What’s behind the wide appeal of horrible, brooding, YA boyfriends?

young adult boyfriend

THE RECIPE FOR A YOUNG ADULT DARK PARANORMAL ROMANCE BOYFRIEND

  1. Handsome
  2. In a white kind of way
  3. Muscled but not too muscled — not like he works at it
  4. Well groomed and fairly nubile — not much body hair
  5. Remarkable eyes and gaze
  6. A bit older than the female protagonist
  7. A bit taller
  8. Maybe a bit richer (though sometimes he’s an underdog, financially speaking). All of this ‘a bit more’ refers to ‘hypergamy’ — the longheld view that husbands should be a little more more of everything (except beautiful) than their wives.
  9. Not like other typical guys — interested in literature rather than sport
  10. Though he’s not the uncoordinated, klutzy type either
  11. Loves reading, though he may be embarrassed to be seen doing something so sensitive and girly
  12. Perhaps writes poetry in his spare time
  13. May be on the periphery of a group of guy friends but is basically a loner
  14. Inexplicably falls instantly in love with the beautiful (though sometimes just girl-next-door looking) female protagonist
  15. There will be some reason why he cannot be with her right away (he’s a teacher/vampire/she’s already taken…)
  16. But he must be with her nonetheless, though their love is based on very little really
  17. This might lead to some stalking
  18. Or otherwise taboo/unethical boundary crossing
  19. And will definitely lead to much brooding
  20. Because he is not fully in control of his own sexual impulses
  21. Cannot stand seeing her with another boy
  22. Even if they’re just friends
  23. There will probably be a lot of mansplaining, in which he explains things about love and life to the female, and even if she balks occasionally, the reader/viewer will actually see he has a point
  24. He is experienced in love. It helps his attractiveness that he’s had previous girlfriends; as long as this girl is his last, that’s fine.

See more at: BroodingYAHero twitter account.

Ezra French Food
Pretty Little Liars, impressed by money and autonomy, because at this age it’s a pretty low bar

THE APPEAL OF THE YOUNG ADULT BOYFRIEND

Unless you are — or have been — a heterosexual adolescent girl, the appeal is a little hard to understand. Even if you ask an adolescent girl, she might not be able to tell you. If she is woke she’ll be keen to point out that he is only a fantasy, and fantasies are just that. She knows he is not real.

Still, it’s an interesting exercise to consider where sexual fantasies come from. Especially when they’re commonly held throughout a culture. Even fantasies do not exist in a cultural bubble:

  1. The Fantasy Of Love At First Sight — this article makes a distinction between romantic intensity and romantic profundity
  2. The Erotics Of Abstinence — lengthy months of yearning, which is at least half of the fun. Stephenie Meyer’s books are well-known for this aspect, and are thought to stem from her Mormon background, which preaches abstinence before marriage.
  3. The Expectation Of Hypergamy — in which the man is always a little bit more of something — a bit taller/richer/older/streetwise.
  4. The Fantasy Of Being Looked After Unconditionally And Forever — a return to the safety of the early years and I’m sure we could get all psychoanalytic right here. The girl only has to exist — he doesn’t ask anything of her.
  5. The Fantasy of Being Delivered From Obscurity by a Dazzling, Powerful Man — like one of those classic novels in which the ordinary but pretty common girl is chosen by the lord of the castle or something. Because until very recently, that has been a woman’s only hope at social mobility. (In Titanic you see the same thing but the economics are in reverse.)
  6. The Florence Nightingale effect — in which a caregiver develops romantic and/or sexual feelings for his/her patient, even if very little communication or contact takes place outside of basic care. A depressed/melancholic/damaged man seems appealing because in order to be attracted to someone as a partner you have to feel you can improve their life in some way. Our ghosts make us vulnerable. Vulnerability is attractive. Of Edward Cullen it has been said that “His anguish makes him volatile enough to keep things interesting but dependent enough that he will never be tempted to leave.”
  7. Stockholm Syndrome — feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a captor
  8. The Wish To Have A ‘Real Man’ — in a culture in which men and women are increasingly similar in life expectations
  9. The Wish To Have A Fantastic Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Pressure You To Have Sex — related to the erotics of abstinence above.  A boyfriend who can’t/won’t have sex with you is a safe person to have when you’re both terrified and curious.
  10. The Desire To Be Dominated — not always in real life, but quite often in fantasy, as was discovered by E.L. James. There are various opinions on this. Some argue that the desire to be dominated comes from emancipation. When women take on more responsibility in their real lives, they like to fantasise about having no power in their sex lives. Which leads me to the question: What are the fantasy lives of women living in strongly patriarchal societies? Do those women also have domination fantasies, when they are not allowed to drive, or leave the house, or decide who they’re married off to? That would be an interesting comparison.

