|"Yes Yes Yes No No No" scene from Singin' in the Rain|
The statement/attitude that women only read romance out of a desperate need to "get themselves a guy" is almost always accompanied by a guffaw, smirk, or patronizing tone. Truth: women readers are as capable as anyone at reading something for other types of reasons, from philosophical to writerly.
In this post, however, I want to defend the idea of reading for wish-fulfillment. Although it often gets mocked, it is a perfectly respectable reason to read.
I argue in my thesis that many readers engage in a synthesis of "using" and "receiving." I am borrowing C.S. Lewis's terms from An Experiment in Criticism, in which he argues that "users" read for the message or the personal application; he is understandably not a fan of "using," and I don't completely disagree. I saw plenty of "using" during my years as a student: people reading great literature in order to find evidence for their socio-politico-eonomico theories. And one doesn't need great literature to do that kind of thing. I can do it with a cereal box.
|My contribution to Middle Earth fan fiction: a|
|continuation of Tolkien's map.|
In my thesis, I suggest a third road that combines "using" and "receiving." My point was/is that people have a creative instinct or urge (a theory that Steven Johnson defends in his latest book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World), even if they aren't "creative" in the painting-pictures-writing-books-spouting-poetry sense. In fact, the desire to "make" can be as basic as "I want to make a good birthday party" or "I want to make a decent filing system." Like Johnson, I suggest that this desire has as much weight (if not more) than power and money. (And is the basic reason why theories like Marxism that ignore community involvement and personal experience so grossly misread people and fall short of even stock-market-valid prophetic outcomes.)
The desire to exercise the creative impulse means that while people want to get swept away by Middle Earth or Asimov's robots or Ahab's Pequod, they also want to imagine themselves inside those worlds. Or at least imagine that world as a real experience. It's the same reason that shows like 1900 House were so popular yet failed--the capacity for humans to imagine an experience outweighs any reality (show).
|When I watched my brothers and their friends play|
|Dungeons & Dragons, it was the pewter figurines|
|that enthralled me. The game itself was too much like Risk,|
|which meant it was boring, not corrupting.|
And sure, that can happen. But people who do that stuff don't need literature, popular or "great", to pull it off. Whether they retreat to an created world for escapism or some other reason, that world is no more likely by itself to engender a negative outcome than Dungeons & Dragons was to produce psychopaths (I grew up around Dungeons & Dragons players--they all turned out fine).
|As a kid, I was obsessed with Star Wars and my striped|
|shirt. Neither did me any damage, although I literally|
|unraveled the striped shirt--unfortunately.|
I think the issue comes down to semantics. The truth is obsessive nitpicking of great literature in order to produce boring socio-politico-economico theories can be just (if not more) limiting than writing fan fiction.
But writing a "treatise" or "exploring the juxtaposition of ideological factors in The Scarlet Letter" sounds better than "I wrote some fan fiction about a character who joins the Fellowship in Lord of the Rings" (see above).
Truth: In the long run, the fan fiction will prove more satisfying and more productive. It is always better to create than destroy.