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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


While looking through my ARCHIVE's archives for something else, I found with some amusement that I had attempted to cross swords with Janelle Asselin back in February 2012. The link is now dead, but here's a refresher version.

Asselin's comments back then are pretty standard, what with her advocacy of "More product made for women, definitely. Product that’s made for men that’s less misogynistic. Product that is aimed at both genders." These type of sentiments amount to little more than a lot of "oughts" without any sense as to how to make any of them into an "is." I share none of Asselin's notion that "marketing" can make the difference, but I will make my own, possibly-no-more-helpful suggestion.

Comic books need a HARRY POTTER phenomenon.

Or at the very least, something along the lines of the Anita Blake books that popularized-- but did not create-- the relatively recent genre of the "paranormal romance."

These book-series, respectively by J.K. Rowling and by Laurell K. Hamilton, have proven noteworthy in finding ways to channel ideas that were long commonplace in fantasy-fiction, but which-- with rare exceptions-- scarcely ever tapped the "bestseller audience" in the United States.

I've frequently expressed skepticism as to whether it's possible to retrofit fantasies aimed at the male audience so that "one size will fit all." In THE GENRE-GENDER WARS I wrote:

Three years later, this simple but telling assertion has gone largely ignored, as both male and female fans continually act as if the cross-gender participants are not exceptions, and further, that any aspects of the genre enjoyed by the gender which dominantly buys the books-- in this case, the male-- should be corrected to fit the preferences of the minority gender, who is in this case happens to be the female of the species.

To some extent I can respect the attempt of a minority audience to make its voice heard, to make an impression on a genre dominated by the opposite gender. But when the demands seem determined to leech away those absurd or larger-than-life aspects that characterize the genre itself, that comes down to a case of cutting off the nose to spite the face.

I don't retract any of this. However, I do acknowledge the possibility of game-changers. The Rowling series is one such, in that it pleased both male and female readers more or less equally.  And paranormal romances, while they are probably dominated by a female readership, often have enough stereotypic "male" elements that many males do read them, thus overcoming the long-standing cultural prejudice that states that males will not read female-centric works.

Without endorsing what Heidi MacDonald called the "aggro" aspects of fantasy-fandom, I share Camille Paglia's skepticism about the possibility-- and the advisability-- of attempting to self-censor Those Things Men Like and Women Don't.  I don't believe that censorship, even with the best motives, provides any fruitful game-plans.

What would a "bestseller superhero" look like, one that crossed gender boundaries not because it was designed to do so, but because it was good?  Like WALKING DEAD? Like ONE PIECE?

Whatever the model, the time is right for such a breakthrough. Fantasy-fiction has attracted more female readers in part because the culture at large has admitted that fantasy can be cool, under just the right circumstances. I agree with Asselin, MacDonald and others that this is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

And if I knew how to make it happen, I wouldn't be writing this blog any more.

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