From time to time, someone in the blogosphere takes it upon himself to mock old romance comics. I mentioned one such episode a few months ago. That first one got me kind of hot under the collar, because frankly, mocking romance comics is shooting fish in a barrel, as well as seeming to me to be offensive to women on the face of it. It’s easy to mock romance comics because there were a lot of stupid romance comics published in this country half a century ago. And it’s offensive to women because the mockery is always directed at the heroine of the badly written story, not at the bad writing itself.
At the time, I protested and then responded logically by explaining the historical context of the story, and informing readers about the story’s various virtues as well as acknowledging its genuine flaws. But I have mellowed since then, so I’m just going to point out the elephant in the room in another such foray into patronizing humor, a recent post on another blog entitled “I Was Raised by Wolves.”
Cheap laughs abound as the blogger dissects a story of a young girl beset by the unwanted attentions, first sexual and then disciplinary, of her mother’s lovers. To complicate things, the girl and her new stepbrother fall for each other. And of course there’s another boyfriend in the picture, too. It’s a story that raises a serious issue and then slides away from it, that of sexual abuse of teenage girls by the men their own mothers bring into the home. On some level, the writer was trying to be real, but instead he took the story into silliness involving two boyfriends, which the blogger mocked by mocking the female protagonist.
After reading this nonsense, I had a rather freeing thought. When they mock romance comics, these smugly postmodern guys—it is usually guys, but sometimes gals, too, all of them proud to distance themselves from serious romance—these smugly postmodern guys are attempting to mock women, yet in reality they are mocking men.
Of course that is not their intention. Yet almost every romance comic story published in the United States fifty years ago was written and drawn by men. There may have been a handful of women who ever got to be published in a romance comic, whether they wrote it or they were hired to draw it. It was a man’s business, as were most fields fifty or sixty years ago, and women were seldom allowed to contribute. A few managed to break through. But very, very few. Think of the contrariety involved in not allowing women to share in creating fiction meant to appeal to women! But of course that is the history of our culture, and most specifically the history of romance comics.
So when these self-described postmodern people mock the heroines of romance comics, in reality they are mocking men without realizing it. That’s a kind of absurdity that is genuinely postmodern.