to think the male doth protest too much.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Couple on an Island

Although I generally praise the couple-who-works-through-problems-within-society rather than the-couple-who-retreats-to-an-island, there is something to be said for the couple-that-is-an-island-unto-itself. These couples almost always occur in a society that is so corrupt that turning to each other is the only refuge (the theme of Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet).

John Howe's definition of Tauriel and Kili is a good guide here:
The relationship between Tauriel and Kili is like one of those love stories where people think they are falling in love when, in fact, they are actually falling out of love with everything else around them, and the only sympathetic face is someone who they would never choose in any other circumstances...
In manga, this couple is most commonly found in the world of the yakuza.

Twittering Birds Never Fly by Kou
Yoneda has a similar feel to Intense
although it is somewhat more layered.
One of the most remarkable yaoi series in this regard is the Korean mangwa Intense by Kyungha Yi. Jiwoon works for a mob boss; he perceives his life as locked into this one small corner of the world. Soohan does odd-jobs for mobsters but entirely by choice and without investment; he retains his independence. To him, the world is big enough to allow for escape. So why not do it?

The result is . . . intense--the kind of stuff that can lead to tragedy as easily as comedy. It belongs, consequently, to the high romance side of romantic literature. I generally prefer the slice-of-life moments of ordinary people leading ordinary lives but high romance has its place. Well-done high romance can impress--at the same time one thinks, "Wow, not having to worry about much more than feeding my cats is . . . kind of nice."*

*Intense ends with the interesting point that going from high romance to ordinary life might prove as troubling for the characters as for the readers. Sure, Lancelot and Guinevere brought down a kingdom, but could they have managed on a fixed income with chores, pets that need to be walked, and one television remote?