 

Ezra Aria holding hands
First year tortured English teacher inappropriately holds hands with senior in Pretty Little Liars
Jessie taking the piss out of Luke
Jess from Gilmore Girls
Jess possessive
Of Rory’s boyfriends, Jess is perhaps the most possessive and creepy.
Jessie outbidding Dean
Jess has just made a concerted attempt to ‘out-do’ Dean and supplant him as boyfriend, catching the prize of smalltown pretty girl. Though Rory’s onto him, that doesn’t stop her from falling for it.

Sleep my bella

Edward plays piano
Even better if he can play a musical instrument. Or dance. It’s a better indicator than big feet.

Purple Adjectives, Plain Adjectives; Every adjective has a home

ON PURPLE PROSE

Apart from the fact that certain types of writing demand flowery language — a subset of the romance genre being a case in point — there are other uses for the sort of prose which otherwise reads so beautifully that it draws attention to itself. Sometimes such language has the unintended effect of drawing the reader out of the story. At other times there is a reason for it.

The Idea Of Perfection cover

 

This is the opening of Chapter 12 from Kate Grenville’s The Idea Of Perfection:

Out at The Bent Bridge, the men were having their smoko. They had got the fire going, twigs crackling under the billy, the flames invisible in the brilliant morning light. Smoke drifted away blue under the trees and turned the slanting sunlight into great organ-pipes of powdery light.

In a story set in the Australian bush, this paragraph almost seems out of place, with its excess adjectives (brilliant, blue, great) and alliteration (slanting sunlight) and its grandiose metaphor (organ-pipes) and original but tenuous use of ‘powdery’ rather than ‘dusty’. But the prose continues like this, with an abrupt change in tone:

The red-headed one they all called Blue opened his sandwich up, showing the flap of grainy grey devon inside. He had caught the sun across his bare freckled back and his eyes were bloodshot.

Er, yuk, he said, and peeled it off the bread.

It was stuck like wallpaper.

He flung it into the fire where it lay across a stick, curling, darkening, starting to sizzle. He stuck the two slices of bread back against each other.

It now becomes clear why the first paragraph had been so beautifully written: To contrast with the earthiness of the men working on the bridge.

The ‘red-headed one they all called Blue’ is an example of typically Australian irony, in which case colour is mentioned now for a different effect — to bring us back to the reality of ‘Australia’. The Australian-ness of this man is continued with the colour red — his freckles, his bloodshot eyes. There is no longer any glamour associated with adjectives of colour.

The devon sausage sounds even more disgusting than it is when contrasted against the ‘organ pipes of powdery light’, especially since ‘powdery’ is a word that could equally be used to describe devon, albeit with a completely different emotional outcome.

The dialogue, too, of ‘Er, yuk’ portrays unembellished laconic disgust, with its harsh ‘k’ sound.

‘It was stuck like wallpaper’ is another kind of imagery — a simile this time — but it has a quite different ring to it, because wallpaper is such an ordinary thing found in old houses, whereas ‘organ-pipes’ conjures up a cathedral with its high ceilings, spirituality and melodious sounds.

Next we have the colloquial verbs of ‘flung’ and ‘stuck’; Germanic-derived words which emphasise the harshness of the environs.

All of this works much better, of course, because it occurs in opposition to a flowery opening paragraph, which shows off the author’s flair for language, but with an end in mind… other than showing off.

ON PLAIN PROSE

The Beasts Of Clawstone Castle cover

Critique groups will often advise beginning writers to avoid meaningless adjectives such as ‘nice’ and ‘good. But again, sometimes these adjectives are used for a reason. Take the following introduction to the heroes of The Beasts of Clawstone Castle, by Eva Ibbotson:

The children lived in a ground-floor flat in a pleasant part of South London. Their parents were funny and clever and nice, but they were apt to be a little bit frantic because of their jobs. Mrs Hamilton ran an experimental theatre which put on interesting plays but kept on running out of money, and Mr Hamilton was a designer and had to have good ideas about what people should do with their houses.

