Monday, August 23, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Dr Laura Brouhaha

I've observed with interest the latest "brouhaha du jour", that of Dr. Laura Schlessinger resigning her radio show over her repeated use of the "n-word" during the course of a single call.

Predictably, she has been complaining about her 1st Amendment rights, backed up by the ever-present and ever-annoying Sarah Palin. I don't get what she's talking about, as I don't see anyone seeking to jail her for speaking her mind, however small-minded and mean-spirited it might be. What I do get is that others have been exercising their rights to free speech as well by objecting to what she said.

And in the free market economy that conservatives hold in such high regard, sometimes exercising that right in the business she's in can lead to unwanted consequences. In this case, the radio sponsors are voting with their wallets by withdrawing their sponsorship of her show. It's all about money.

Monitoring the Neal Boortz show the other day, he talked about this incident and it both surprised and amused me that he referred to her as a "vile woman" It's rather surprising that he'd hold this opinion because, in my opinion, the two are cut from the same cloth.

Apparently there's bad blood between the two for some reason because, on a previous show, he mentioned having to dance with her at some function they'd both attended and he opined that dancing with her was like holding a "dead fish".

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Boortz' opinion of her, which is rather a frightening thing in and of itself.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Historical Accuracy or Happily Ever After

While visiting a lover the other day, she told me that she had a book that she wanted me to read, because the main male character reminded her of me. I said, sure, after which she handed me a historical romance novel, Libertine's Kiss, by Judith James.

Being a guy, my normal preferred reading material does not usually include romance novels, but I have read some, particularly to research the occurrences of libertine characters in this genre, which is a fairly common character subtype.

As I took the book from her and read the blurb on the back cover, I immediately had to laugh -- the main character shared my first name. The book's setting is the 17th century Restoration court of Charles II, who could have accurately been called a libertine king. The author's note stated that the main male character, William De Veres, was based on John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a noted libertine and poet in the court of Charles II. He was also the subject of the Johnny Depp movie, The Libertine.

As this book was classified as a romance novel, however, I already knew how the book was going to end -- in a monogamous marriage, at which time the libertine would cease being one. This is what the romance novel industry calls the "HEA"; the "happily ever after" formula, which is ubiquitous to every romance novel.

Because of this, I knew the book was going to be a disappointment from the beginning, as it could not remain true to history, nor to the real person that inspired the novel's male lead if it were to adhere to the HEA formula. Indeed, I could imagine Wilmot's sardonic laughter if he'd been able to read the book and see the character he'd inspired go completely out of character during the course of the novel.

And not only did the characterization of the male lead deviate from actual history, so did the female lead's view of what marriage should be deviate from 17th century norms in general, which I'll further elaborate on later below.

Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead and read it, anyway. The book proved to be an engaging read, with the author throwing in snippets of Wilmot's actual poetry throughout the book. Many times during the book, the male lead expressed thoughts that could have come out of my own mouth; enough so that I wondered if the author had read my blog.

To cite a few examples, when asked why he'd ended up as a libertine, he explained to the female lead that it was simply his nature, which is something I've done many times myself.

In another scene, he proposes marriage to her, knowing that he needed to get married sooner or later if he was to have heirs. He reasoned that he might as well do so with a woman he cared for. When she asks if he would remain sexually faithful to her, he honestly tells her no, respecting her enough to be honest with her. When she protested, he explained that there was a difference between sex and love, implying that one should not be inextricably bound to the other.

And this brings me to the book's flaws. The female lead, who was a widow, rejected his initial proposal because she vowed she would not remarry for anything but love. But such a sentiment would have been far less common in the 17th century than now. People then married much more often for practical reasons and love, if present, was considered icing on the cake, rather than the reason to marry in the first place. A woman of that time would not have demanded sexual exclusivity of a prospective husband, however much she might like it, as random dalliances would have simply been considered the nature of the male beast.

Then there were the trite, cliched plot devices that could have been done away with and still allowed the story to adhere to the HEA ending.

The first cliche was that the male lead was a libertine simply because he was a damaged, psychologically tortured man, having been molested as a teen by his tutor and for having had dysfunctional parents. Rarely in romance novels is a libertine a libertine merely because he like frequency and variety with his sex life. The assumption is that every normal person desires a lifelong, monogamous marriage.

The second cliche that left me rolling my eyes in disbelief was that the male lead immediately lost the desire to have sex with other women the moment he took up with the female lead. He became de facto monogamous at this time, despite his claims to the contrary. This is completely unbelievable, as no person who'd been a libertine his entire would suddenly lose that proclivity at the drop of a hat. Indeed, I would imagine that a libertine who'd made the decision to start living a monogamous life would not lose the desire for sexual variety and would have to work very hard to maintain a monogamous life.

Taken as a whole, however, this book was an interesting read, but I strongly believe the author would have done much better had she written it as straight historical fiction. If she'd done so, she would have been free to write the main characters in a more historically accurate manner, rather than as a romance, where she was hamstrung by the romance novel formulaic HEA requirement.

Indeed, Paula Reed's historical novel, Hester, which takes place along the same time period as Libertine's Kiss, did just that, which served to produce a superior novel. Her libertine character, John Manning, is much more genuine and believable than James' William De Veres.

Just my .02 cents.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Differences of Opinion Among Conservatives

Listening to talk radio in recent weeks, I was struck by a difference of opinion between two conservative radio talk show hosts.

Within the space of a week, I heard two talk show hosts comment about John Kerry's military service in Vietnam.

Neal Boortz, in his typical obnoxious style, referred to Kerry as "scum", which he said was apart from disagreeing with the man's politics. He went on to sneer at his service in Vietnam, referring to Kerry's three Purple Hearts as "band-aid Purple Hearts" and that when he left Vietnam that he shouldn't have let the doorknob hit him on the way out or else that would be another Purple Heart for him.

I'll have to hand it to Boortz. He certainly has chutzpah considering that he never served in Vietnam himself, although he was born in 1945 and was the right age to have done so. As far as I'm concerned, he has no place criticizing Kerry's service, considering that he didn't go at all.

Dennis Miller on the other hand, while also not agreeing with Kerry's politics, said that he had to give the guy credit for serving in Vietnam and thanked him for his service, Miller, born in 1953, also did not serve, but is humbly grateful to all those who did, regardless of their political opinions.

Comparing the two shows, Miller's is much easier to listen to. Though I find myself rolling my eyes at his opinions fairly often, he's got a good sense of humor, is laid back, and generally treats his callers with more respect than Boortz does. Plus, he doesn't always talk about politics and has some interesting and varied guests, even some who don't share his opinions.

Personally, I think it's a good thing to know that the other side has gradations of fanaticism and that they don't all march in lockstep.