Entertainment Weekly is making another ill-advised dip into politics in its November 10 issue, hailing the apparent new trend of “woke” romance novels: “Love Trumps All -- Across social media and in their work, artists are reacting to the current political climate. But none are doing it as swiftly -- or forcefully -- as romance-novel writers.”
The print-edition story by David Canfield and features a silly graphic of a set of romance paperbacks topped with a pink “pussy hat.” The longer online version is blurbed “Romance as Resistance -- On social media and in their books, romance novelists aren’t keeping their politics to themselves”:
Sherry Thomas never expected to be a part of the Resistance.
The acclaimed romance novelist, who immigrated to the U.S. at 13, was accustomed to keeping her opinions to herself. She “barely participated” in social media, didn’t bother scrolling through others’ Twitter feeds, and rarely talked politics. It’s a practice that was instilled in her when she was young: “In China, ‘disaster comes from the mouth,’ goes one famous axiom,” she explains. “So it went against every fiber of my being to be openly political.”
Then the election happened, and now Thomas has taken her shock, anger, and sense of urgency over Donald Trump to her readers, both on social media and in her books. She’s hardly alone, which means that the romance industry -- which rakes in $1 billion a year -- is poised to become more politically relevant than ever. Just consider the statistics: The genre’s readership is densely concentrated in the South -- an area that voted heavily for Trump -- and mostly made up of women, a potent combination of demographics and reach.
Romance works on an accelerated timetable, which means authors can react more quickly to cultural shifts than what’s typical in publishing. There’s no better example than Sarah MacLean, the best-selling romance novelist.
MacLean actually altered her manuscript in light of the Trump presidency “and rewrote her hero so that he attained ‘enlightenment’ at the novel’s start, rather than learning it gradually.” Hurray for the sudden enlightenment of fictional characters in paperback romances!
Against the backdrop of the Trump presidency, of course, is a pivotal moment in the women’s movement: The election spawned the largest single-day protest in American history, the Women’s March on Jan. 21. “The larger arc of the romance novel is the arc of the women’s movement,” MacLean says. “Women fighting against a dominant, gendered misogynistic culture, and ultimately triumphing.” It’s why, for many writers in the genre, romance now means resistance.
Some authors are facing a backlash from conservative readers. Billings notes a common retort to her social-media posts -- “I’m here for your books, not your political opinions” -- and it’s one that MacLean, Thomas, and others are familiar with....among both readers and writers, there’s an increased demand for empowered women, queer people, and people of color telling and being centered in romances. The mere act of writing about these communities falling in love is no less political than scribing a Trump-slamming tweet.
That’s why MacLean views the romance genre as a primary vehicle for change. Queer romance, she explains, was a subgenre that started finding its footing in the early 2000s before gathering steam....
This anecdote Canfield shared from a romance-only bookstore owner didn’t put her readers in the most impressive light: “The day after the election it was just like a non-stop sob-fest -- I mean literally people would come in and just cry … In times of unrest, romance is always there for people to turn to when they need it.”
Time will tell how romance readers react to their means of escapism being transformed into yet another present-day political battlefield.
Further demonstrating the magazine’s awkward mixture of political correctness with entertainment reviews, the magazine’s “Best New Books” even has a separate section for “Activism” along with the “Fiction” and “Nonfiction.”