Romance and "Zombie Coupledom"

By Laura Vivanco on Sunday, 5 May, 2019

This morning I came across an article by Sarah Brouillette about romance. It's mainly about the economics of romance reading/publishing, as you can see from the abstract:

This article studies the relative success of the mass-market romance industry. It argues that, in conditions of general economic downturn, supports for the cultivation of literary reading have declined, while inducements to romance reading have strengthened. It considers the centrality of self-publishing to romance reading, and the styles of work available to romance writers, most of whom are women and are usually poorly remunerated. It considers, finally, the contemporary romance heroine, treating her as a figure of fantastical symbolic reconciliation: between a liberal ideal of independent empowerment and the reality of persistent compulsion toward coupledom and subservience.

It's in the discussion of this last point that I detect an assumption with which I cannot agree. According to Sarah Brouillette, the romance "industry is propping up both zombie coupledom and empowerment discourse. It offers stories that reconcile the ideal of women’s “ownership” of their sexuality with the compulsion—material and social—to enter into coupledom" (462). As such,

the romance genre is a cultural niche that supports the zombie persistence of the couple form. Melinda Cooper has argued that part of why coupledom persists is simply as a bulwark against economic instability and harried life. It remains a powerful form of risk management—what Mark McGurl calls, in his own work on romance, the “little welfare state.” McGurl points out that coupledom is also supposed to offer passionate erotic satisfaction to self-possessed individuals. This is a hard row to hoe, however, given how harried and beleaguered people are. (461)

Call me brainless if you like, but I'm going to carry on thinking there's something more (like love and emotional support and connection) underpinning good romantic relationships.


Brouillette, Sarah, 2019. "Romance Work." Theory & Event 22.2, pp. 451-464.

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