Thursday, August 14, 2008

Jungle Escapades

The BBC posted an article on  Mills & Boon's "escapist fantasy" pulp, citing the megapublisher's obsession with the tall, dark, handsome & exotic. Ok I admit it, I read these books around middle school, stuffing them between science text books to avoid getting busted (there is some umm... serious material in there that I probably shouldn't have been reading as an impressionable, hormone-driven adolescent) and it's interesting to think back on how these books were not only forming my naive imaginations, but were also a reflection of a wider psyche that included not just the M&B readership, but even Hollywood moviemakers.

What's even more fascinating is that while some critics have ruminated on how ridiculous this genre is, many of these archetypes and images still persist in contemporary times. As the article points out, M&B has not only maintained these themes due to their popularity but is even extending them to Indian audiences. A simple google search on the same turns up websites like Sheikhs and Desert Love that "exclusively features romance novels with a Sheikh (or an Arab or desert prince) as the primary male character." 

While the settings of these novels are often fictional (as the BBC article points out, there is little room for the realities of the region's geopolitics in escapist fiction), the writers continue to perpetuate old stereotypes, depicting them as "socially repressive" lands that the fair-haired heroines struggle to change into "more modern societies that treat women equally."

It is of no surprise then that a quick survey of publication dates shows an increase in publication right around the time the 9/11 attack & subsequent "war on terror" happened, which would imply some sort of correlation between interest in these books and the perception of their exotic hero/villains as "men it's dangerous to be left alone in the room with." 

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