In the early 1980's Janice A. Radway conducted a study of women who read romance novels. Her goal was to discover why, in an age of burgeoning (when I say burgeoning I mean likely the third or forth wave depending on which camp you belong to) feminism these women were reading novels that essentially reinforced the values of a male dominated society. Alas her preoccupation with this topic was not altogether object – not in the least – Mz. Radway was a self professed Romance reader herself. Her research drew some interesting conclusions: women were reading romance novels as a way of escaping the reality of their own lives (often confined to the norms of a patriarchal society). The act of reading itself was a form of protest or self-alienation from the dominant culture they lived in. In other words when they were reading they didn't have to wash the dishes, change the diapers, or vacuum the living room. Not only that she contended that the material itself formed some kind of feminist liberation in that the material, although highly formulaic represented some form of control that the heroine in each novel could exert - at least until overcome by the love she so desperately craved.
The formula: girl meets boy; boy has a problem; girl likes him anyway; girl gets jilted by boy but realizes that it is because of this problem that he has that is really not his fault; girl loves him even more; boy changes; girl allows herself to be lost in boys affection…blah blah blah – sap sap blech! I have never read one of those.
Anyhow, I smell a rat. I think Radway is trying too hard. A romance novel is a romance novel is a romance novel. If for instance I were to receive a subscription to StreetRod magazine, there would be no honest way for anyone to say that I was reading that rag because of the latent effect that excesses of these gas guzzling muscle cars had on making me more environmentally responsible in reaction. That would be ludicrous. If I read that mag – we could all safely assume that after a year of reading it – I would know more about StreetRods – yup. Most other conclusions would be highly suspect.
My essential claim here is that the content forms a major part of the intention of reading. We read stuff we are interested in. And although music is different in some respects I think we essentially consume music for the same reasons.
But then like I said I have not read a Romance novel so perhaps one of you fine readers can enlighten me to the finer points of reading a romance…
In the mean time you might be interested in this: