Tuesday, April 14, 2009

romance novels and Vegas (Advice for the Miserable #6)


Not in the sense of abstention or asceticism. But in the clinical sense. The sense that has built a therapy industry trying to unravel, to deal with all the repression we have drowned in.

In America we have so many taboos.

It is not really romance novels themselves or even the enjoyment of romance novels that bothers me. Not really. When I get all elitist I will make wild and extravagant claims about art but that isn't the issue. My problem with romance novels is that they are primarily used as a socially acceptable alternative to erotica and/or the concept with the guilty pleasure in general. First, I don't think there should be the concept of the guilty pleasure. If you enjoy it, why should you not be able to be proud of that enjoyment? Why should you have to hide a desire, to deny it in public? Second, romance novels are not erotica. I can't answer for why everyone reads romance novels, but the accepted belief is that they do so to be titillated, perhaps even aroused. But if the desire is for arousal, erotica fills that role better. The concept that romance novels are a socially acceptable outlet for a socially unacceptable desire troubles me. Sex and its trappings should not be regarded as socially unacceptable. Clearly there are certain variations on the form that should never be given voice - child pornography, rape, incest, and such like. But the denial of natural urges seems self-defeating. I would be more willing to accept the practice of denial in the forms of conscious abstention. The understanding of the underlying desires and the willful denial to give them voice for various moral or religious beliefs. To an extent.

It's like your parents telling you not to swear. Swearing is inappropriate for polite conversation. So you say "crap" instead of "shit" or "darn" instead of "damn". And somehow that rectifies everything. But if you are thinking "shit" when you say "crap", if the emotion that gives voice to the word is the same then what is the difference? From a moral position it is the desire, the emotion, the internal state that is relevant not the exterior. So, morally, saying "crap" but thinking "shit" is the same as saying "shit". Either work to change the thoughts or stop worrying about words. Similarly, if you read romance novels but would rather be reading erotica or you read romance novels to fill a role that erotica would fill better, just read erotica already.

That brings me to Vegas. The tagline is "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas". Which, given the profusion of camera phones is hardly the case. But Las Vegas is still marketed and understood as a liminal space where the rules of conventional society are in flux. One can, it is thought, do in Vegas what one could not do without scorn and scrutiny at home. And what falls into the categories of acceptable behavior in Vegas that is too taboo to do at home: binge drinking, a bit more openness about sexuality, and gambling. That is about it. Fairly benign when you think about it in the context of human vice. And gambling is the only one that could not be reasonably acted upon anywhere else. Now I don't like Vegas for personal reasons. You try living there. But my main issue with Vegas is that sense of liberation. That one can do there what one cannot do elsewhere. Why can't one drink at home? Why is unsafe binge drinking acceptable anywhere? Why can't one be open about sexuality and sexual desire at home? Prostitution is still illegal in Vegas - you have to drive about 50 miles north before you hit any of those ranches.

I just don't understand the value in repressing desire of whatever kind. At least not from the point of view of the individual. For the clergy and government it can provide power and control but for individuals it just creates dysfunction.

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