  1. The parents are not important to the story. The author’s job at the beginning of the story is simply to get them out of the way. If the author were to give examples of ‘funny’ and ‘clever’ and ‘nice’ then the story would be about the parents and the action would be suspended.
  2. The repetition of these fairly meaningless adjectives underscores the fairly meaningless lives our protagonists lead at the beginning of the story. Since their lives are uneventful and their home is sheltered, the only way they will grow as people is by leaving their secure and uneventful environment to go on an adventure elsewhere.

The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

Although this is an original tale published by Hans Christian Andersen rather than one based on the oral tradition, Andersen still borrows a lot from the oral tradition. So it feels almost like it might have been an older tale.

No coincidence there — “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is quite similar to

Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor, 1335), a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled “So ist der Lauf der Welt”.

Wikipedia

The Emperor’s New Clothes has been translated into over 100 languages, inspired lots of other stories, become a metaphor for lack of substance, and is known around the world.

Sigmund Freud used “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as an example when discussing a common dream — the dreamer is naked and ashamed; onlookers are not bothered. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud basically argues that nakedness corresponds to exhibitionism:

The dreamer’s embarrassment and the spectator’s indifference [towards the dreamer’s dreamed nakedness] constitute a contradiction such as often occurs in dreams. It would be more in keeping with the dreamer’s feelings if the strangers were to look at him in astonishment, or were to laugh at him, or be outraged. I think, however, that this obnoxious feature has been displaced by wish-fulfilment while the embarrassment is for some reason retained, so that the two components are not in agreement. We have an interesting proof that the dream which is partially distorted by wish-fulfilment has not been properly understood; for it has been made the basis of a fairy tale familiar to us all in Andersen’s version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and it has more recently received poetical treatment by Fulda in “The Talisman”. In Andersen’s fairy tale we are told of two impostors who weave a costly garment for the Emperor, which shall, however be visible only to the good and true. The Emperor goes forth clad in this invisible garment, and since the imaginary fabric serves as a sort of touchstone, the people are frightened into behaving as though they did not notice the Emperor’s nakedness.

for the rest see here

But in The Forgotten Language, Erich Fromm counters Freud’s interpretation, because nakedness can mean many things other than exhibitionism:

Being clothed can stand for the expressions of thoughts and feelings which others expect us to have while they actually are not ours. The naked body can thus symbolise the real self; the clothes can symbolise the social self that feels and thinks in terms of the current cultural pattern. If someone dreams of being naked, the dream may express his wish to be himself, to give up pretence, and his embarrassment in the dream may reflect the fear he has of the disapproval of others if he dares to be himself.

— Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language

STORYWORLD OF “THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES”

This tale along with:

  • The Nightingale
  • The Bell
  • The Snow Queen

is about the administrative changes taking place in Denmark 1820s-30s. This is the era in which Denmark put an end to aristocratic privilege. As Maria Tatar writes, “older bureaucrats, in an effort to retain their positions, joined forces with their younger colleagues in the reform movements sweeping Europe.” All of these stories mock the grandiose titles given to ordinary people — titles designed entirely to elevate their position.

Maria Tatar speculates that Andersen himself was annoyed with all of this hierarchy because he was never truly accepted. He wasn’t so removed that he refused the honors bestowed upon him, however. Andersen wasn’t exactly a good-looking chap, either, and this may explain partly why he rejected all of this pomp and ceremony.

THE CHARACTER OF EMPEROR

My childhood versions of this tale all depict a very full-bodied figure, and I had therefore remembered the image of a man who lies around all day eating food brought to him by servants. (Because in fairy tales we are lead to believe that obesity correlates 1:1 with greed and sloth.) But now that I look at other more diverse depictions of the Emperor, I see that not all illustrators have drawn him as such. The image below, illustrated by Harry Clarke around the 1920s, depict a man described by Maria Tatar as ‘effete’.  This is by any standards a ‘feminine’ (or effeminate) pose, subconsciously linking narcissism with the superficiality of femininity.

