Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Romance Reader Takes On Summer Reality TV

My DH has been working longer hours which means more meals with just me and toddlers. And, I win bad mama of the year award, but a little bit of Hulu makes the mealtime drama easier to swallow. Plus, DD will watch America's Got Talent ("I like 'em little kids who cans dance, mama!") or Food Network Star ("I wanna be a Sooooooou Chef when I big. We serve ice cream and waffles."). After a week or two of this, I've realized that I keep wanting to impose romance genre conventions on reality competition format. (I'm recommending two reality-TV inspired novels at the end of this post as well, so stay tuned!)

I read Romance for the happy ending. I want to sit down with a book knowing that the good guys will triumph in the end. I always read literary fiction biting my nails waiting to see if my favorite character is about to die or have Very Bad Things happen that lead to Happy Ending for No One. On the one hand, I like the reality competitions because of the possibility of triumph for ordinary person. On the other hand, I hate it because I get really emotionally invested in contestants who get booted off with no good reason. (I'm still bitter about Patrick Thomas and Jeff Jenkins getting passed over for The Voice finals. Very. Very. Bitter.) And I hate it when people I dislike end up winning after all.

Now, what I do love about reality TV is the focus on backstory--in Romance we call these character arcs or internal motivations. The dead mother, the living in one's car, the father who never fulfilled his dream, the quitting of a successful career, the unsupportive parents, these little tidbits emotionally invest viewers in a given contestant's success. And we WANT to see them triumph. In fiction, loss and hardship are triumphed over--the HEA at the end of a story doesn't involve heroine tromping back off to live in her car again or hero still unable to get past the death of his mother.

In Romance, conflict is real, but it all happens for a reason (when the writing is good!). In reality TV, humiliation happens without a pay off. In fiction, a character might suffer public humiliation, but either (s)he had it coming or (s)he will later overcome it. On America's Got Talent, people routinely humiliate themselves without redemption, and I find that I just don't find that funny. I love physical humor in books, precisely because authors give characters a chance to move on from it and show us the motivations for characters actions.

Now, I watch the family-friendly-ish reality TV so that DD can watch too, but man, I want more sexual tension and romantic back story. If a Romance author were writing The Voice, Adam and Christina would have palpable sexual tension underscoring their middle-school bickering. And Blake Shelton would be single, because taking that kind of man candy off the market is a rookie mistake. Food Network Star needs a contestant romance that shakes up the game. On Master Chef (which we aren't going to watch anymore b/c DD asked why Gordon Ramsey "talks in beeps"), there's an arrogant preppy rich kid who has it in for a beautiful Indian first-generation cook. If this were a romance, she would win, he would get his comeuppance, AND they would get a HEA. Trust me, that's not going to happen.

Now, if like me, you find Reality TV a very guilty pleasure, but would like to see some HEAs, I've got two books that might work for you:

American Idle by Alesia Holliday is from 2004 and is a thinly veiled parody of the early American Idol seasons. I read this back in 2005 and loved it, despite never really watching Idol. The over-worked Jules Vernon tries to keep the show from falling apart, while trying NOT to fall in love. Chick-lit readers will love this one, as well as Reality TV music competition fans. The sensuality level is sweet, so it should have broad appeal.

Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andews is a send-up of Reality TV cooking competitions and serves up a delicious rivalry and romance between the two contestants. It's a mainstream women's fiction/chick-lit offering with a southern flavor. I read this in the early days of my pregnancy with my son, and even when the thought of food was too much, I still loved this dish. Jennifer Crusie fans will particularly enjoy Mary Kay Andrews's voice. Cozy mystery fans who occasionally cross over to Romance would also enjoy this offering as Andrews has a lot in common with the best Southern cozy writers--strong voice, whimsical secondary characters, and great setting details.

Do you watch reality TV? Following The Voice? Who's your pick to win? Any other reality-TV inspired books to add to my list?

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