Question of the Week: January 13, 2015

Ascen is a reader who volunteered to help us with the Question of the Week.  Please welcome them and enjoy the discussion. –Siggy

How do you think formulaic novels/stories with forced romances affect the asexual community?

Or, maybe, how do you feel it affects you? I’m talking about that part of the movie, where the uncomfortable romance starts that’s out of place in the plot, only there because movies would clearly be heartless and incomplete without a romantic subplot. Is it just bad writing, or something that can set back asexuals in some ways over time? Is the requirement to round out stories with romantic, predominantly sexual (although not always overtly) narratives a dangerous one?

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10 Responses to Question of the Week: January 13, 2015

  1. Siggy says:

    Comments were accidentally disabled, but they’re enabled now. Thanks to the person who pointed it out!

  2. Aqua says:

    Aside from being bad writing, when two characters are just shoved into a romantic relationship without any meaningful build-up, it marginalizes asexuals, and aromantics, because of how often this happens.

    Being bombarded with all of these movies and TV shows where romantic relationship sub-plots happen, no matter how obligatory or shoe-horned in it may be, can reinforce the idea that romantic (or romantic-sexual) relationships are supposed to happen.

    It seems that two people can’t simply be friends, or be life partners without romance, and that romance is inevitable, and it’s treated with a lot more fanfare than other types of relationships. It may be seen as the only valid kind of close relationship, since other types aren’t given screen time, or any thought. Perhaps I was explaining how aromantics are marginalized, but asexuals are also marginalized, because sex is so often coupled with romance, that sex becomes an expected part of it. Romantic asexuals also tend to experience romance very differently from normative ideas of it.

  3. Silvermoon says:

    I don’t really watch many movies but I watched Annie recently (which I loved) and right at the end, there are side characters eyeing/smiling at each other like they’re the next ones who are going to start dating/hook up. Which made me realise that this always happens- the writers pair the remainders off because ~it would be too sad, too terrible, if not everyone got a chance at a romantic/sexual relationship~
    Like is that really necessary? Whether or not the main plot or characters are about/in a relationship, does everyone else have to hook up too? That, I think, is incredibly alienating.

  4. elainexe says:

    Even stories with the main message being against amatonormativity, I’ve found negated by romantic subplots. One was some show the Busch Gardens amusement park put on last summer. It was some musical fairy tale where along the way a princess had three dudes who were asking her to pick between them. There was some explicit dialog at the end about how she didn’t need to be in a guy to be happy…..and then she’s rewarded with a guy (I found a video of it here if anyone cares to see, starting at around 20:00).
    A more well known example would be Frozen (and I warn you, spoilers). Throughout the movie Kristoff lectures Anna that she can’t marry someone she just met. And it’s true, that doesn’t work out, but only because her fiance was the villain. The climax revolves around how love can save Anna from magic stuff that was killing her. She had to realize that the one she loves most is actually her sister, and it’s sisterly love that saves herself and the trouble the sister was in.
    But despite sisterly love being the number one theme… actually got relatively little screen time. MOST of the movie had Anna and Kristoff. Who, yes, end up kissing at the very end after everything’s over. Man. This movie had some of the worst timing too for inserting romance too. Like. As Anna was slowly DYING from magical ice, and was trying to figure out how to, y’know, not die, you have to have a comedic romance song.
    I’m sure there must be other examples out there. Messages of, yes, there’s other love out there. You can love yourself, you can love family/friends……..but romantic love is still ESSENTIAL, and the final outcome.

    • elainexe says:

      ….I kinda forgot about the topic huh, and went off on my own tangent. Anyway. For me, I mostly experience it as bad writing. And maybe also as reminders of the real world, about how people want to push others towards (hetero)sexual norms.
      It makes me way too happy to see a movie not go down that route, when it could have. Like Pacific Rim. But I still end up feeling skeptical somehow. Like, I guess, yeah, surely allosexual/romantic people too can see that these romantic subplots are often poorly done. So I wonder, why did they not put a romance there? Probably to purposefully be different from the well-worn path of romantic endings. Probably not as much to challenge amatonormativity as to avoid cliche.
      And as I was trying to incorporate in my post above before I completely forgot the reason for this question of the week, even some stories that do seem to kinda want to challenge amatonormativity do it so poorly as to negate their own message. So I guess there’s another feeling there, disappointment. Stories that could have done well challenging amatonormativity, or just stories that could have had a romantic subplot that didn’t suck.
      Yeah, I guess you could say this obligatory romance is dangerous. It certainly is a concept I can see causing a lot of hurt in the asexual community, and stories are an important vehicle for ideas.
      I’d love to see more stories from asexual/aromantic spectrum people, as I’m sure…uh, pretty much all of us are. I wish it could be in movies, which are I would think the biggest offender (along with TV) in formulaic writing. I doubt the big studios would allow much without romance though. They still think men won’t watch women-oriented movies but women will watch the men-oriented ones….so they just make the latter. I’m sure they’d think people wouldn’t come to see movies with messages challenging romantic ideas.
      I’m glad for the internet anyway. I can’t say I’ve seen any asexual/aromantic stories online, but if there’s anywhere I’m sure to find them, it would be online.

    • cinderace says:

      I loved Frozen, so I have to defend it a little bit. Hans being the villain underscored the importance of taking the time to get to know someone before you get involved with them, and it was a great contrast to some of the older Disney movies where the prince is a non-character who the princess happily marries despite knowing nothing about him. And I thought that there was a good build-up of the sisterly love theme, with the “Do you want to build a snowman?” song showing how much Anna misses Elsa even though years went by when they didn’t interact, and then Anna is willing to venture out after Elsa without a second thought and works hard to try to convince her that she can come back and everything can be better, and she doesn’t even hold it against Elsa when Elsa freezes her heart.

      And Anna and Kristoff’s relationship doesn’t turn romantic until after they’ve spent several days working together and getting to know each other, and he asks her permission before kissing her at the end. Elsa also has no love interest at all, which is definitely unusual. The timing of that one song… yeah, that was weird. And maybe the movie would have been better with no romance at all. But overall I thought it was really well done and broke a lot of norms and was definitely a step in the right direction.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I fully agree with this about Frozen. I don’t think it’s correct to say that the sisterly love got very little screentime–rather, it’s not directly talked about very much, but you can see it in all the little actions Anna and Elsa both take. Throughout the movie, they are both always thinking of the other’s well-being. I see a lot of talk about Anna’s feelings, but Elsa’s motivations are also 100% out of love for her sister, too. Elsa isolates herself specifically because she doesn’t want to accidentally hurt Anna. She keeps the reason secret because she doesn’t want Anna to have to carry that burden. When Anna finds out what’s really been going on with Elsa all these years, she instantly understands. And then chases her down to tell her that it’s okay. It may not be foregrounded explicitly, but that’s only because it is so expansive that it permeates everything they do.

        And that’s how sisters are, really. Sisterly love is not something that you have to talk about very much, you just do it. You can fight and then forgive each other without even saying sorry, you just understand and forget about why you were fighting. And that’s not limited to small fights.

        I don’t think that one budding romance at the end is enough to negate the strength of Elsa’s TOTAL lack of interest in romance, the fact that NOBODY bats an eye about it–even Hans was like “yeah, nobody is doing that with her.” I do agree that the rock troll song was not only ill-timed but just all around awful, though. I always skip it and the movie works perfectly without it.

  5. Grey Wanders says:

    “Is the requirement to round out stories with romantic, predominantly sexual (although not always overtly) narratives a dangerous one?” I don’t know whether it’s dangerous or not, but it’s certainly bothersome. The one that’s got me really irritated recently is The Hobbit, a story which in book form had no romance at all, not even a hint, but in the movies had a full-blown love triangle. That alone was very disappointing, as The Hobbit is one of the few stories out there which doesn’t have romance (and it does very well without it!), but there’s also a lot of ickiness around adding in a female character who wasn’t originally in the story, only to center a love triangle on her. Maybe it would have been nice to have a woman kicking ass in what was originally an entirely male-cast story, but for me that was completely negated by them going “Ah, a woman. Clearly she must fall in love, and anyone who talks to her (and isn’t old enough to be her father) will also fall in love with her.” The only redeeming point is that she wasn’t over-sexualised, and wore the same practical armour as the rest of the elves.

    It’s also a bit of an interesting point, because it means the romance really was the goal. A lot of the time I see movie “romances” as a contrived way to get to The Sex Scene, which is obviously necessary for a non-kids film. (Because that’s what makes adults adults, right? Sex. Incidentally, this is why I read primarily YA. I find that they have all the depth and complexity of ‘grownup’ novels, but they don’t feel the need to railroad characters into The Sex Scene.) So it was interesting to see a romance that was really just there for the romance and not a flimsy excuse to have some co-nudity on screen.

    To bring it back around, the core theme here is “Well OBVIOUSLY you can’t have a worthwhile story without a romance in there somewhere”. That’s annoying, but I think its danger lies more in the underlying themes. “A character isn’t relatable unless they can fall in love.” “A life without (romantic) love is sad and incomplete.” “A partner is the reward you get for being heroic.” And so on.

    I guess what galled me so much about the romance in The Hobbit is that it didn’t seem like a case of “this is what this story needs”, but rather “this is what the market wants”, which is no way to go about a story.

    • cinderace says:

      Great point about The Hobbit; I had been happy about the addition of a female character but hadn’t considered the ways her role was problematic before (I also don’t love those movies so haven’t spent much time watching or thinking about them :P). I’m also reminded of Prince Caspian, which threw in a completely out-of-nowhere kiss between Susan and Caspian at the end, because of course you *have* to have some sort of romance, no matter how contrived.

      I also mainly read YA books in order to avoid the sex in adult novels, and I’ve seen a few other aces saying that too… glad I’m not the only one!

    • Pallas_Athena says:

      This is something that really disappointed me when I “graduated” from reading only YA books to being allowed to read “adult” materials. I found that the close friendships and interesting group dynamics from YA books were completely replaced with poor romance stories, and shoe-horned in love interests. In YA books, if two charters are supposed to fall in love, they have to show the emotion, not the action. In adult books sex means love, or love means sex.
      I stopped watching T.V. shows in disgust because it seemed that any time a male and female charter locked eyes, they would soon be entering a sexual romance. End of story. What they had in common or whether they had chemistry was completely ignored because “well it’s a male and a female, so all that can happen between is sex.” I see it as bad writing and an inability to come up with a better story or purpose for the characters, especially since its often used as a easy way to add the token female.

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