Emperor admires himself Harry Clarke
by Harry Clarke
by Harry Clarke
by Harry Clarke
Beverlie Manson - 1970s
by Beverlie Manson – 1970s
Emperor Joyce Mercer
by Joyce Mercer

The latter half of the twentieth century, gives us more obese Emperors, and I can only guess at the cultural reasons for this. Either way: take your pick of subtle messages of censure. The vices embodied by the Emperor are most often either tied to femme phobic weaknesses or to obesity and overweight.

by Vladimir Panov Russia, 1983
by Vladimir Panov Russia, 1983

However, this isn’t always the case. Here we have a regular guy:

Margaret W. Tarrant c1920
Margaret W. Tarrant c1920

The fact is, it is so much fun for illustrators to ham up the femininity and ostentatiousness of this unpleasant and foolish character.

Emperor drinking tea A. Kashkurevich, 1984

Modern illustrations often seem to be a parody of gay masculinity. But this was written in an age when homosexuality was invisible. I believe Andersen was aiming simply for a ‘fop’:

Fop became a pejorative term for a foolish man excessively concerned with his appearance and clothes in 17th-century England. Some of the very many similar alternative terms are: “coxcomb”, fribble,”popinjay” (meaning “parrot”), fashion-monger, and “ninny”. “Macaroni” was another term, of the 18th century, more specifically concerned with fashion.

A modern-day fop may also be a reference to a foolish person who is excessively concerned about his clothing, luxuries, minor details, refined language and leisurely hobbies. He is generally incapable of engaging in conversations, activities or thoughts without the idealism of aesthetics or pleasures.

The word “fop” is first recorded in 1440, and for several centuries just meant a fool of any kind.

Wikipedia

The fop is more related to the modern goth (for its shared androgyny) than to gay subculture. It is still interesting, however, that ‘androgyny’ seems to mean affectation of feminine body language in so many cases, rather than the other way around — probably because male body language is the ‘normal’, unmarked version, and because the Emperor is himself male, so in order to appear different and interesting he needs to behave in marked fashion in the illustrations.

We tend to modify our body language according to our dress. There are numerous studies about how girls’ clothing stops them from running around as much as same-aged boys, for example. Numerous illustrations of an effete Emperor lead me to wonder if the ostentatious masculine fashions of the early 1800s indeed lead to body language we would now describe as effeminate, or if those men, even dressed in their high heels and wigs and plastered in make-up, behaved just as manly men behave today, striding along with large steps, closing doors noisily behind them, man-spreading on horse-drawn carts.

STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES”

WEAKNESS/NEED

The Emperor has a number of weaknesses:

Psychological — he needs to be surrounded by sycophants and adored by the public. He is shallow, possibly narcissistic. Easily duped.

Moral — he judges others’ competence based on what they look like.

DESIRE

He wants to look lovely in the eyes of his public and thereby win their respect.

OPPONENT

The two swindlers, who are classic tricksters of the common fairytale archetype. These swindlers are much smarter than anyone in the town.

PLAN

The Emperor plans to have two tailors make the most magnificent garment so he can parade in front of all his people.

A. Kashkurevich, 1984
A. Kashkurevich, 1984

BATTLE

The battle scene is the parade itself, when the reality of the nakedness is up against the clear-eyed innocence of a child.

SELF-REVELATION

The child has a complete revelation and this spreads throughout the crowd.

George G. Harrap, 1932
George G. Harrap, 1932

There is a partial self-revelation on the part of the Emperor when he sees people whispering that he is naked.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

The Emperor continues on anyway, because he has no choice.

Edmund Dulac
Edmund Dulac
A. Kashkurevich, 1984
A. Kashkurevich, 1984

Emperor's New Clothes China stamp

Monro S. Orr

Emperor Michael Hague 10.55.23 AM

Have you ever wondered what happened to the town after that, though? I wonder if the Emperor continued to rule the land with quite the same authority as he had before. For those who would like to know what the new equilibrium is like, we can go to the original Spanish version. In this story, the king is forced to admit his foolishness.

What’s A Goth?

goth

The word ‘goth’ is used in various ways in various contexts. When applied to a person, what does it mean? Might you be a goth and not really know it?

If you need pictures of a goth, here’s a blog which features pictures of Goths Up Trees. Or try Goth Or Not website — a cousin of the Hot Or Not website — where you rate photos of people who are wondering whether they qualify. Or whatever. Continue reading “What’s A Goth?”