Regulating Romance (and its byproducts)

By Giulia Torre on Jan 12th, 2015


Regulating Romance (and its byproducts)
Even when they are accompanied by an alpha hero with parliamentary obligations, politics are rarely sexy. But this past year, in both the UK and the US, politicians lost sex appeal, utterly. The UK added a list of ten sexual acts to the regulatory ban for UK-made pornography, including (but, oh, not limited to) spanking, squirting (female ejaculation), and facesitting. Facesitting was actually deemed life-endangering, much to the chagrin of my husband, who had no idea he has been putting himself at risk. If you think the list is arbitrary and bizarre, many have agreed with you. Facesitters protested the new regulations outside of Parliament. The US marches on Washington are sorely Puritanical in comparison. Disssenters have complained that the regulatory list takes aim at pointedly female pleasures. I’m inclined to take up the feminist hue and cry and ague for a similar ban of male ejaculation. But squirting is odd. I’m loath to walk beneath its banner. And whatever would we do with our ejaculate, if not spray it all over the Internet? The hilarious show of solidarity among sex workers outside Parliament made me imagine what we might do in reply to the most recent campaign in the US against, not porn, but popular romance. Romance hit the U.S. House floor (not a euphemism) when U.S. Representative Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill (also not a euphemism) this past summer proposing to prohibit the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from funding the Popular Romance Project…or any similar project relating to love or romance. Ouch.

Part of a larger effort to cut spending, Salmon called for the termination of the $914,000 Popular Romance Project even before he officially proposed to cut the NEH’s $154 million allocation altogether. He didn’t take aim at biogenetics, cloning, or stem cell research. A traitor to his English Lit degree, Salmon set his first sights on romance novels. Romance. Novels. There are numerous ways into this discussion. And none of them are as fun or sexy as a face-sitting protest. We can say, rightly: Academic researchers should have the ability to study what they choose. But this speech isn't free. The NEH is funded by U.S. taxpayers. The NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have been on chopping blocks before. Regularly, in fact, since 1989 when Sen. Jesse Helms got wind of Andres Serrano’s NEA-funded Piss Christ. But, if we agree to fund the NEH, then we agree to fund the NEH. And the NEH is about the democratization of ideas. Even something as low-brow as the popular romance is worthy of academic attention, right? Bloody well right. Well, then maybe the prohibition on the popular romance has to do with its revenue stream. (No, still not a euphemism.) Perhaps low-brow is acceptable, but market viability is not. “A $1.4 billion private leisure industry obviously doesn’t need federal assistance,” says Matt Philbin, managing editor at the Media Research Center. Excellent. Then we can have our tax dollars back from Time Warner, Disney, Sony and the Motion Picture Association of America. Private leisure industries receive in total billions of dollars in corporate welfare tax credits. Hmm. Then that must not be it, either. Follow the puppet strings of the Republican representative from AZ, and you may find the same people who, in support of family values, argue against any depiction of violence or sex. If-then statements read: Kids play video games with the goal of killing zombies, and, when the game is turned off, they pick up dad’s gun and find the nearest 7-Eleven. I myself have always bought into the idea that narrative – textual, visual, or other - does guide our behavior, our actions and what motivates them. Don Quixote swung his sword at windmills after reading “too many” stories of French chivalry. At age 15, after reading “too many” category romances, I expected to marry the ingenuous boy who took my virginity. (It was Bantam Book’s Loveswept line, if you must know.) Rather than to pass it off as worthless, artless, wasteful, or pointless (three out of four adjectives used by Rep. Salmon), wouldn't it instead be valuable to understand the power of romance? Unravel the everyday outcomes of regular, chin-soaking draughts of happily ever after? Stories of romance are falling from the sky in buckets. And there was a bill on the US government floor not to study the rain. Not to study the air we breathe, nor the water we swim in. Why ever not? I think we know the answer. It has to do with the fact that 84% of romance book buyers are women. And the percent of romance authors who are women is likely comparable. The same answer solves for why Viagra is U.S. government-subsidized, yet there’s no drug on the market to keep me wet while my estrogen wanes. No wonder squirting made the list. ---- About the author: Giulia Torre works in higher ed, teaches writing, and has just written her first book – Wolfe Island, a New York-style historical romance. She will be in New Orleans at the PAC/ACA 2015 National Conference stalking presentations on popular romance and recruiting attendees to a happy hour read-aloud of popular romance’s best naughty bits. Find her on twitter @ReadGiuliaTorre.