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Unlike Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon, this writer is a connoisseur of the romance novel industry, commonly, collectively, and erroneously, to be honest, known as bodice rippers. Â (Haven’t read of an actual bodice being ripped in…years. Â That sort of behavior was usually in the ones set in the Middle Ages back in the 80’s.) Â Yes, this writer contributes to romance’sÂ annual $1.5 BILLION in profits, among other reading. Â Well, certain subgenres anyway. Â Do not have an interest in erotica including 50 Shades of Grey, homosexuality or time travel, and I’ve outgrown Johanna Lindsey. Â (Jayne Ann Krentz, on the other hand, is like crack.)
Given the attachment to a make-believe hobby akin to any other escapist genre in modern culture, imagine the shock to the system in reading the headline “Here’s What I Saw at the Taxpayer Funded Traveling Romance Novel Exhibit:Â FEATURE: Inside the $914,000 government project to raise the profile of bodice-rippers”. Â (Article found here.)
Wait, we’re spending HOW MUCH to RAISE the profile of the most profitable fiction genre on the planet?
â€œWhat Is Love? Romance Fiction in the Digital Age,â€ the traveling exhibit to promote romance novels, paid for by a $914,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) and wasÂ exposed in former Sen. Tom Coburnâ€™s (R., Okla.) 2013 Wastebook, made its way to the Library of Congress on Wednesday, timed for Valentineâ€™s Day.
Sen. Coburn is correct. Â The NEH grant is a total and complete waste of money. Â Taxpayer money. Â The profile of the romance genre does not need to be raised – not even in the digital age. Â In fact, the digital market is doing quite well on its own. Â (Now if the big named publishers would halve the prices for Kindle and Nook, more of us would buy new releases on the first run.)
Reading between the lines ofÂ the Harrington article, what the NEH grant is really about is elevating what is essentially brain candy to the level of actual literature through the work of film-maker Laurie Kahn.
Fans of the genre, which notoriously employs raunchy sex scenes and only depicts love stories with a happy ending, also got to view an early release of the documentary Love Between the Covers, produced and directed by Laurie Kahn.
A couple dozen women were watching the film when I walked in, and gave it a round of applause upon its conclusion. The documentary is a love affair to romance novels, arguing that Nora Roberts is just like Ernest Hemingway, because all of his stories end the same way, too.
Leaving aside that the true allure of romance is the story of getting to the happy ending including all the pain, and the barriers that have to be dealt with along the way, Nora Roberts is a gifted story teller, but she is not Ernest Hemingway. Â There’s no deep symbolism in anything she writes. Â (Not commenting on the sex scenes. Â There are far fewer of them than reported, and a lot of us skip over them.) Â Really, more romance authors idealize Jane Austen than anyone else.
However, Harrington does give us some truly good information about a woman using the NEH as a sort of slush fund. Â The money quotes on Kahn are:
The NEH grant included $664,000 for the documentary. Once funds ran out Kahn turned to Kickstarter, where she raised an additional $58,669 to get the film made.
Kahn has received $2,299,208 Â from the NEH to make films that have appeared on PBS since 1992, including the funding for the romance novel documentary.
She also received $1,185,208 for A Midwifeâ€™s Tale, an Emmy-award winning film about midwife living in Maine in the aftermath of the American Revolution, and $450,000 for Tupperware!, which traces the history of the plastics empire.
Really, this grant is going to end up giving romance a bad name – worse than it currently has. Â All because a film maker can’t find other sources of major funding for her projects. Â It could well be because there isn’t much of a market for her work/product. Â Unlike the romance novel industry that thrives because humans need fairy tales to cope with life.
If government entities like the National Endowment for the Humanities really want to be taken seriously and have any hope of convincing a culture that truly doesn’t value their attempts at being higher minded, they will quit funding traveling exhibits that promote super-profitable brain candy. Â These are the grants that are a complete waste of money, and do not help their cause..